Helping accounting clients move to the cloud

Some clients will take to cloud accounting straight away. But some will be anxious about it. Here's how to help them.

Accounting firm client using cloud accounting software on their computer

Recommending new accounting software

To run an efficient practice, you probably want to transition clients on to your preferred cloud accounting software. It will allow you to run a seamless operation and take full advantage of the technology’s features, such as:

  • instant access to client financial data
  • easy, online reconciliation of accounts
  • a dashboard tracking key performance indicators
  • one single ledger and secure online collaboration with clients
  • automating manual bookkeeping tasks like document collection and data entry

When you recommend new software to your clients, they'll see you as an expert. Just be warned that not everyone will adapt to the new technology at the same pace. The move to the cloud will be quite a different journey, depending on who you’re dealing with.

Patterns of technology acceptance

Computers and software have been used in offices for more than a quarter of a century. In that time, many new types of technology have emerged.

Each time new technology appears – whether it’s laptops, the internet, mobile phones – people take time to get used to it. They adapt in different ways and at different speeds. This applies to cloud accounting software too.

Technology changes have occurred so often that researchers have been able to observe patterns in how people react. The resultant technology acceptance model and diffusion of innovations theory allow us to predict how different groups of people will handle technological change – and how we can help them along the way.

Adapting in different ways

So what do the models tell us? When it comes to learning to use new technology, people tend to fall into the following categories:

  • Early adopters: These people love new technology and throw themselves into it with a passion. They queue outside stores for new smartphones the night before they launch.
  • The early majority and late majority: The early majority take a lead from early adopters and help build critical mass around adoption of a new technology. The late majority are more sceptical and slower to follow.
  • Late adopters (unflatteringly called laggards in the scientific community): This group isn’t keen on change. Although they may be willing to learn, it can take them a long time to adapt to new technology.

Forewarned is forearmed

Obviously you won't have many problems with the early adopters. They'll embrace the move to the cloud and will quickly learn to use the new software. They may even point out features that you didn't know about yourself. Most of the second group will be fine too, though you may need to help them over a few hurdles.

It's the late adopters that may cause you some issues. They’ll get lost in the software and will require more support. They’re also more likely to become discouraged when things don’t initially work perfectly. You’ll find that they blow hot and cold – agreeing the software has awesome potential but later becoming pessimistic when they hit hurdles. They can also become frustrated and may unwittingly take some of their frustration out on you.

Don't be despondent if some of your clients have trouble adapting. Now you know that it's going to happen, it won't be a shock when it does. And, more importantly, you can prepare for it.

Staging the move to the cloud

If you’re just starting to transition your client base to the cloud, consider doing it in shifts – starting with early adopters and moving gradually to late adopters. You’ll be able to categorise clients by seeing how they react when you first float the idea of switching to the cloud.

By working with the early adopters first, you’ll be able to make a positive start. They’ll help you succeed. And you can refine your process as you go, establishing a smooth methodology for transitioning clients by the time you get to the more reluctant amongst them. Plus you can use positive testimonials from the early adopters to help give confidence to subsequent groups.

When it comes time to move the late adopters, be prepared to spend more time on it. Brief your staff that it will be a bumpier ride and get them ready to be more hands on.

You’ll charge for helping clients through the switch, of course, but it won’t be as profitable with the last group. They’ll require more work. Try to focus on the increased efficiencies and profitability that will flow once the transition is complete.

Remember, also, that when your client gets over the hump and falls in love with the new way of doing business, you’ll benefit from the halo effect. As the advisor who introduced them to cloud accounting, you could be rewarded with increased customer loyalty.

8 tips for assisting technology acceptance

1. Manage your clients' expectations

Don't tell them that accounting software will be wonderful from day one. If you do, their expectations will be sky high – and may come crashing down. Instead, explain that there may be a period of disruption and learning. Point out that the result will be worth the effort. Explain that painful manual jobs will be automated, and show them how much easier it will be to track their business's performance on a dashboard.

2. Do the groundwork

Before your clients migrate to modern accounting software, help them get ready. Point them to good webinars (video seminars), forums, blog posts and user guides. Be careful not to overwhelm them, however. If you send too many references, it will start to make this seem like hard work.

3. Hold training sessions

Consider inviting other clients to your office to demonstrate the software using dummy data. Your late adopters will relate to them as fellow small business owners and they’ll be encouraged by their success. It’ll help make them comfortable before moving their own business accounts.

4. Make sure you and your employees are ready

Understand that there will be some issues along the way. Prepare your staff for these. Be ready to handle calls or emails from confused clients. Don’t take it personally if they show signs of frustration.

5. Call upon the tech-savvy to lead the charge

It's not always the case, but older people can be less adaptable to new technology. Consider asking your late-adopter clients to nominate a young, keen staff member to lead their transition to accounting software.

6. Introduce tools and apps that support moving to the cloud

A data capture tool can show them how moving to the cloud can help them establish a seamless bookkeeping process. A tool like Hubdoc eliminates manual data entry, giving your client time back in their day to spend on the things they love. This time adds up and any extra time in the day of a small business owner is a big win. With a little getting used to the process, your clients will experience this benefit soon after.

7. Be understanding, but be firm

It's important to draw a distinction between business support and technical support. You’re there to help your clients manage their finances. You’re not their software support team. So if a client is calling repeatedly with software queries, refer them to the accounting software company.

8. Ask for help when you need it

Talk to the cloud accounting software company. Get their advice and help on transitioning new customers. It's something they'll have done thousands of times before. They'll have advice and training materials to ease the transition.

Helping clients adopt technology and move to the cloud

You already know clients have different appetites for new technology. But these scientific models can help you create a strategy for moving them all to the cloud. Classify clients into groups and start with the most technologically progressive. Use successes with the early adopters to encourage more sceptical or anxious clients.

Prepare for a bigger job with late adopters but realize that – once they’re over the hump – they’ll repay you with loyalty. Plus you’ll be able to service the account more efficiently, which will boost profitability in the longer term.

As you go through this process, document your learnings and develop formal processes for introducing new technologies. It could become a whole new revenue stream. After getting clients onto the cloud, you can start to look at connecting to other business software. There are hundreds of add-on apps that can further streamline their business, such as inventory management, project management, time recording and more.

Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the provided content.

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