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Introducing optimisation and automation in accounting firms

When we first spoke to Farnell Clarke, their aims were clear: They wanted to improve overall understanding of how their business was performing with better tracking, reporting, visibility and analysis. As a growing SME, the accounting firm needed efficient business processes utilising optimisation to match their expanding client base.

Using multiple spreadsheets, the accounting SME mainly relied on manual processes. Due to the lack of tailored support and implementation, the benefits of optimisation to capture, nurture and manage leads were unrealised. As a result, the team of 75 was burdened with administrative tasks, leads were slipping through the cracks, and senior management lacked a full and transparent picture of the business’s overall health.

By leveraging trusted and relevant workflow tools to optimise and automate their business processes, Farnell Clarke have prepared their business for success, achieving significant improvements in:

  • Time savings
  • Their ability to capture, manage and nurture leads
  • Their ability to upsell services
  • The communication between team members
  • Staff productivity and accountability
  • Recognising team members’ wins to support their career progression (resulting from more visible and comprehensive data)
  • Reporting

Our customised approach gave the accounting firm the necessary strategy, solutions and support to confidently optimise its sales process. Solvaa implemented Pipedrive, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that helps SMEs manage their sales processes and integrated the no-code automation tool Zapier, which have become cornerstones of Farnell Clarke’s daily operations.

Since partnering with Solvaa, Farnell Clarke has introduced a high level of optimisation and automation and said goodbye to manual processes for good. “Ultimately, it’s bringing sales to the forefront of everyone’s minds,” says Frances.

“Kelly and her team are super organised and professional. Rodrigo was involved on the day to day project side, so communication was really quick,” Frances adds.

 

Gain a clear, big-picture understanding

Farnell Clarke is a professional firm of around 75 accountants, bookkeepers and business advisors in Norwich, UK. The firm provides specialised services to individuals and businesses, including bookkeeping, payroll management, VAT returns, financial statement preparation, tax planning and business advice.

The firm is known for utilising modern technology and cloud-based accounting software to simplify processes and offer efficient services to their clients. However, their own business workflows heavily relied on a manual system comprising a static spreadsheet that lacked insights and resulted in lost leads.The growing SME sought to review its customer journey pathway and identify streamlining, optimisation, and automation opportunities.

The team were also struggling to manage new business coming in and upselling to their existing clients. The growing SME sought to review its customer journey pathway and identify streamlining, optimisation, and automation opportunities.

With sales teams that manage an average of 80-leads each, Farnell Clarke needed a reliable and effective tool underpinned by a robust strategy. Farnell Clarke’s objectives in the first instance were to have Pipedrive installed properly and efficiently and to provide real insights to them as business owners and the team.

“We also had very little accountability, and business development became like a non-priority against actually doing work,” says Frankie. “We wanted it to be much more,” Frankie continues.

The accounting firm sought to improve lead tracking and management, increase reporting accuracy on leads, identify reasons for lost clients and their value, and improve visibility and analysis of its target clients. They also wanted tools to evaluate their conversion rates, analyse deal closure times and gather reasons for proposal rejections to make informed business development decisions.

Previously, Farnell Clarke didn’t know how many leads they were receiving, exactly where along the sales process leads were falling through the cracks, or what that indicated about the business’s health and development. Managing the unwieldy spreadsheet was also a time-consuming task.

Farnell Clarke wanted to accurately and easily identify trends to capture business and use this for comparable data. “We had no good system for control and management,” says Frances.

The firm had many different ways of bringing in new business and upselling to its existing clients. As a result, new clients didn’t always go to the enquiries team but to the new business team instead. Managing leads consisted, as it often does, of a spreadsheet that saw individual team members log new business.

Pre-Solvaa, two team members, Frances and Will, handled new business at Farnell Clarke. Yet, the expansion of the business’s sales team and overall firm’s growth highlighted the firm’s problem: As they started delegating work requirements, they didn’t have the system to capture everything.

The accounting firm also made a big push on new business in 2023, another leading reason for the team exploring how to improve their processes. “If we’re going to be pushing this hard, we need to have better control over it,” Frances says in the firm’s decision to revisit implementing digital tools. “It was twofold in recognising that the current way of working wasn’t going to be fit for purpose,” Frances adds.

“We found that we didn’t have everything captured, everything wasn’t being managed as efficiently as it could be, and we had no real insights into our new business process,” says Frances. That’s when Farnell Clarke collaborated with Solvaa to explore new ways of optimising their sales process, taking advantage of their customised and expert-led approach.

 

Managing significant gaps in the manual-to-automated sales process

Like many businesses in the accounting and bookkeeping industry, Farnell Clarke use many different apps for client and lead management. Accounting firms have practice management software, compliance-related software such as anti-money laundering (AML) security and contract signing software.

However, in accounting and bookkeeping practices, once a client is onboarded or even during the onboarding process, there is often a significant gap between client liaison, acquisition and retention as many don’t have a CRM system. Engaging in a lot of marketing and capturing, teams typically fill out forms, book discovery calls and follow up with existing leads.

Many firms find themselves using a spreadsheet to capture, manage and nurture leads. They often therefore lack accurate and visible data into their sales efforts, making it difficult to make informed business development decisions. Farnell Clarke was experiencing this. To overcome these challenges, the company set out to optimise its sales process, clearly understand its key performance indicators (KPIs) for reporting and implement effective automation.

The 75-strong accounting firm was familiar with Pipedrive, a CRM tool that helps SMEs manage their sales processes. Farnell Clarke had previously trialled various CRMs and even installed a competitive CRM in 2020, but due to a lack of strategy and robust implementation, it never got off the ground and only caused more stress and delays. That’s where Solvaa came in.

“Kelly’s just super slick, and you can tell that by her organisational professionalism—it’s very good. Her automation of calendar reminders and check-ins is a testament to the fact that she automates a lot in Solvaa,” says Frances.

 

Adopting digital tools to optimise accountancy

Farnell Clarke approached Solvaa to manage the implementation of Pipedrive after researching and pinpointing the CRM tool as ideal for their accounting firm’s needs and Solvaa as the right expert to help them. Working with Solvaa, Farnell Clarke wanted to improve the tracking and management of incoming leads, the reporting on incoming leads, and the reporting on lost clients with reason and value.

Implementing technology to streamline workflows and achieve business goals can be overwhelming for many organisations. Our team understands this challenge, so we conduct a thorough review and engage in a comprehensive planning process before any implementation takes place.

Adopting our holistic approach, the Solvaa team conducted a sales process audit workshop to thoroughly understand its current business processes. The Solvaa team then identified the areas where the accounting firm would benefit from process optimisation before processing Farnell Clarke with a comprehensive report detailing their recommendations.

Solvaa analysed and advised on Farnell Clarke’s recommended architecture, how the system was going to be built, and how the sales process will be designed, including what custom fields to include. The accounting firm needed to collect data for the different entities, the people, the companies, the organisation and the opportunity. They then discussed the different features and functionalities the firm wanted to include as part of that build.

“It’s really good to have a visual of what we’re working on and what the timeframe of those projects will be,” Frances says, detailing the benefits of the Solvaa approach. We shared the comprehensive report we had developed, listing all the options the accounting firm could optimise and automate and those we recommended for the implementation stage.

After recognising the beneficial role business process optimisation with automation would provide Farnell Clarke, Solvaa also implemented Zapier automation to ensure the business’s different systems were talking to each other consistently and effectively.

As part of our tailored consulting approach, we implemented Farnell Clarke’s customised Pipedrive and Zapier automations in a two-stage phased process. As accountants’ busiest period is December to February, the firm wanted to introduce the optimisation and automation processes in two stages so they could embrace all its benefits and get it up and running without disrupting its teams’ peak workloads.

Throughout the project, we provided our expertise on Pipedrive and Zapier to address any concerns, oversee the implementation and guarantee seamless integration between the two solutions. By leveraging our knowledge, Farnell Clarke was confident the workflow enhancements and automated processes would facilitate smoother operations and integrate their business applications seamlessly.

 

Getting it right: Capturing, communicating and converting leads

“We’ve consistently grown on referrals, so it is really good to see where our leads are coming from and perhaps where we need to invest our time to get new business,” Frances says.

We have extensive experience working with accounting and bookkeeping firms, and what we typically see is that while they often receive a high volume of leads, they struggle to handle them effectively. When the right tools and business process automation are absent, the burden falls on team members already busy with other tasks to manually record leads and navigate through different disconnected systems.

Farnell Clarke had previously tried to roll out a CRM tool. “That failed miserably,” Frances said, as it did not have a well-thought-out strategy and implementation plan. It was also introduced without thinking about the wider business and integrations and without clear and well-managed training for the firm’s teams. “We’d been burnt before, which meant that I just wanted somebody to do it properly,” says Frances.

“Knowing that Pipedrive was a really good option and that Kelly from Solvaa was a specialist in Pipedrive, going with the CRM was natural,” Frances shares. Farnell Clarke spoke to Kelly to share their workflow, how and what the business wanted to capture and the other systems they had in place. The accounting firm has Microsoft Outlook, Practice Ignition for its proposals and Karbon as its practice management software.

Working in partnership with Solvaa, Farnell Clarke met their overall objective to create one system. “The whole big picture was taken into account rather than just putting Pipedrive in as a standalone,” says Frances.

Before Solvaa, lead management and nurturing were ad hoc and carried out when people remembered it was on their list. With different requirements for each business function, the system needed to cater to these varying needs to ensure effective communication and lead management. Solvaa’s approach and Pipedrive answers that.

The team now has fortnightly business development meetings. “Having that centralised hub means everyone can look at the data to track their leads and know when to contact people,” says Frances.

Along with better transparency and accountability, Farnell Clarke can now more easily celebrate their team’s achievements. Together, the team will go through the won, lost, and open deals—recognising together when there’s been great sales. There’s collaboration, conversation and clarity throughout the business, now. “That’s just a nice way of working, together, rather than everyone having their list of things to do,” says Frances.

 

Finding the right solution: Why software ‘for accounting practices’ is not always the answer

Often, businesses will have industry-specific tools to manage their productivity, only to find they need to gain the necessary capabilities to capture, manage and nurture their leads. Additionally, these tools typically have redundant, complex functionality and high costs without the desired effect of making the firm and their clients’ lives easier.

While off-the-shelf systems may market themselves as ‘for accounting and bookkeeping firms’, the reality is very different. Accounting and bookkeeping firms often remain stuck with manual and repetitive tasks, poor data management and multiple disconnected systems that require team members to copy and paste between software. Eroding productivity can result in lost leads, quoting and invoicing errors, and overall disruption to a business and its reputation.

Industry-specific software often fails to give accounting and bookkeeping businesses transparency over their sales processes. Quotes can get sent out incorrectly with missing information or to the wrong customers, prompting more admin and, often, a return to manual methods. Through optimising business processes, accounting and bookkeeping firms can eliminate these issues without compromising on functionality, process efficiency or simplicity.

To prevent these stresses and time drains, we recommend choosing solutions that can be customised to your specific accounting and bookkeeping firm’s needs. And that way, avoiding the pitfalls, limitations and complexities of industry-specific solutions.

 

Leaving no margin for error

In Farnell Clarke’s case, an industry-specific tool would only respond to so much of what the firm needed it to do. Without the CRM functionality built into these practice management systems, the firm would still have to rely on other methods to stay on top of generating leads from their marketing efforts and then putting through a sales process to become clients.

Pipedrive, on the other hand, enables the company to set up a deal or an opportunity, allowing them to collect data. Farnell Clarke can then specify when they predict this deal or opportunity is likely to convert into actual work, enabling them to forecast and plan revenue, and build a proposal—all within the CRM. If multiple team members are working on one lead or customer’s project, every team member can see the communication and work completed to date.

Farnell Clarke can now see, at any point in time, where the prospective or existing customer is along the lead management and nurturing process. Are they in the prospecting stage? Have they had a discovery call? Have they sent the customer a contract? Have they had a second call? Implementing Pipedrive’s CRM provides full transparency over every single lead or opportunity that comes through their door and where it is along their sales process.

With Pipedrive CRM, the accounting firm now has one centralised place where it can collect all relevant information, eliminating spreadsheets and other time-consuming and unproductive manual processes.

 

Celebrating business and career development success

Farnell Clarke is delighted with the time-saving impact on administrative tasks, boosted team morale through success tracking, and revolutionised business processes with Pipedrive.

With Solvaa as its trusted partner, moving to Pipedrive was a natural progression for Farnell Clarke. “Working with Solvaa meant the implementation of PipeDrive resulted in increased accountability, clearer lead tracking, streamlined communications, and lead value-based prioritisation,” highlights Frances. “The CRM system allowed for better follow-up governance, real-time data visibility, and more effective sales strategies,” Frances adds.

Implementing Pipedrive and Zapier has enabled Farnell Clarke to bring sales to the forefront of their teams’ minds. With no more spreadsheets eating into their day and causing productivity leaks, the team has more time, focus and top-level strategic understanding over their business. They have freed up time to discuss business development, observations, insights and any concerns.

Using Pipedrive for calls means Farnell Clarke can engage in more hands-on customer service. It also means the team can “share experiences about how they dealt with the enquiries instead of getting bogged down in manual spreadsheets—therefore making the overall work less ad hoc,” adds Frances.

Farnell Clarke has seen considerable time savings on administrative tasks since partnering up with Solvaa to implement Pipedrive. Their different systems, present to capture data, now update when a proposal is won, which is then directly fed into their practice management system. “It’s definitely time-saving,” says Frances.

An enhanced focus on sales growth was also a key benefit, as were “Kelly’s clear communication, quick responses, and automation practices streamlined operations”, Frances shares.

Recognising sales teams’ performance is also a core benefit of Farnell Clarke’s new business process optimisation and automation tools. The successful implementation has transformed current processes and laid a foundation for data-driven growth.

The collaboration strived to provide valuable insights and efficient CRM installation, providing visual recognition for career development by providing success tracking in sales efforts. “Working as a team has greatly improved and the team now celebrates new deals,” says Frances.

Working with Solvaa and implementing business process optimisation helps with overall team accountability too along with morale, support for one another and exploring career progression opportunities. “Pipedrive now means we all can have a little bit more conversation, share experiences and how we’ve all dealt with them,” says Frances.

“We are accountants at heart, so we’re not great salespeople,” Frances says. Pipedrive supports the team in maximising their capabilities, bridging any gaps in skill and removing unnecessary and onerous admin tasks. With Pipedrive implemented, if a team member struggles with sales, they can help them develop their skills and change how they work more efficiently.

With a robust CRM implementation and ongoing support from expert business process optimisation specialists Solvaa, Farnell Clarke considers their new way of working as a core pillar of reaching their business goals and team members’ individual career ambitions. Personal fulfilment among their team is essential to Farnell Clarke and is a much-welcomed outcome of optimising their business processes.

Farnell Clarke valued Solvaa’s comprehensive insights, delivered via a shared report, on all the options within the business that could be automated. The team found it particularly useful to have a visual depiction of what they were working on and at one point along the timeframe of those projects the team was at.

Engaging in fortnightly Pipedrive CRM meetings enables Farnell Clarke to understand if and where mistakes are being made. So, if they weren’t sending out the correct forms to clients or deciding when to mark a client lost, they wanted to put in clear deadlines to say, “Right, if a client hasn’t replied after four times of you chasing, what’s the process, and when do we mark it as lost?”.

Looking ahead, Farnell Clarke will utilise Solvaa’s expertise and support to remove extra admin time. Together, they will achieve this by automatically updating the team’s practice management system with the details of won proposals. “The practice has always grown on referrals, so it was really good to see where the leads were coming from and perhaps where we need to be investing our time to get new business,” Frances highlights.

Watch this video interview with Frances Kay from Farnell Clarke, where she discusses the impact of Pipedrive on their business processes:

 

Optimising and automating Farnell Clarke’s sales functions with Pipedrive and Zapier

Farnell Clarke’s success story results from their shift from manual to automated processes, with a strong focus on automating lead capturing, management and nurturing, and connecting the practice’s other tools together.

With Solvaa’s strategic approach and customised implementation and support, the accounting firm now uses two industry-leading applications to optimise and automate the sales process and connect their other business-critical tools: Pipedrive and Zapier.

Here, we look at the specific actions we recommended and implemented for Farnell Clarke.

1. Pipedrive implementation for lead collection, nurturing and management

Pipedrive CRM is a highly visual and customisable sales pipeline management system that allows businesses to track deals through different stages of the sales process. Its capabilities help companies stay organised and focused on their sales goals. Pipedrive CRM also offers advanced reporting and analytics features, which can help companies track their sales activities, forecast revenue, and identify areas for improvement.

Managing lead generation can be challenging, but with Pipedrive, it becomes a lot easier due to its user-friendly interface and platform design. Farnell Clarke can streamline its data management and process activity by centralising all lead generation activities from its website, phone calls, emails, and social media requests.

In addition to its core features, Pipedrive CRM also provides integrations with various third-party applications, such as marketing automation, accounting, and communication tools. These integrations can assist businesses in simplifying their workflows and enhancing their productivity.

2. Lead capturing and qualifying

As the accounting firm generates leads from its website, phone, email, social media, and LinkedIn, it needs to integrate different systems. With this tool, their team can easily manage and nurture leads step-by-step, resulting in increased conversion rates and fewer wasted hours.

Zapier provides automation to ensure new contacts and deals are seamlessly added to Pipedrive whenever web forms are submitted. Farnell Clarke can manually add contacts and deals to Pipedrive from their desktop, either within the platform or via email sync, the mobile app and through integrating Facebook Messenger and/or Microsoft Outlook.

Efficiency is a core benefit of Farnell Clarke’s new business process-optimised approach. The team utilises Pipedrive’s calls and email template features to handle leads quickly and efficiently

The accounting firm can utilise Pipedrive’s Leads Inbox feature, enabling teams to store leads they have pre-qualified in a separate inbox until they decide to promote them to deals. Once they’ve identified the leads worth pursuing, they can convert them to deals and add them to their pipeline to kickstart their sales process.

The system generates a series of scheduled actions for each lead as it progresses through various stages of lead management. These actions can include reminders for team members to contact leads via phone or provide personalised patient care. Team members receive notifications when it’s time to take the next step in the sequence.

If a new contact is added to Pipedrive from one of the lead capture channels, it will automatically create a Lead, and a specific process will automatically initiate depending on whether the lead is qualified on a call or not, with accompanying prompts to follow-up. The process ensures leads are given multiple opportunities to qualify, allowing for efficient lead management and follow-up procedures.

The newly released automatic assignment feature can be applied to new deals, leads, or other relevant items to specific team members or groups based on predefined criteria. The advanced feature can simplify the sales process by ensuring tasks are automatically assigned to the appropriate individuals or teams without any manual intervention.

3. Visual pipelines

Solvaa set up pipelines for sales, outsourcing, and upselling opportunities. Pipedrive helps Farnell Clarke keep track of their deal progress by providing information about their deals based on their pipeline stage in their pipeline view.

A sales pipeline is an effective way to manage the various stages of a sales process, for example. It helps businesses keep track of their sales activities and provides valuable insights into the progress of each deal. By utilising a sales pipeline, companies can improve their planning, increase efficiency, and foster better collaboration among sales teams.

Additionally, it helps deliver a better customer experience by allowing businesses to prioritise their sales efforts and focus on the most promising opportunities, reducing productivity leaks  and resources on deals that are unlikely to close.

Utilising visibility groups and tiered user permissions is vital for data security and system change control. By creating visibility groups, the accounting firm can restrict access to confidential information to only those who need it while making other information visible to all users.

4. Conversion Probability, Loss and Forecasting

By utilising Pipedrive features, the accounting firm can now assign conversion probabilities to each stage of their sales process according to the likelihood of a deal closing at that stage. Farnell Clarke can now gain deeper insights into their sales pipeline and make precise sales forecasts.

In Pipedrive, deals may be marked as lost when they cannot proceed through the sales pipeline, which is where the lost reasons feature comes into play. It helps businesses understand and analyse the reasons behind their lost sales opportunities. By identifying patterns, common objections, or areas for improvement, companies can make informed decisions to improve their win rate in the future.

5. Reporting and other improvements

Using Pipedrive has increased the amount of reporting information available to Farnell Clarke. By bolting-on Zapier to connect lead sources, accessibility of real-time accurate data has increased and the transparency provided by this integration enables the accounting firm to access data across all its functions. Senior managers can now stay quickly informed, regardless of whether they require a high-level overview or a detailed analysis. The new reporting system is simple, intuitive, and clear, making it easier for Farnell Clarke to monitor their performance effectively.

The CRM tool enables Farnell Clarke to keep track of and analyse different aspects of their sales performance, including departmental performance, lost clients, new business sources, revenue movements, fee analysis, targets, lead management, conversion rates, deal closure time, and reasons for deal outcomes.

Pipedrive’s Insights feature and custom filters can help them gain a deeper understanding of their sales metrics. Data-driven decisions enable them to drive their business forward with confidence.

 

Free resources to help save you save time, reduce costs and stay agile with automation

We also have plenty of free resources:

 

Level up your process improvement and Zap building with Kelly’s book

Our founder, Chief Problem Solver and Chief Automator Kelly Goss’ books Automate It with Zapier (first edition) and Automate It with Zapier and Generative AI (second edition), are available on Amazon, and are the most comprehensive Zapier guides on the market. They will get you up and running to the stage where you can build and debug advanced automations.

 

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we may earn a commission if you decide to purchase after clicking through the link.

 

Solvaa: Strategy, Solutions, Support

UK-based Solvaa® is a systems, process and automation consultancy specialising in improving business workflows. Solvaa® works with SMEs worldwide to implement digital tools, better processes, use business process automation and generative AI to boost productivity, enhance lead management, and remove unnecessary time, costs and hassles from stretched business owners’ days.

We help you simplify and streamline existing processes, integrate your business tools to make data transfer more efficient, and automate manual tasks. Our business process automation specialists have extensive experience using multiple cloud-based business tools, including Zapier, Pipedrive CRM, SmartSuite, Xero, Google Suite, ClickUp, Asana, Airtable, Hubspot, Active Campaign, Salesforce, Mailchimp, Quickbooks and many more. We are Zapier Certified Experts, SmartSuite Certified Partners, Pipedrive Certified Partners and Xero Certified Advisors.

Solvaa® was founded in 2016 by Kelly Goss, a no-code solutions architect, business process automation specialist and author of Automate It with Zapier (first edition) and Automate It with Zapier and Generative AI (second edition).

A thought leader on business process automation and digital adoption, Kelly recently attended an invite-only Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence (AI) with the UK government at No.10 Downing Street, providing insights and recommendations on how SMEs can benefit from productivity gains by using digital technologies, automation and AI.

Contact us today to find out how Solvaa can help your business make big savings on operational costs and time, and significantly increase productivity.

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Header image for the Solvaa blog post AI-tomation: how Zapier is AI to make automation easy. Part 3 - AI apps to turbocharge your Zaps

AI-tomation: how Zapier is using AI to make automation easy

Welcome to the third instalment of our series on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) with Zapier. In this edition, we explore different ways Zapier supports AI, like OpenAI and ChatGPT. This blog post shows how 'generative AI' and automation can increase...
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