By Edi Osborne
Now I’m not proposing we launch a new TV series where business owners stay in a fancy mansion surrounded by eager CPAs vying for their business – although it does make me giggle to picture the hot tub scene with floating laptops or the contests to see who can balance the books the fastest or the scavenger hunt to find the hidden error in the financial statements.
And just imagine the heartbreak of every CPA who doesn’t receive the coveted engagement rose (letter) at the end of the cocktail party or the final scene as they pull away in the limo and remark, “I should have put a fancier cover on those financial statements,” or “I got him the maximum refund, what more does he want?” Or, “Doesn’t he know I’m his trusted advisor?”
All of the drama makes for good TV ratings, but my favorite is the “after the rose” show. Every once in a while one of the candidates is honest and admits he or she got caught up in the fantasy of the competition and focused on winning rather than on whether the prospect was his or her type.
I think we have all been there in the heat of the competition for new business. If we are not careful we can lose sight of the big picture when a seemingly easier or immediately gratifying opportunity presents itself.
To keep yourself from falling in love with the wrong prospect, here’s a list of questions/criteria you might want to review when you go a-courting:
- Would I be comfortable setting up this potential client to do business with my best clients?
Indating terms: Would I fix this guy up with my sister?
- Does this client share my same values around honesty, teamwork, etc.?
In dating terms: Are they polite to servers and are they a good tipper? Would they give up their seat to an elderly person?
- Would this potential client be among the first you would recommend to be interviewed by the local business journal doing a story talking about CPA-client relationships?
In dating terms: Would you be proud to announce to the world that you are seeing each other?
- Would you be comfortable having anyone on your team work with this client and/or their team? At their location?
In dating terms: Are you as comfortable at his/her place as your own? Are you OK with inviting your friends over to his/her house?
- Would you be comfortable having this potential client come to dinner at your home? With your family?
In dating terms: Would my parents like him/her? Would Nana approve?
- If you were leaving your firm, and you could only take five clients with you, is this one of them?
In dating terms: Is this Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now?
- Is there an opportunity to expand the relationship beyond initial service interests?
In dating terms: How do they feel about children, a family?
This is my list. Yours may be different. I’m not saying a prospect has to pass every one of these tests, but certainly most of them.
Speaking of tests, one of the meanest and smartest things my parents ever did was to insist that a certain older boy I had a crush on had to come spend a day at our house before they would let me go out with him. He arrived late, got bored easily, didn’t engage well in conversation or activities with my family, and spent much of the time looking for places for us to sneak off to. Bottom line is he failed the test miserably and by the middle of the day (he left early); I never wanted to see him again. Truth be told, my parents never would have let me go out with him, but they let me figure it out for myself. Pretty smart, huh? Don’t tell them I said so.
Finding and dating prospects can be both daunting and fun. However you feel about it, be sure you have a good idea of what your ideal client looks like before you head out the door. Consider setting up a group date with your team and theirs at their location and see how things go before you commit any further. Better to test the fit up front, otherwise you could be signing yourself and your firm up for some heartache.
Trudy Beard, CPA, CSPM of Independence, Missouri, took this idea of a group date even further. Here’s an example of why you want to involve your team in the prospecting process. She was swamped with work and yet, still had a hard time saying no to any new business that came her way. The result was a mismatch of clients that didn’t fit with her overall goals and strategy.
Her solution was to involve her team in all client prospecting decisions. According to Trudy the results were spectacular on several levels:
- The team understood and embraced Trudy’s overall goals and did a good job of sifting through the opportunities to find those that were a good fit.
- The team was quick to identify clients that didn’t fit and that should be let go.
- The team was quick to take on more work from Trudy to free her up when presented with an ideal client opportunity.
- Trudy reported that the team’s skills grew tremendously as they took on more challenging work to help Trudy free up her time to pursue higher quality work. (The team thrived on the growth opportunities.)
- Involving the team in both her strategy and client selection improved their Strategic IQ such that they could make better real-time decisions about workflow priorities.
Essentially, the team saved Trudy from herself (just like my parents did for me) and her tendency to say yes too easily.
I’ve learned to accept reality: the television networks probably aren’t going to jump at my idea for The Accountant: A Reality Show. But I’ll leave you with this thought…imagine what fun you could have as the broken-hearted CPA runner-up who gets to return to the mansion with 25 entrepreneurially endowed business owners anxiously waiting to woo you. Sounds like a lot of fun right? Maybe not.
Taking a lesson from Trudy, saying no to prospects isn’t always easy. For that reason, I recommend you take your test list with you to the mansion (or bring your parents). It’s probably going to be a lot harder than you think to select just one prospect.
Wait a minute. This is just a fantasy. In that case, enjoy the fantasy, lose the list, leave your parents at home and date as many as you like!
About the author:
Edi Osborne has been providing the profession with out-of-the-box insights for more than 20 years. She is the driving force behind The Passionate Accountant, and CEO of Carmel Valley, CA-based Mentor Plus. She welcomes your comments and queries at [email protected].