How Can Accountants Legally Follow Up with New Leads?by
Making unsolicited phone calls to possible leads is illegal, but there are plenty of effective ways to reach out to potential new clients. Bryce Sanders reviews a few in his latest column.
We hope current clients will send us new clients. Hope as we might they will lead them to the office by the hand, this rarely happens. The more likely scenario is having someone say to you, “I have a friend who needs an accountant. Your name came up. Call him.” It sounds straightforward. Pity it’s illegal. So how do you follow up a lead?
Why Is It Illegal?
Telemarketers poisoned the well. Previously, when the phone rang, it was at worst, someone trying to sell life insurance, investments or timeshares. Then it became power companies, credit consolidators and those “Your computer has been hacked” folks. The government passed “Do Not Call” legislation in 2003. A 2007 survey indicated 72 percent of Americans signed up. Bearing in mind only 55.7 percent of Americans voted in the 2016 national election, you can see not getting sales calls at home is popular. “You were referred...” is not a free pass. There are federal and state fines if you are reported. They probably won’t catch the scammer calling from Asia, but catching a local business is much easier. FYI: Texts are covered by this rule, too.
This part’s obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: You can check their number and see if it’s on the DNC list.
How to Follow Up a Lead
Your hands aren’t completely tied. There are strategies. Let’s start with the basics. These two apply in all the specialized situations listed below.
- The Face-to-Face Handoff: Your client’s friend needs an accountant because they’ve got a problem. Your client is trying to be part of the solution. Will they introduce you face to face over coffee? Will they call the other person, get them on the phone, conference you in and drop off? Once you get permission to stay in touch, you can call directly afterwards.
- Remind Your Client They Haven’t Been in Touch: You’ve gone the tactful route. No luck. Circle back to your client. Let them know you’ve reached out (and are constrained) and haven’t heard back. They know the severity of their friend’s problem. They may say, “Forget about it" or “I can’t believe it. She knows that problem won’t solve itself. I’ll give her another call.”
If It's Another Business:
- Business-to-Business Calling: If your client is referring a business owner or a professional organized as a business, you are under a different set of rules. Business-to-business calls are permitted.
- Requests for Proposals: Let's say someone tells you about an opportunity that’s “public information,” but the data wouldn’t be very easy to find. You call the company and learn how you can compete.
If It's a Very Important Individual:
- Priority Mail: People get very few letters today, so Priority Mail still stands out. The recipient assumes it’s important because you spent $7.00+ to send it. The package includes a letter introducing yourself and explaining you were asked to get in touch. Ideally, you want them to call you. Just in case, include a return card and stamped envelope asking them to supply a number. Now, you have effectively gotten permission to call.
- The Charity Approach: When I worked in San Francisco, I learned something interesting about big charities that brought in money through solicitation programs at major corporations. They understood the concept “Introductions have value.” It was explained if “someone wanted to meet someone else,” it could be arranged, assuming the “person you want to meet” was involved in the campaign.
If They're a Small Business or an Individual:
- Simple Conversation: It’s possible the connection is through your social circle. You know this person, but as an acquaintance, not a business prospect. Approach them the next time you see them at a local event or at the gym or a school basketball game.
- Another Friend in Common: Maybe you have an unusual situation. This person needs help, but your client won’t personally bring you together. LinkedIn shows you know a dozen more of the same people. Will one of them do the deed? Do they know the person well enough to head out for drinks and bring you along?
- Social Media: Phone calls sound so 1980. You want something better. It’s highly likely you and your client are connected on LinkedIn. If not, send an LI invitation to connect. Indicate you know the same people, including your client. Without divulging the business relationship, mention they suggested you get in touch. The person will see your client’s name as a common connection. They will likely accept your invitation. Ask your client’s permission to use their name beforehand.
- Surface Mail: Don’t want to invest seven bucks in Priority Mail? OK. A professional letter sent first class is also good. Get to the point. Ask them to get in touch and include that return mail card as an enclosure. You want to make this as easy as possible for them.
Sound like your hands are tied? Getting an accountant isn’t an impulse or discretionary purchase. They have a need. It’s highly likely they are looking forward to talking with you.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.