Selling to Your Existing Clients

by Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE

One of the biggest problems most professional firms have in selling is that they wait for their clients to approach them about additional service needs, rather than seeking them out proactively. This is especially sad, as there are so many more ways you can help your clients than ever before. The reasons this approach to being more profitable doesn't work is:

  • Your clients don't walk around saying "Golly, I'm thinking about my accountant, "so that when a problem arises, you aren't foremost in their mind to solve it and they look elsewhere.

  • Often your clients don't know what other services you could provide because you haven't told them or they forgot, so they buy them somewhere else from a competitor or outside consultant.
  • Your clients don't take the time to sit down and evaluate how they can be more profitable or effective.

So you miss the proverbial boat when it comes to selling additional, non-attest, highly profitable, value-billed or commission services to your existing clients.

Unlike 90% of their peers, the Top Business Producers in the accounting profession generate approximately 25% to 40% of their new, incremental business from the sales of additional services to their existing clients.

The Proper Perspective

The biggest producers in our profession know that there is "gold in their files." Instead of investing the majority of their precious marketing monies and efforts into doing business with strangers who are least likely to buy, they actively sell additional non-attest services to their existing clients.

That means they keep their eyes open and constantly explore new ways of helping their clients be more successful, happier and protected.

Malcolm Hayes, a Plant City, Florida CPA, has the right perspective. His 25 years of experience as a CPA has proven that his most successful clients are those who use his services the most, not only as an accountant, but also as their trusted business advisor. "I do a lot of different things for some of my clients, far beyond the normal expectations clients have of the typical CPA. What I do for my clients is very valuable. And those who utilize my years of experience in business have made and saved a ton of money by engaging me as their financial and business advisor, to help them with many areas of their lives and business."

"The 90% Sale"

The major difference between selling services to new clients versus existing satisfied clients is that selling to satisfied clients is much easier. This process of having your clients buy additional services is very much akin to your dentist suggesting a dental implant to replace a problem tooth.

That's one reason why I call this type of transaction "The 90% Sale." Existing, satisfied clients have already made the decision to do business with you, which is the hardest hurdle to overcome in any sale. You already have a trusting relationship with your clients who are also prospective buyers of services.

And you have access to information about your existing clients that a salesperson would kill for! Such as whether they can afford to purchase additional services; who the decision-makers are; how they usually make decisions.
Also it's quite easy to find out what their problems, needs, wants and desires are simply by being prepared and sitting down and having a discussion about their business. All of these reasons explain why existing clients are already 90% sold on buying something else from you and your firm. You still have to talk to them, however -- it just doesn't happen by itself. You must be PROACTIVE and go to them.

The More, The Better

Smart professionals know that the more services their clients utilize them for, the more secure the relationship is.

If a client purchases a service from an outsider (a possible intruder in your client relationship) that should've been purchased from you, not only have you lost profitable business you should have sold, you have infected the relationship with someone who may be intent on using their contact to replace you as the client's service provider.

And if you and your clients are addressing problems with their businesses that otherwise wouldn't be fixed, they will be more successful and less likely to complain about the fees for your compliance work.

How to Do It

Here is a step-by-step approach that my firm clients have been using for the last twenty years to sell additional work:

  1. Create a "Missing Services Checklist"

    Build a menu of services your firm offers or could render. Use this as a diagnostic tool to determine what services the client is buying and what aren't. Then you'll be able to see at a glance the potential for additional services. You don’t have time to do it? Form a committee of staff and let them participate in the marketing process.

  2. Target A Client to Market To

    Select a client with whom you have a good working relationship -- someone who likes you and appreciates your work and advice. List the services your client now buys from the firm and the products they should be buying on the Missing Services Checklist.

    Enroll those staff people and any managers who work on the client in helping discover what services the firm could be providing a specific client. They are "in the line of fire" and may have some great ideas about where the client's weaknesses lie (e.g.: internal control, cash flow, inventory control, strategic plans, financial services, etc.). By engaging staff in this kind of exercise, you are teaching them the importance of selling additional services to clients and will begin the process of having them look for opportunities for you.

  3. Set an Appointment

    OK -- pick up the phone and call the client up. Tell them you want to take them to lunch (most everybody likes a free lunch). Sit down with them over lunch and ask them about the specific areas you have thought about and posted to your Missing Services Checklist. Are they pleased with their Internal Controls? Do they suspect theft? How do they know? How about their cash flow, etc.? You get the idea. Let the client do eighty percent of the talking. Limit your conversation to one or two specific services; don’t overwhelm them.

    By being specific about what you want to address with the client, you can create the environment for them to think in a direct manner, instead of merely asking, "How's business?" of "Is there anything we can be doing for you?" If the client does perceive a problem, or that something could be improved, jump on the opportunity now, before they forget all about your conversation. Close the project opportunity by explaining to the client how you can help tighten up their internal controls, inventory control, etc., and what it would cost. Set the appointment to start the work NOW.

The Right Time

Now is the perfect time of the year to go through this process as you are thinking about this subject. Create these checklists for fifteen to twenty clients, and then set appointments over the next couple of months. You can generate a lot of non-attest work to keep you busier in slower times of the year by going through this process.


Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE is one of America’s most sought after speakers and trainers on the subject of personal marketing, systematic selling and client retention. He is the author of the "I Hate Selling Tapes" available on his web site. You may reach him at 954/345-4666 or at aboress@aol.com or www.ihateselling.com

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