Marketing lessons from a 310-million-year-old fossil.
Once again, Intuit (otherwise known as “the-company-who-must-not-be-named”) has slapped you in the face – on the most-watched television event of the year, no less. I’m talking, of course, about TurboTax’s Super Bowl commercials advertising their new “TurboTax Live” service with live CPAs (and EAs and attorneys) helping customers file their returns.
TurboTax’s parent company Intuit has never been shy about helping clients bypass you. Millions of business owners across America use QuickBooks and TurboTax to do some of the same work you do for them. And in some cases, where clients can actually use those tools, that’s fine! Of course, in many cases — especially with business owners — TurboTax is like an orthopedic bone saw, and just because you can buy the tool doesn’t mean you should actually use it.
So where do you as a CPA or EA fit into TurboTax’s new environment? Well, you start by applying on their website. There’s a phone screen and an online assessment. If you make the grade, you’ll get a laptop from Intuit to use with your own landline phone and internet connection. (Kids, Google “landline” and be ready to have your mind blown.) You’ll complete a training program that takes about 40 hours. You’ll sign up for four-hour shifts, at an hourly rate starting around $24. And when you click on your laptop to indicate you’re available, you’ll be connected within seconds to a real live taxpayer looking for help.
Of course, your role will be limited . . . very limited. TMN members who’ve joined the program tell me there’s no tax planning going on at all. You can’t suggest a customer file an S election for their single-member LLC. You won’t be able to help them with IRS correspondence or audits. And once your call with them is over, so is your relationship. They can’t call back later and ask for you — they have to settle for whoever’s next in the queue.
We can see plenty of legitimate reasons for TMN members to sign up for the program. You’re in business and looking to maximize your time! If you’re new in practice, or winding down a mature practice, or just looking to fill some unspoken-for hours, why not get paid to
sharpen your tax knowledge and customer relations skills? It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea . . . but if it’s yours, that’s great. I’m not here to mock you or demean your choice.
But here’s the problem. With TurboTax Live, Intuit has thrown you under the bus. They’ve taken the most-respected designation in financial services, and turned you into a bonus add-on to a do-it-yourself software program. You may have all the tax knowledge in the world . . . but as far as the customer is concerned, you’re just like Jake from State Farm, rocking a pair of khakis in a call center somewhere at 3am.
Over 20,000 CPAs, tax professionals, and financial advisors subscribe to The Briefs. Subscribe now to receive expert insight on growing your business, links to the latest Tax Beat and Tax Tactics articles. You will also receive invitations to webinars, events, and special offers. Published weekly.
TurboTax has turned you into the prize in a Cracker Jack box! And as the postmodern American balladeer and Celebrity Apprentice entrepreneur Meat Loaf so articulately reminded us, “there ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”
Now, TurboTax would tell you, “hey, we love CPAs, we wouldn’t use the initials CPA to advertise the program if we didn’t know that our customers recognize it as the gold standard of tax.” But they’ve disregarded that gold standard and boxed you into a role that values you at almost nothing.
The answer, of course, is to not be “just” a CPA. (What’s a “CPA,” anyway? Ask 10 different people to tell you what they think when they hear those initials, and odds are good that you’ll get at least six or eight different answers.) There are over 658,000 CPAs in America right now. If you line them up head to toe, they’d stretch from New York City nearly to Atlanta. (True fact.) How special can you be if you’re one of 658,000?
Business owners want two things from their CPAs: 1) lower personal taxes, and 2) numbers that help them run their business. Ironically, most of them don’t get either of those things from their current accountant. Nobody calling in to TurboTax Live will be getting either of those things, either.
That’s where Tax Master Network comes in. TMN gives you a better model for building your business. A proactive, forward-looking approach that escapes the “recording history” trap that most CPAs fall into. A client-focused relationship where you don’t tell them how much they owe, you tell them how to pay less. A blue-ocean opportunity to trade struggling to sell them something they need for the much more attractive chance to sell them something they want.
If you’re a traditional history-minded CPA, your business and your financial security are already under assault from advancing technology. TurboTax’s new service is just another nail in the old-school CPA business model’s coffin. The solution is to join TMN here on “the light side” and transform your business for 2021 and beyond!
Are you skeptical that an entire industry the size of tax prep can shrivel up to a fraction of its former size? Don’t ask me, ask a farmer. Oh, wait, you don’t know any farmers. In 1850, farmers made up 64% of the nation’s workforce. By 1920, that number was down to 30%. Today, it’s just 1.3%. Technology has taken a centuries-old way of life and reduced it to something you just drive through on the way to someplace that isn’t far enough to justify flying.
Now, will we see technology decimate the tax-prep industry like it did farming? Maybe, maybe not. But you don’t have to believe it will be nearly that dramatic to understand how it’ll put a squeeze on your business. Don’t wait for Intuit to keep chipping away at your value to fight back. Make planning the core of your business and armor yourself now!
The Briefs is a weekly column on marketing and business planning for tax professionals and financial advisors looking to better serve clients and grow their business.
Get your FREE Copy Of Selling Tax Savings
Enter your email to receive “Selling Tax Strategies” directly to your inbox!