How to Learn About a Prospect’s Current Accounting Relationship
Are you thinking about adding more clients to your roster? A great place to start is by finding out about their relationship with their current accounting professional.
“You don’t light your own candle by blowing out someone else’s.” Accountants want to add new clients for many reasons: They are growing their business. Attrition takes its toll. They are cultivating a niche. You may have a formal marketing strategy in place, or maybe you just meet people who throw off the right signals. They might even approach you. How can you learn about their current accounting relationship?
What Not to Do
Back to “You don’t light your own candle by blowing out someone else’s.” Don’t say negative things about their current accountant or be dismissive about their firm. “Are they still in business?” People might be unhappy, but they can get defensive very easily. Don’t fire off questions as if you were a survey taker. You want to communicate that you care about them
What to Try Instead
Strategy #1: The Casual Social Conversation
Let’s imagine the pandemic has been addressed, businesses are starting to open and people are playing golf again because social distancing isn’t difficult In this laid-back scenario, someone in your foursome asked: “What do you do?” You answer. They say they work with a local accountant, mentioning the firm’s name. You might ask: “How long have you been working with them?” It’s been several years. You acknowledge they are a fine firm.
“What do you like best about your accountant? Would you recommend them?” Stop talking. This dialogue might do on in a few directions.
- High praise: That accountant is doing a terrific job for their client. Congratulate them on having a great accountant.
- No praise: They can’t think of a positive attribute. No, they wouldn’t recommend their accountant. Here’s an opportunity to respectfully ask: “Why do you stay with them?” The door is open a crack.
- Faint praise: “I guess he’s OK. He does what I pay him for.” This is a likelier opportunity. Follow up with this: “In your opinion, in what areas do you see room for improvement?” Then, stop talking. When a person tells what’s missing in a relationship, they are actually saying what they want in a relationship. You could take the initiative by saying, “In the ideal relationship you would want...” restating what’s missing as included in a new relationship. If you want to get back to golf, you could make a mental note to talk with them later.
Strategy #2: They Approach You
This might be a referral situation. Someone calls, mentions a client recommended them and asks to meet with you. You have the potential to add a client. Will it be a good client? More important, would they be a good fit?
This is an interview situation, but it shouldn’t feel like one. Create neutral ground. Offer coffee. Sit in the sofa grouping in your office. If you don’t have one, sit across from them on the same side of your desk. Don’t have the desk between you.
Don’t approach the situation as if it’s a done deal. They are likely shopping around. Saying “This is how I do business” sounds like: “It’s my way or the highway.” Since you are looking for a long-term relationship that will expand into other services you provide, position it as a potential partnership. “We should learn a bit about each other. Then we can each determine if we are a good fit.”
Using a yellow pad (“Do you mind if I take notes?”), have a casual conversation. Try saying something like, “I’m always curious. How did you find me?” Draw them out why they are seeking to change accountants. Suppose they relocated, and their new neighbor told her about you. That makes great sense. They might be working with another local accountant in town. They feel the other person is unresponsive, pushing other services, nickel and diming them about fees. Put another way, they are high maintenance, want a lot, yet pay for little.
You tactfully explain your rules of the road, how you do business. Assuming they don’t balk or exhibit negative body language, they might be a good fit. You let them know. If you feel you are gaining another accountant’s headache client, you explain why it’s not a good fit. You are sensitive, because you don’t want to put your current client, the person who referred them in an awkward position. Your practice might focus more on financial planning, vs. only filing individual tax returns. Put another way, you are offering them the opportunity to conform.
Strategy # 3: The Marketing Lead
You have a marketing strategy. You are active on social media and people find you, but there isn’t a client connection. To learn about them, you want them sitting across from you. Reviewing their previous tax returns should provide lots of information, but they aren’t going to give access to a stranger online. You need them present, in the flesh. During the pandemic, this might be a videoconference.
In this situation, you have an advantage: The abundance of information available about a person online. Their LinkedIn profile is a good example, as is their social media activity. You can’t ask them to “apply online” because they are going to be sensitive about posting confidential information. But you can look at your ideal client profile, the type of person your marketing effort is designed to attract. Do they own a business? Are they a mid- to senior-level executive? Are they coming to you because of your language proficiency? Do they fit into your niche?
Another important factor will be the number of LinkedIn connections you share. Do you know 25 of the same people? What are the common characteristics? This should help you build a profile. Assume they will do the same before meeting you.
Hopefully, the pandemic restrictions will be lifted soon, and protocols for business meetings will be established. Suggest the in-person meeting. What documentation should they bring? Proceed as you would with the referral mentioned earlier.
You will find yourself in different situations. You might be learning about them on the spot or draw out a referral in a face- to-face meeting. Your client might have walked them in, introduced them and disappeared. Or, you might have been discovered online, giving you the opportunity to do some research before you meet.
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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.