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How to Get Small Business Owners to Discuss Their CPA

Oct 11th 2018
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Most accountants don’t like being ‘salesy,’ but at social events you may find yourself needing to make small talk with a business owner who could be a potential client.

So what do you talk about? Once the “what do you dos” are out of the way, the obvious commonality is your profession. So how do you get them talking about their accountant (if they even have one)?

Three Ground Rules

It’s easy to get off on the wrong foot. Avoid these three mistakes:

1. Overtly selling. Remember the pushy real estate or insurance broker? That’s not you.

2. Criticizing. You don’t light your own candle by blowing out someone else’s.

3. Price cutting. Competing on price is a race to the bottom. Think about the wireless ads you see on TV.

The Basic Questions

So, you mention you are an accountant and they explain their business works with one. They name a local firm you recognize. Give a compliment, not an off color question like: “Are they still in business?” Remember the candle analogy.

Next, you might ask: “How long have you been working together?” The object is to get them talking and stay on the subject.

This leads into: “What do you like best about them?” and “Would you recommend them?” If they can’t think of anything positive to say, you might ask: “Why do you stay with them?”

Now we get to the edge of the sales conversation you probably want to avoid. If you see this as an opportunity you don’t want to pass up, you might say: “This isn’t the time or place to talk business. Here’s my card. If you want to talk later, just give me a call.”

Suppose they like their accountant? You might say: “In what areas do you think there’s room for improvement?” When they tell you what they aren’t getting, they are really telling you what they want in a relationship.

Questions That Get Specific

Instead of probing in a general way, another approach is to ask direct questions. Remember the articles What Do Your Clients Worry About? and What Keeps Accountants Awake at Night? Both address issues on client’s minds, even if they are hardnosed about fees.

After a lead in about an article you just read or something you saw on a financial help program, you might ask about the following:

1. Succession planning. Some accountants are one man bands, others are firms with many CPAs. Which is yours? If they work on their own, what happens to you when they eventually retire?

Logic: If they work with a multiple member firm, this isn’t an issue. Maybe they don’t. Either way, you got them talking.

2. Disaster recovery. We are in hurricane season. Volcanic eruptions and wildfires are old news. Thankfully there are no earthquakes yet. Has your accountant explained how your records are backed up if disaster strikes?

Logic: When there’s a disaster somewhere, it gets 24/7 coverage on your client’s favorite news channel. This problem is in the back of their mind.

3. Data security. It’s a scary thought, but data breaches might be so common, only the really big ones now make the news. I don’t need to tell you the major ones hitting the news lately. How does your CPA keep your company information safe?

Logic: Their accounting firm likely has this covered. Do they know that? It should motivate them to ask that question.

4. Advisory services. When you think about your company down the road, what is the biggest risk facing your company?

Logic: It might be rising costs, competition, finding qualified employees, a trade war or currency risk. Some of these might fit under the business advisory services you offer.

Why Bother?

Back at the beginning, the scenario was described as making small talk at a social event. These questions aren’t overtly sales related, but they get people thinking. Inertia is often the reason people stay in unsatisfactory relationships.

You are demonstrating that you are intelligent and see the bigger picture. That’s a benefit for your clients and they might want to take the conversation to the next level.

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By Michael Abrams
Oct 13th 2018 09:48 EDT

Nice article about a fragile subject/situation.

I like to point out what a good consultant/advisor SHOULD be doing in the particular prospect's situation and then hand out my card and tell them I'm available if anything changes. Then I do on to explain that things happen in life that might cause the advisor to quickly depart from the scene (divorce, physical ailments/death, etc.)

In fact, years ago, I came upon a client whose advisor simply disappeared...No calls, no warning...Nothing! Turns out the advisor had a mid-life crisis, left his wife, family & business and took off to a foreign country with his secretary! You never know what might happen and being No. 2, waiting in the wings CAN payoff...

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Replying to Michael Abrams:
Bryce Sanders
By Bryce Sanders
Oct 16th 2018 15:24 EDT

Thanks for commenting on my article. Establishing yourself as the alternative is an ethical thing to do. As you put it, "I've available if anything changes." You are respecting the situation is fine right now, but no one knows what the future holds.

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