Geni Whitehouse teaches us why communication matters and how to adjust our communication to different personality profiles so that accountants can become more effective advisors to our clients.
Geni: We have an efficiency focus in our firms. And if we switched the focus and put clients at the center of what we're doing, the focus should be, what do they need? How can I support that client in achieving their business and personal goals? And that's what I'm doing with advisory service for clients.
I'm trying to first identify, what do you want to do? And then how can I line up the reporting and bring in the tools that will support you in getting to that outcome? And it's a very different way of being, in a way that we are not trained as CPAs to even think.
[00:00:33] Thank you to our sponsor, BooksTime
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[00:00:56] Thank you to our sponsor, Accountests
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[00:01:35] Earn Free CPE from listening to this episode
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And now, onto the episode.
[00:01:54] Introductions and Geni's background
Blake: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Earmark Accounting Podcast. I'm Blake Oliver, CPA, you host. Geni Whitehouse is joining me today. Geni, it's so great to speak with you.
Geni: It's wonderful to be here with you, Blake.
Blake: You know, the first time I heard you speak, it stuck in my memory. I still remember that conference to this day, that session. And what I always admired about you is the way you think about an accounting practice very differently than a lot of people in this profession.
And it's really hot right now, talking about subscription, fixed fees, being an advisor, creating value for clients by doing advisory services. But this is like nothing new. And you've been talking about this stuff for a long time.
Geni: Way too long, Blake. Way too long.
Blake: I'm sorry, that was the wrong way to phrase it.
Geni: Thanks for reminding everybody old I am.
Blake: No, no, that's not what I meant.
Geni: But it's true. I feel the same way. I've been pounding the same drum for a long time - since early 2000, Blake.
Blake: So, there we go. I'm not off base there. 20 years. 20 years, you've been talking about this. And I feel like more people need to hear this. So, today, we are talking about communication. How to communicate financial information to normal people. I love this title because so many times, in my own experience, I have gotten in front of a client with a P&L and a balance sheet, and it's gone completely sideways.
And I feel like a lot of the time, it was my inability to communicate to them. And they never open these things up, they don't look at them. I feel like we're doing all this work for people, but I struggled, personally. So, I'm excited to talk to you about this.
Geni: Well, you know, that's my whole mission in life, is to make this stuff relevant and interesting to people. And I really live this. I was a partner in a CPA firm in Atlanta. I'm originally from Greenville, South Carolina, and I wound my way through different roles in accounting, primarily in the tax area.
And then I made partner, I left because I realized that I hated it, for getting to the goal but I'd set my whole life on a track towards. I get to the goal and go, “Oh my God, I don't like this stuff.” And I didn't like the fact that I wasn't impacting the client, and I would have to tell them stuff and they didn't understand it.
And of course, the tax information meant nothing to them. But what I did do while I was in the firm was go out and consult with small business clients. And I would sit down with them, and Blake, I'd walk in and they’d put their hands up as if I was there to arrest them, and go, “I'm not an accountant. Don't shoot me.”
They were ashamed and terrified, but I realized that if I could get them to laugh or to calm down, then I could sit down with them and educate them about what we're doing, and take the fear out of the accounting. And it was something I just did naturally.
Blake: Well, you're a people person, right?
Geni: Well, I don't know, but you know, I didn't want to intimidate and I wanted to make a connection. But apparently- but that was part of the frustration. I was doing that during the day and kind of coming back to the firm and doing the tax stuff at night. And I realized the stuff I did during the day was what I like to do, getting out and talking to clients and breaking down those barriers to understanding what to do with the information that, you know, we work with all the time - the numbers, the scary stuff.
[00:05:14] How did Geni get comfortable with communicating?
Blake: How did you get comfortable with that? I mean, you weren't born being able to do this.
Geni: I was born a big, fat nerd, Blake. And I never communicated. You know, I was a big in numbers, I loved math, I loved calculus. I took AP calculus in college- in the high school. And I can remember coming back to class, AP calculus. We had a homework assignment that was like extra credit in AP calculus.
And I was so excited about trying to figure out the answer that I went to my next class and said, “Can I just keep working on this math problem?” And I figured it out, and I ran back up to the instructor in high school and said, “I have the answer.” And he said, “Great, present it to the class next time.” And I thought, “Oh my God, what have I done? I don't want to communicate. I don't want to stand up in front of the class. I'm a nerd. I don't like it.”
But I did it. And it was- but it was so nerdy, and I was so excited about this math stuff that I was shy, and you know, never talked and didn't have a voice. But when I started working with clients, the desire to help them overcame my fear of communicating. And it also made me want to get better, so that these people could create better results for themselves.
Because the stuff we do matters. And you know, that's really the passion that drives me, is I know what we do is important. And I also know that what we do is gobbledygook to our clients. I mean, just like what you said, Blake. When you hand them something, a financial statement or a tax return, or you start talking about something, P&L or balance sheet, or depreciation, or LIFO, or something scary like that, we get this deer in the headlights look back from them.
And that is an indicator to us- it should be- that the value is slipping away and going right down the drain. Because if I'm communicating something that the recipient does not understand, the value declines exponentially, in minutes. When I start going over their head, I make them feel stupid, and then that, by default, means that my value is going down. And so, we need to do the opposite - try to make clients feel smarter, and then we will be more appreciated and valued, and we'll be able to help them.
Blake: So, when you say normal person, our title's a bit tongue-in-cheek here, right?
Geni: Yeah. There is no normal.
Blake: Because there is no- there's nerds. Well, maybe- I mean, let's be honest. There's us, the nerds And then there's the normal people. So, if we have-
Geni: Everybody else. Well, there’s nerds, and there's geeks, which unfortunately, many of us are both. Don't you think, Blake? I mean, we're accounting nerds and technology geeks. Today, we're doing both.
Blake: I'm not an authority on the definitions of these terms, but I feel like geek is a cool nerd. That's kind of- a nerd who embraces like the pop culture that has become popular. Like, if you like the Marvel movies, you get a geek, right? A geek about that. Or you go to Comic-Con, right? You're a geek. Nerds, I mean, we are hardcore in the accounting profession, right? Because nobody is interested in this stuff.
[00:08:25] How do accountants shift their thinking to communicate with clients?
Blake: So, when you say normal person, like, how do I need to shift my thinking to understand the way that most nonfinancial people or people who don't have an accounting or finance background think about what we're telling them?
Geni: Well, I think what the category, it's really an us versus them. And I think nerds exist in all kinds of areas. There are nerds in the wine industry. The wine makers are nerdy about wine. Scientists are nerdy about whatever science they're immersed in. doctors are nerdy about their practice. I mean, engineer- we're nerdy about things that we have a deep knowledge about.
And any time we're communicating with anybody else that is not on the same level with us, then we're at a- putting them at a disadvantage, and we're creating a value gap between us and them.
Blake: Got it.
Geni: So, our job is to make the playing field level so that we can get them to understand what we're trying to communicate. And so, that's what I really, intuitively, figured out what these clients. But I also felt deeply about those clients. I wanted to help them, so I had to figure out how to bring them up to my level so that we could then have a dialogue and start fixing things.
So, that's the first thing, but we also have to understand that the way we communicate is not necessarily the way the recipient communicates. And so, we have to understand the science behind that.
[00:09:44] What is DISC and why does Geni use it?
Geni: And that's where we use in our practice DISC, D-I-S-C, which is a behavioral style tool. And it allows us to figure out, “Okay, I'm this way, and they're that way. And how can I bridge the gap and communicate information to them in a way that they can actually receive it?” And again, that's when value starts to elevate.
Blake: Is this one of those personality assessments like-
Geni: It's the- in that vein, but it's based on communication style, how you behave, and how you're naturally wired. So, it's not personality, it's not education. And the really cool thing about it, and the reason that we use it as advisors in our CPA firm, and in all my other businesses, is because it's observable.
So, I can look at the way people behave in different areas, and determine how they need to be communicated with, and then modify what I share with them. Which is a huge- which was a huge shock to me when I discovered that people don't think the way I do. You know, like, “What? You don't want to hear it the way I want to tell it to you?”
And so- but understanding that difference allows us to think, “Okay, let me think what they need and then give them whatever tool they need, or communicate in as much or as little detail as is appropriate for them.”
Blake: So, this is good because I can observe my clients in my interactions with them.
Geni: That's right. That’s right.
Blake: I can figure out what communication style they prefer and then-
Geni: And then find a tool.
Blake: Okay. So, let's do this. Do you want to DISC me? Or how do- what-
Geni: I want to diss you, D-I-S-S.
Blake: Well, you want to assess me, observe me or?
Blake: I guess my question is like, what are the different kinds of-
Geni: Well, yeah. So, the cool thing about this, so, first of all, there are all these assessments you could do. There's Colby, there's DISC, there's Myers-Briggs, there's all these things. But if I'm going to go walk into a client setting, I'm going to walk into a client office, I don't want to have to say, “Here, take this test first so I can give you your financial statements,” right?
Geni: I want to be able to discern from their surrounding or the way they behave, or the way they communicate, what I'm dealing with, and then intuitively adjust to their style. Good salespeople do this naturally. It's one of the reasons that great salespeople are great at it. They modify, based on what they're receiving from the person they're trying to sell to.
So, DISC looks at attributes of behavior. And the first thing you look at is, is somebody introverted or extroverted? So, based on what I know about you, because you're doing a podcast, means you're an extrovert, Blake, and you want to be around people.
Blake: Or it could mean that I just like to sit in my house all day, and never have to go outside because I can do this from anywhere.
Geni: Well, if you were really totally introverted, then you wouldn't be talking to other people. You'd be sitting in your house doing something else.
Blake: Fair point. Fair point.
Geni: And the indicator though, is where do you get your energy? After you finished the podcast, are you energized or exhausted?
Blake: I’m actually exhausted sometimes.
Geni: Well then, you might be an introvert.
Blake: I think this one, I'm going to be energized because I'm enjoying it and I'm learning a lot.
[00:12:45] Introverts vs extroverts (what does Geni look for from the data) and the 4 different personality types
Geni: Okay. So, this is the rare podcast that gives you new energy, but that's one- that's how you determine. Introverts get their energy from solitude and extroverts get their energy from crowds.
Blake: Got it.
Geni: So, you may not be able to detect that in one meeting, but you can tell based on what they do, and in their natural course of business, and if they feel energized or not. So, that's the first thing that we look for. And then the second thing is, what are they looking for in an interaction? So, are they more motivated by tasks and outcomes, or are they more motivated by what happens with people?
So, is it a data or a people orientation that the person you're dealing with has? So, somebody who's looking for results is going to be either a D, which is a dominant behavioral style, or a C, which is a compliance behavioral style, which is where the accountants live. Accountants live in the C compliance quadrant of the four aspects of behavior.
So, if I know that they're results-oriented or tasks or data, then I know they're either this D, which is a dominant style, or the C, which is this compliance and conscientious style. And then I look at the extrovert versus introvert, and I can put them in a square and go, “Okay, this is where they're likely going to be, and I need to modify based on that.”
That makes sense?
Blake: So, we have introverted, extroverted, dominant, compliance, and then we can mix and match those?
Geni: So, you have a- if you think of a square- and it's hard without the visual- but you have D and C on the left-hand side of a quadrant, and I and S on the right-hand side. Okay?
Blake: Okay. D, C, I, S, I got that.
Geni: That's right. Okay. So, the Ds and the Cs are on the data side of the things, and the Is and Ss are more motivated by people, relationships. Okay?
Blake: I have seen these charts before.
Geni: You’ve seen the charts.
Blake: I have seen the four quadrants.
Geni: Four quadrants, yes. Yeah. So, that- what they're motivated by is going to tell you which side you are on, left or right. Okay? And then once you figure that out, are they extroverted or introverted?
Blake: And that's up and down.
Geni: And the extroverts are the D and Is at the top of the square, and the introverts are the Cs and the Ss. Okay?
Geni: Makes sense? I know it's hard to [CROSSTALK].
Blake: Okay, yeah. Vertical axis is introversion, extroversion, and then left or right is the dominant-
Geni: Data, task, versus people, yeah.
Blake: Data with people. Okay. So, people in the far upper right are extroverted and love to talk to people all day.
Geni: And those are people like you and I, who are going around talking all the time. Or that's where I am. I'm in the I. I'm in- and that's this influence square that you fall in.
Geni: And then-
Blake: People in the bottom left are the opposite.
Geni: Are the- are steady support people, who are- don't need to be in the spotlight, but really care about making everybody happy.
Blake: How about the upper left?
Geni: Upper left is the D. That's a dominant behavioral style that wants, “I don't care what it takes. Just give me the result, and I'm going to be in the front of the line.” Okay?
Blake: And then the bottom right?
Geni: The bottom left. So, we did bottom right, which was the S for steady.
Blake: I didn't exactly go in like a clockwork order.
Geni: So, the two data, results-oriented people are the dominant D. It's on the top left and the conscientious C on the bottom left. Those two.
Blake: Data-oriented people, yup.
Geni: Yeah. The data oriented, they want results. The D wants it done now and the C wants it done 100 percent right.
Geni: Those who want an outcome, right?
Blake: Yeah. Yup.
Geni: And then on the right, we have the influencer I, which is an extrovert. He wants everybody to like them. And then below that, on the bottom right, is the steadiness person who is the supporter, who wants to be secure, who also wants everybody to be happy.
Blake: Got it.
Geni: So, you can tell based on how they talk, how they sit, what they have in their office, all sorts of things give you clues about what type of behavioral style you're dealing with.
Blake: And I imagine that often, when we are presenting financials when we're talking to our clients, we're talking to people who are on the other side of the spectrum from us.
Geni: Who are diagonally opposed to whatever wiring we naturally have.
Blake: And that explains why when we communicate information in a way that makes sense to us, we struggle to get it across to them.
Geni: Exactly. We're coming at it from a different perspective. So, our typical C, the traditional accountant who's drawn to this industry because they're introverted, and don't want to deal with people, and want to sit in the back office and do technical stuff, follow GAAP and impose transactions, when they communicate, they want to prove that they're right.
So, what kind of information do you think they're sharing? What do you think, Blake?
Blake: So, they want to prove that they are right.
Geni: They’re right.
Blake: So, they are sharing metrics, KPIs, they are sharing percentages.
Geni: They're sharing a 500-tab workbook to prove that they have every single thing is tied together and documented, and it's 100 percent right.
Blake: All the backup is there, right?
Geni: Yeah. They're going to give you 500 pages of stuff. Okay. So, they're working with a high D who just cares about the bottom line, did I make a profit or not? And I'm going to hand that high D who wants one number, 500 spreadsheets to back up the information that I'm communicating.
Blake: And that person, I'm going to guess, doesn't want all the backup.
Geni: That person could care less They just want the answer. And so, we have a natural communication challenge between us, wired as accountants, and that high D owner of most of our client businesses, who's a CEO. They tend to be high D. These are risk-takers. They move quickly. “I don't care what you did, just tell me what the answer is.
I might want to drill into something, but only if I ask. So, if you give me 500 things, you have lost me.”
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[00:20:08] Accountants want to give all the details, but clients usually don't want them
Blake: So, this is really interesting because I, for the first time, have outsourced my own taxes this year. So, I've been on the client side of things. I am working with a CPA who I really like, and I had a question. I emailed him the question and what I got back was- I mean, it could have been a book, right?
That's what it felt like to me. And I saw that email, and the last thing I want to do is read through paragraphs and paragraphs.
Geni: You wouldn’t eve open it.
Blake: I mean, so, you know, I'm not a tax CPA. So, to me, I was effectively in the same seat as any of his other clients who are not accountants. And I didn't want to open it, I didn't want to read it. I really was just was skimming to the bottom to see like, what does this mean for me?
Geni: Exactly. That's what many of our clients want, but we want to push it out the way that we would receive information. So, that's where the-
Blake: ‘Cause we like all the detail.
Geni: Yeah, you didn't care. You hired them because of their expertise. Just tell me the answer, right?
Blake: Right. Right. Right.
Geni: But we also have- some of that also comes from our fear of making a mistake, or being sued if we don't give you all the backup. So, part of it is because of our, you know, regulatory environment that we’re in, but much of it is because of our wiring.
We think we want- would want to know all of it, every single detail, so we're going to share it with everybody we communicate with. and where we make an impact though is when we learn that the recipient only wants a one-sentence answer, we give them that, we attach the supporting detail as a document they will not open, so that we have covered ourselves from a liability perspective.
But you can tell an email with people. You can also tell on the phone- on a phone call. If you get somebody on the phone who just says, “Got a problem, here's what you need to know. Let me know what should I do?” That's a high D. That's a typical CEO, clipped communication style. Just give me the answer, you know, and move on to the next thing.
Blake: That is so fascinating because it actually provides a huge opportunity and that we don't have to spend as much time writing all these emails and putting together all this stuff necessarily, right? We could just say, “If you have- if you want to know how I came to this conclusion, ask.”
Geni: That's what you do. “I have the backup. If you need it, let me know.” And I learned this in in corporate America. So, after I- so, I was a tax partner, I quit the day I made partner and went into high tech and joined a company where I was building CPA programs. And I built a program for Navision Software. My boss was a high D, and I didn't know this stuff at the time.
And I had to create a program. So, I put all this stuff together, I had 500 slides and papers, and research, and all this. I go into his office to give it to him to make my recommendation. And I tried to put the stack of stuff I had in my hands on his desk, which was completely empty. There was nothing on top of his desk.
I tried to put it on there, and he like, raised his hands up and went, “No, don't put that on my desk. Just tell me what you want to do.” And I told him in like a sentence, and he went, “Great, go do it.” And I was like, “Wait, but I got all this stuff I want to share with you.”
Blake: “I want to show you my PowerPoint.”
Geni: “I want to prove all this stuff.” And he was like, “I trust you, go do it.” And I was like, “Well, that's shocking.” But when I look back at DISC, and what I know now, you could tell by the way his office was set up, that he's a high D. He just wanted to know the answer. He had pictures of himself with a celebrity on his wall. That's a classic high D representation.
Because what they value is their connection to somebody famous. So, you'll see them with their arm around like Tiger Woods or somebody, on their wall. That's what's in their office.
Blake: Ah, yes.
Geni: A high C will have graphs and charts about the technical stuff. Like, all of the tax people have all the rates and the social security limits all around them. They don't have pictures of them and some person, right?
Blake: Oh, I have a great example of that. When I was working at a big firm, I went into one of the partner's offices and she had a map of- she did real estate tax, which is super complicated. All these interrelated entities and profit shares and all this stuff, partnerships.
She had a map of her favorite client, which was the most complicated one, which had like a hundred entities. And it was like- it was one of these maps she had made to show how it all worked together.
Geni: Yeah, that's what you have. So, you go into somebody who's the steadiness behavioral style and they'll have pictures of family. 100 percent of them, it's amazing. And the estimation by the way is about 40 percent of the population. These are the people who keep the rest of us functioning.
These are the supporters who make the team happy, who contribute regularly, who we can really rely on. And they'll have pictures of family. The I, the outgoing people who want to influence will have experience things, like pictures of places that they've done because that's what they value.
Blake: Okay. Okay. This is great. So, I have learned for those CEO types, those very driven CEO types, I need to just give them what they want to know, no more than that, and have the backup ready to go in case they want to drill down.
Geni: That's right.
Blake: So, that's really helpful for me.
Blake: So, what about the other types? You mentioned them just now.
Geni: That's right.
[00:25:12] How to present information to a S type person
Blake: How do I tailor my presentation for- what's the one you- the helper? Is that what you called them?
Geni: The supporter, the S.
Blake: The supporter.
Geni: The supporter, the steadiness person who really wants security. You're going to need proof and statistics. They want you to deliver the information in a slow and easy way. They want to trust you personally, and they really value facts and figures. So, many accountants have the conscientious dimension pretty high, in terms of their measurement. And they have this steadiness team supporter factor as well.
So, they have some of the care and concern about people, but they also really want things to be accurate. So, the steadiness person- so, there's some similarities between the two, in this case. But the speed with which you communicate with this person needs to be adjusted. If you get really emotional, you're going to shut them down. If you stand over them and demand, you're going to shut those people down. And so, you have to modify what you do.
[00:26:08] Using Marvel characters as comparisons to people types
Blake: Actually, can we take a step back and help me understand. Like, give me an example of one of these people, the supporter people.
Geni: Okay. So, I'll give you- and you talked about geeks and Marvel. I'll give you examples from the Avengers. Okay?
Geni: So, if we look at the D dimesion, the classic character representation of that is Tony Stark.
Blake: The CEO.
Geni: If you think about how you behave- the CEO, Tony Stark talks fast, really clipped, doesn't care what he has to do to get to the result. He doesn't care how many bodies he has to bury in order to get there. He wants to get it done.
Geni: So, Tony Stark, and he's the Iron Man character in the Avengers series. The next example is the I dimension, which is the people, the influence dimension. And the character for that is Peter Quill, who shows up with a posse. He has that stick guy who's his helper. He shows up at the party with a boombox after the fighting is over.
Blake: Guardians of the Galaxy. Gotcha.
Geni: Yeah. So, he's in the Avengers movies too. So, he's that guy, and he has all that- he has a bunch of people with him all the time, right?
Blake: Yeah. He’s got his posse, his crew.
Geni: And he's about the party, and he shows up with a boombox after the battle’s underway, and he contributes stuff. So, that's the I influencer dimension. The steadiness is the person back at the office keeping the wheels on the bus, right? And that would be Hill, Maria Hill, who doesn’t even get a cool costume and a title. She's like in the control tower making all this stuff show up for the Avengers to do whatever they're doing.
So, she's there. And then the C dimension is The Incredible Hulk- Bruce Banner, when he's not The Incredible Hulk. He's the really nerdy scientist who's going to do it the right way, follow the rules, he wants proof. And he and Tony Stark go to battle, and Tony Stark always runs him over. And eventually, Bruce Banner helps him figure out the solution to the problem.
Blake: Got it.
Geni: So, those are the extreme examples of how those dimensions can be displayed in terms of geek culture, as you called it.
Blake: No, I love that. That's so helpful.
Blake: Because even though they are caricatures-
Geni: They are, and they're extreme, yeah.
Blake: -the reason that they resonate with people is because we all see a bit of ourselves in one of these characters. That's why the Avengers is so popular.
Geni: It is. And the thing about those dimensions- so, those are- if you are an extreme D, you're like Tony Stark, right ?But we each have those dimensions that we can push up or down, based on the requirements of the situation we're in. So, I could be a natural Bruce Banner, which is introverted, detail-oriented, wants 100 percent accuracy, but if nobody else in the room will fill a void, then I will push myself and become more like Tony Stark if I really believe that I need to share something that matters enough for me to overcome my natural wiring.
So, you can push yourself into a different area. But what happens is you use energy to do that. So, if you are wired a natural way and you're in a job- so, let's say you're a high C accountant, traditional accountant, you love being in the back office, and your job requires you to sell, or to go out and do community outreach, which is what, in fact, happens in many CPA firms.
After you get to manager, you're supposed to now turn from a technician into a salesperson, right? We're supposed to make relationships and do all that stuff. So, you can push yourself up and do that in the short term, but you're going to be exhausted when you do stuff that isn't in your natural bucket of comfort.
[00:29:37] How to identify a social influencer, I type
Blake: So, getting back to how we communicate effectively with these different personas, these different types of people, I'm going to stick with this Marvel thing or this Avengers thing, right? Because I don’t know. I'm a nerd. I'm a geek. It helps me figure it out.
Geni: Yeah. You're both. I told you you’re both.
Blake: So, Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, he's the supporter type. So, let's say, how do I know that I've walked into Star Lord’s office? You said pictures of family.
Geni: You're going to see- so, this is, if he's the I, which is the social influencer, you're going to see stuff like, he's going to talk about the last trip. First of all, he's going to want to break the ice with the personal connection to you. So, that tells you that people matter more than data. So, that gives you, he's one of two things. He's either an I or an S, okay?
Geni: So, he's got the influencer thing. Then you look around his office and you see that he's got a bunch of trips or things around him, or his awards or something like that. Okay, this guy is probably a speaker or somebody who's vocal, who's visible, who values that stuff more than 100 percent accuracy.
Blake: Got it.
Geni: So, you can start refining what you do, but you're going to want to make the connection with them. And then what you're gonna want to do with that person, is make sure you take good notes, allow time for socializing, and just hit the high points of whatever you're trying to communicate. And you'll see these people inside companies in sales and marketing positions frequently.
Blake: So, what I don't want to do is go bombard them similarly with those Tony Stark- I don't want to go bombard them with data.
Geni: Yeah, with too much detail. No.
Blake: Too much detail.
Geni: And you don't want to just jump into the business. Now, with Tony Stark, you can jump into the answer, the results, and he'll like that.
Blake: Skip the small talk. You can skip the small talk with Tony Stark.
Geni: Yeah. No small talk with Tony Stark. That’s right.
Blake: Ah. So, that's important. You got to build that personal connection with Peter Quill to get to want to-
Geni: Yeah, to get him to warm up, and then you're going to have to follow up with them. And he's going to want to- he's gonna want you to like him. So, you're going to try to, you know, to connect on a personal level. And whatever you're going to need from him, you're going to have to keep notes, and you know, and probably follow up with that person.
Blake: Well, and these are the people who you- I think you should always do this- is in your Rolodex, or your contacts, or whatever you use to keep track of, you know, who are their kids? Who's their family? This is basic [CROSSTALK] stuff.
Geni: Exactly. And they're going to value the fact that you remember that. Again, good salespeople do it naturally.
Blake: Yeah, I mean-
Geni: They know which people respond to what.
Blake: I'm not so good that I can just do that in my head. I have to like make notes, but I can fake it, right?
Geni: Well, yeah.
[00:32:13] Good salespeople are very detail-oriented
Geni: Well, you know, the other thing about good salespeople, many high Cs who are very detail-oriented make good salespeople because they take good notes, and retain this information. So, they can sell really successfully too, but they're not in the same- you know, they're not selling well based on their natural people skills.
They're doing things to supplement those and still being successful. But you learn, you know, how to make up for whatever you're lacking in.
Blake: Who did you say was in the upper left quadrant, that character?
Geni: The upper left is Tony Stark.
Blake: The upper left is Tony Stark. The upper-
Geni: Yeah. In my left, but it depends on how you're drawing. My left is-
Blake: You know, your left. So, this is the- we are encountering here the primary difficulty of podcasting as a method of communication, and communicating information. So, I think what I'm going to do is, dear listener, I apologize for the insanity here, but I’m gonna- we're going to put an image of this.
Blake: This would normally be on a PowerPoint slide. And we will put this into the show notes, a link to this in the episode, and also, in our course on Earmark. And you'll be able to look at this while we're talking. So, do you mind, Geni? Humor me again and-
Geni: Yeah, I have it on my screen. Can I share? We don't have a share screen We're doing a live podcast.
Blake: We don't have a share screen, but if you send it to me, I'll put it in the show notes. And actually, it would probably be helpful for me to look at it right now. But you could also just actually-
[00:33:40] Recapping one more time the quadrants and type of people
Blake: -just, let's do this again. Walk me through one more time, and shall we go clockwise from upper left around? Walk me through it. Tell me where Tony Stark is. Where's Tony Stark?
Geni: Tony Stark is the high D, which is in the top left corner of the quadrant that I have, which is the extrovert and the task-oriented corner. Got it?
Blake: Got it. Extrovert, task-oriented.
Blake: And then, well, who's to the right of him? The upper right.
Geni: To the right of him is the I, which is also an extrovert, but people oriented.
Blake: Got it. And that is Peter Quill.
Geni: That is Peter Quill. That's right.
Blake: Okay. Now, moving clockwise, we're going to the bottom right.
Geni: Below the I is our S, the steadiness factor. And that is Maria Hill, who's the woman- it's usually a woman, ‘cause they're the ones keeping us [INAUDIBLE]- who's in the- back in the control tower managing all this stuff. And in one episode, she sends the ship that rescues everybody else. So, she's managing all the technology and operations in the back office, doesn't get a cool costume, but keeping everything happening. So, the S, the steadiness of-
Blake: This sis the Deputy Director of SHIELD. SHIELD is what keeps all the Avengers all going.
Geni: That’s right. There you go. There you go.
Blake: Got it.
Geni: And that's in the introvert people quadrant.
Blake: And then in the bottom left- so, we've gone clockwise, all the way around to the bottom left. That's Bruce Banner. The Incredible Hulk.
Geni: That's Bruce Banner, the high C. That's the introvert, data-focused quadrant.
Blake: That's when he's not The Incredible Hulk. That’s when he’s the scientist.
Geni: When he's not The Incredible Hulk. When he's in his scientist, Bruce Banner mode, he's focused on following the rules, and being 100 percent sure that his solution is going to work, versus Tony Stark, who just wants to blow through it and do it. And you know, 1000 people die, it's okay.
[00:35:33] Most accountants are probably in the C quadrant
Blake: So, I'm going to guess that most accountants- like, on average, most accounts would identify with the Bruce Banner bottom left quadrant.
Geni: The C. The traditional accountant, many accountants that are successful have a C and S. So, they have a bit of a people orientation, but they're still really detail-oriented. The S component gives you steadiness and security as motivators. So, they're slightly different. But the S dimension is the hardest one because it's the least extreme of all four behavioral styles. And it's also extremely common across cultures and-
Blake: And I had a client, I think, that probably fit into that S category, the Maria Hill. And she was the Director of Operations of a not-for-profit.
Geni: Yep. Perfect. ‘Cause she cares about a cause, she likes security, and she probably likes process. So, she wants to build repeatable structure. So, that's the perfect- that's where you would see some of us.
Blake: Process. Process. So, that's-
Geni: Yeah, process and structure.
[00:36:36] How do you identify an S person when walking into their office?
Blake: Okay. Process. So, how do we then- well, maybe you have some more ideas for how to identify those people. I'd be curious to know like, when I walk into Maria Hill's office at SHIELD.
Geni: You're going to see photos of family. The relationship and keeping everybody happy. So, you're going to see that focus. You're also going to have her- she's going to break the ice just like the I, but she's going to be much more lowkey less emotional than the I, and needs proof and facts too, just like the C.
Blake: So, that could be challenging because like, you don't get a lot of feedback necessarily on how you're doing from that type of person.
Geni: That’s right. And these people are poker-faced, yeah. They're not going to be wearing their emotions on their sleeve. Now, the I’s going to be wearing them. You're going to know where they're coming from and you know, whatever. So, the Ss are tough.
Blake: Yeah. Peter Quill, you know exactly what he's thinking all the time, right? He's going to tell you.
Blake: Maria Hill is not, necessarily.
Geni: Yeah. That's right.
Geni: And these are deeper thinkers. The introverts are deeper thinkers. The Ds and Is are- shoot from the hip- very different style. And you could tell, based on the first phone call with these people, based on the email exchanges. And you can really get these clues when you start realizing that that's, in fact, what you're getting from people, is communications about how you can be more effective in reaching them.
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[00:39:29] What do you do differently when presenting something to an S type person?
Blake: So, when I go in to present to a Maria Hill, to an S- she's an S?
Blake: What do I do differently?
Geni: If I'm a high C, it's going to be fairly simple for me to reach her. The only thing I'm going to have to try to do is make a personal connection before I dive into the data that I have to share with her. She's going to want the data, she's going to want the proof, she's going to want the backup. So, for a C to communicate with an S is not as big a switch.
For a D to communicate with an S is going to be a bigger switch.
Geni: Because the D is going to just go get this done and then leave. And the S is going to be sitting there, going, “Well, that person was rude.” And you know, and then when the D comes back in an hour and says, “Are you done yet?” the S is going to be shut down because that speed and urgency is against their natural wiring, and it makes them tense up.
[00:40:23] Applying these people to a scenario in an accounting firm
Blake: Well, and you even see these conflicts in accounting firms. I see-
Geni: I think you see them a lot of time.
Blake: Like, The Rainmaker in an accounting firm might be that high D Tony Stark type person.
Blake: And the chief administrator might be that, you know, S, and they can often you know, butt heads.
Geni: They do. And you see a lot of accountants who are Ss, who are also partners at the table trying to make decisions. The negative attribute of that is if I'm- if I have a whole firm of Ss who are people-oriented and want everybody to be happy, what do you think it happens when it comes to making a decision?
Blake: They don't.
Geni: Exactly. Because you can't make everybody happy.
Blake: And they want to make everyone-
Geni: So, you never get anywhere. And the C has- if you think about, we have the S and the C, and the C wants it to be 100 percent right before they make a decision, you can see firms that can't move.
And so, what ends up happening is that Rainmaker becomes a managing partner, and then is making fast decisions, and the rest of the firm’s not bought in, and you see conflict arise, based on that.
Blake: And of course, we've got Bruce Banner at the end.
Geni: Bruce Banner, yep.
Blake: If we are talking to a high C, a Bruce Banner, chances are our methods will work perfectly because they just want all the data.
Geni: They want the data, and yeah if you've got the data, then it's going to work great. You're going to be naturally communicating with them. And we expect everybody we communicate with the be those Cs, right? If that's how we're wired. And so, that's the challenge. We have to adapt to be more successful, and to make them more comfortable in what we're trying to communicate.
[00:41:53] How do we make our clients feel smart?
Blake: And we don't just want to communicate information, we also want to make our clients more successful. We want them to feel good about working with us. So, that's my next question, in how do we make our clients feel smart?
Geni: Well- and this is one of the challenges that we have as a profession. Because one of the things that we have in our own minds is that we must prove how smart we are. And if that's the approach we bring to bear on a problem, then what we're doing, by default, is making them feel dumb, right? And the first time, Blake, that- and you've mentioned this already, but the first time that I really understood what it felt like to be a client of mine was when I moved from Atlanta to California and went to my first wine tasting.
I'm a redneck from South Carolina showing up in Napa Valley, which is like the Mecca, at least to me, of expensive wine that I could never afford. Right? So, I go to my first winery in Napa Valley and they have a winemaker do the marketing spiel about the wine. And what he did was present the science behind the wine.
So, he said, “This is the wine and it goes through malolactic fermentation and it's on the leaves, and it's blah, blah, blah, and it's in the cellar for this many months. And we go through this-” and he explained the science. By the time he was done, my head was exploding and I felt like a complete idiot, which I was when it came to wine.
And the last thing I wanted to do was buy the stuff ‘cause it sounded like a Petri dish and something that was going to, you know, do bad things to my innards if I drank it. And so, I left feeling- and I was totally embarrassed to raise my hand and say, “Uh, what are you talking about?” ‘Cause I'm the one redneck in the room, right? So, I'm not going to ask. So, as a result, he doesn't have a chance to communicate to me.
He loses a sale. He loses an opportunity to turn me into a fan because all I got was stuff that I had no context for. And I literally walked out of there going, “Oh my God. This is what it feels like when I'm talking about GAAP and FASBs, and Section 179 and FBAR, my favorite report. Sounds like FUBAR but it was FBAR that we had to file. You know, all that stuff.
And this is exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end of gobbledygook that doesn't mean anything to you. And so- and I started using that. I do training for wineries now in Napa Valley. And I started- I start my classes with this vocabulary disconnect. I say, “Here's the stuff I say that makes you feel stupid.” And here's what you all say on the leaves and alluvial fans- that was one of my favorite things that they talk about.
Blake: Alluvial fans. What a great-
Geni: Alluvial fans, yeah.
Blake: I’ve no idea what that is.
Geni: It's a geographical thing. It's how the water rains down the mountains and creates silt that comes down- I don't know, something like that. But I mean that kind of terminology.
Blake: What is it, the terroir? Terroir, yes.
Geni: Terroir, yeah. And they- and I had people show me their hand to describe this alluvial fan thing, it makes the ground better. I mean, I went through all this stuff, and I said, “I'm over here doing this to you, and you guys are doing the same thing to me. And I'm going to break down the barriers on the accounting side, and you guys are going to teach me how to pronounce [INAUDIBLE], which to me, is the funniest word in wine.
And it's spelled weird and hard to say. And then that makes them have permission to not know what I'm talking about. We all laugh at how stupid it is to, you know, do that to somebody, and then I try to explain the vocabulary, get them on equal footing with me and then we can go forward from that.
[00:45:26] Make it so people aren't afraid to ask questions
Blake: Yes. Making it so that they're not afraid to ask questions.
Geni: Yeah, ‘cause they are, you know? We expect people to reach a particular level and suddenly have somehow learned accounting. They start out being good at selling, and by the time they get to managerial levels, they're supposed to understand financial statements. And nobody bothers to train them, or teach them, or explain it to them.
And so, you're intimidated to say, “Well, what are you talking about? What is this balance sheet thing you speak of?” You know, you can't do that. And so, we just launch into this stuff, and I think lots of owners are in that position. And again, they're not going to say to the tax person, “I don't know what you're talking about.” You know? So, it's tough, but our value is dependent on this stuff having context for our clients.
Blake: You know, this whole conversation is making me- like, it's giving me flashbacks to my days accounting as a manager, and having meetings with clients. And so much of my meetings with them, I was sitting across the desk and we're going over the financial statements, and they're really just- they're trying to understand how their business works, from a financial point of view.
Geni: Yeah, from this.
Blake: And a lot of it is really basic. Like, I cannot tell you how many times I explained the difference between cash and accrual. And I’m sure the first time-
Geni: Between profit and cash, Blake. Between profit and cash.
Blake: Between profit and cash.
Geni: That's the biggest question, if I made a-
Blake: That’s a better way to say it.
Geni: If I made a profit, where's my cash? They always ask that. And I mean, I used to go out and do books for clients and I would leave- I mean, I’d ask- I remember asking one of the owners, you know, “Well, you know, what does it feel like? What- how you how did you do?”
“And he said well we did fine until you came out here and took away all of my money and all of my profit.” And I was like, “Well, wait, you think I came in with a briefcase but what I did is make accounting adjustments,” right? So, they don't know. But what they're trying to do is run a business, not comply with financial standards, which is what everything we do is built for, right?
Blake: Right, right.
[00:47:28] Geni's mission since leaving a firm
Geni: And so, there was a series of things that happened, but I really wanted to leave the profession and make our profession more valued and make this stuff relevant to people so they could apply the numbers and creating what they were trying to build. And that's been my mission since I left the firm. Everything I've done is based on that.
Blake: Well, it's a good mission.
Geni: Well, it’s-
Blake: I think you’re doing a service to the profession because there's- who cares if we put together all these numbers and reports if nobody understands them?
Geni: Well, that's the thing. I know.
Blake: If they don’t do something, right?
Geni: Well, and you think about what we've done often, as a profession, is focus on efficiency. And you'll hear Ron Baker and Ed Kless talk about this all the time. “We focus on making the- doing the wrong stuff inside our firms faster,” right? We have an efficiency focus in our firms, and if we switched the focus and put clients at the center of what we're doing, the focus should be, what do they need?
How can I support that client in achieving their business and personal goals? And that's what I'm doing with advisory service for clients. I'm trying to first identify, what do you want to do? And then how can I line up the reporting and bring in the tools that will support you in getting to that outcome? And it's a very different way of being, in a way that we are not trained, as CPAs, to even think.
We're trained to think about all the regulatory stuff we must follow to be a CPA. And so, this is a huge shift.
Blake: It is. I mean, when I started bookkeeping, I didn't really understand- well, here- I was doing bookkeeping, and I didn't even know this at the time ,but basically, to get a tax return done.
Blake: That's why it was- I was being hired, right?
Blake: I was being hired to compile numbers, to reconcile bank accounts to get a tax return done. But what I was doing wasn't actually helping the business owner run their business any better. No.
Geni: At all. At all. No.
Blake: That's the- and that's the lowest value. That's what I was doing for like 20 bucks an hour, right?
Geni: Yeah, yeah.
Blake: Like, that is the lowest value, and 20 bucks an hour. Like, I think Uber drivers make more than that when you take out-
Geni: Well, that's right. And that's what we- and we teach, you know that I teach accountants to become advisors and I use a methodology called level five advisory service. That's level one work. That's what everybody who does accounting can do or should be able to do.
And what our clients need is to get it from the basic stuff to actionable insights, which is what you get to at level five. How does this stuff work and what do I change to make it better? And we never get there with most of our clients. We're still trying to get the level one right.
Blake: Well, and then- so, we don't- that's an entire topic, and we’ll talk that- for a different day.
Geni: A different topic for a different day.
Blake: But I want to like, I want to get an idea of this.
[00:50:07] What kind of information does Geni give her clients?
Blake: So, what kind of information then should I be- it's not just how I provide the information, it's also what I give them, right?
Geni: Well, what would- yeah.
Blake: So, what kind of information do you give to your clients?
Geni: We have to find a way to put it in context for them. And so, one of the tools that we go to is Fathom, which is a dashboard tool that has one screen in it that I show clients, even in a sample mode. So, I can show a sample company inside Fathom and say, “This is the kind of thing we want to get you to. It is where I can put in your financial goal,” and typically, that's cash. For people in the wine industry, they want more cash because it's a cash intensive industry.
I can put in where they are now, based on what's in their accounting software, and then I can show them the levers they have to push to make cashflow go up. And then I can slide bars and show them, “If you fix your price point by 2%, here's the cash you can generate. If you fix your AR collection and collect by five days faster, here's how much cash you're going to put in the bank.”
And so, that tool is the best tool I found to educate a business owner about why this stuff matters.
Blake: Ah, that's amazing. Right. It's, you're showing them the levers. “Here’s the lever you pull.”
Geni: I'm showing them the levers. This is what they want to know. How do I make more cash? Not-
Blake: That's what a business is, right? It's a cash business.
Geni: Exactly. It should be for most people. Sometimes, they have a different goal, but we can do that too. But whatever the goal is, I need to know before I start jumping in and fixing the chart of accounts because it doesn't match the [INAUDIBLE] import file that I'm working on.
Geni: Which is what we do. We create charts that work for us, but they don't give any managerial insight to that business owner. So, that's the kind of stuff that we're focused on, trying to pull out the stuff. Now, we have to have the numbers right so we can build this on it, which is why I started the bookkeeping company to try to get the numbers right. And it ain't easy in the wine industry.
Blake: I’m sure it’s very difficult.
Geni: And we're still trying to get- you know, still trying to get that perfected so that we get clients what they need, but they don't understand a lot of what we're doing. And so, we need to get that right, and then we try to move them into the Fathom world. But sometimes, it takes us longer to get this first stuff right.
But this is what we do. But Fathom is a tool that appeals to a high D. A CEO wants to see this. Every time I've shown it to a business owner, they flip out, like, “This is what I need to know. This is what I've been looking for.” And this is the kind of thing we do in our firm, that when we sit down with an owner and start from this, it puts us in a different value conversation than it would if we say, “Okay, we're going to fix your tax problem and get your returns filed on time. Yeehaw.”
Blake: Well, is maybe part of the problem the fact that we aren't doing this stuff in our own firms?
Geni: Right, we’re not. I know.
Blake: Like, one of the things I see every now and then from people in the profession is this incredible concept of, what happens to your firm when you raise prices just 20%? Because if we actually thought about our firms and understood the business model, we would realize that just taking on everything that comes our way and charging a low price is not a good way to run a business.
Geni: That’s right.
Blake: And I mean- but we don't-
Geni: This is the same stuff our clients wrestle with, right? And we don't do it for ourselves.
Blake: We don't do it for ourselves, and then we're so busy that we don't have time to think about any of this stuff or do this for clients.
Geni: And we're not alone. Our clients were in the same boat. But that's where we make them feel smarter. We can help them supplement what they already know by helping present the data in a way that they can use it to justify what they know. Because they- most business owners are brilliant about whatever it is they're doing and we're not.
But what we can do is help them look at things from a different perspective, and then help them gather the data in a way that makes it evident to them. So, but it requires us to ask different questions in order to get to that place.
Blake: Yep. We have to understand their businesses. Like, we have to act- I mean, that means you can't serve everybody, right?
Geni: That’s right.
Blake: If you serve everybody, you can't understand all these different business models. It's just too complicated.
Geni: That’s right.
Blake: So, that's also where you have- how you've been able to do this is by specializing in wine.
Geni: Well, and I fell into a firm that already had this niche, niche, however you want to say it, depending on your geographical wiring and location. But they already had a focus on wineries, and they were already doing advisory, and I just helped them sort of refine it.
And I also did a lot of outreach and speaking and training classes and things that can supplement what we were doing, but we really had to get out of the marketplace and go against the brand as a CPA firm. Because people see us as tax people if we're CPAs, right?
Geni: So, we had done kind of an uphill battle to establish ourselves as people who wanted to do more than that. And so, we did training, but we also developed custom tools. We have a scorecard that we create that benchmarks our own clients against each other.
We normalize the data and we look at them by case counts, we show them farming costs per acre and you know, marketing spend per case, and things like that that don't just go off the financial statements, but bring in metrics from other systems. This is the stuff they want to know. They call us, “Is that thing done yet? I want to see if I got a red, green or yellow score on my scorecard.”
Blake: I love that- client's calling and asking for their financial report.
Geni: Yeah, can we- is that done yet? And how did we do? And what's everybody else doing? We got that question so many times. And you know, it's a very unique market that we're in, because we're all in a very small geographical area. So, it's even more- you know, they want to know what Joe down the street did, or you know, whatever.
So, we try- we created our own document to give them that kind of insight. But it is. You have to go beyond the financial data to really get to the levers that are driving the results.
[00:55:40] Thank you for being here Geni, wher can listeners reach you?
Geni: And if you want to help people, you gotta dig in there a little bit deeper and ask different questions.
Blake: I love that. Well, Geni, that is all the time that we have today. I have learned so much. I'm going to take this in in my own business too. I'm not- I don't have an accounting firm anymore, but I have an education company. And now, I'm going to think. Whenever I talk to somebody, I'm gonna say, “This is a Tony Stark, Peter Quill, Maria Hill or Bruce Banner.”
And I think that's going to make a big difference for me.
Geni: Yeah. How you communicate. And your marketing needs to be designed to reach all those audiences, to be more successful.
Blake: That's right. That's right. All right. Well, hey, Geni, so, I'm sure that our listeners would love to connect with you online, follow what you're doing, learn more about it. Where would you like to send them?
Geni: They can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can also go to my theimpactfuladvisor.com site, if they're interested in becoming advisors. I have too many websites to mention. You could list them all in the print [CROSSTALK].
Blake: We'll put them in the show notes. You know, you have to send those to me.
Geni: Yeah, put those in the show notes.
Blake: The impactful advisor.com.
Geni: Yeah. That's the advisory training website-
Blake: Got it.
Geni: -we’re teaching accountants to do this kind of work. And then Even A Nerd is my speaking and book brand, and you know, some of the other stuff that I do.
Blake: All right. And you can always just go search Geni Whitehouse online. I'm sure you're the first one who comes up, right? G-E-N-I.
Geni: Yeah. They're not very many people spelled that way, so yeah.
Blake: All right. Well, thanks again for your time. Such a pleasure. A reminder to our listeners that this episode will be available for CPE credit for CPAs, CMAs, soon EAs as well. You can go to earmarkcpe.com, download the app, and you'll find this course about a week after the episode drops.
So, if it's been a week since this episode came out, go on the app, you'll see the chorus register. You take a quick quiz, and you get your hour of CPE credit.
Blake: Geni, hope to talk to you again soon.
Geni: Thank you so much, Blake. It's been a pleasure.