9 reasons your accounting firm lost that job


One of the most discouraging things for accountants is going through the whole proposal and quote process, only for the prospect to say no, or go somewhere else.
What can be even more confusing is if they just never come back to you, at all. No replies to your emails or phone calls. They go completely incommunicado and you give up eventually because you don’t want to be the annoying sales person.

So you wonder, why didn’t I get that job? We’re a good firm, and I seemed to have a good rapport with them over the phone (or in the meeting).  How did it go from “That sounds really good, send me the information” to …nothing?

Here are some of the reasons that might apply:

1. You’re not modern enough

Your prospects know that you start as you mean to go on. So if your quote and proposal process uses a few lines sketched out in an email, or a PDF attachment, or printed paperwork, they know that’s how business is going to go when they work with you.  And most businesses these days want their accountant (like their other providers) to not only use email, but also text, and online forums, and social media, and video, and everything that they’re used to using for any other services.

In our webinar with Russ Perry of Design Pickle, he identified that when he was choosing an accountant, it mattered greatly to him that the firm website was well designed and modern. He even had someone recommend a firm very highly, but he decided not to bother because their website was so bad.  There are hundreds of prospects who are choosing not to work with you and you never even know about it.  Don’t let this be you.

2. You don’t use cloud accounting

It’s just standard these days.  I am losing count of the number of times I’ve heard an accountant tell me that they lost a particular job because they didn’t use Xero, or QuickBooks, or Free Agent, or whatever accounting software the client wants to use.  Many business owners have already done their research and they know what accounting software they like.  Make sure you’re able to support them on it (if it’s your preferred type of client).

3. You use cloud accounting but you’re not expert in it

This one is a major issue for many accountants.  I was tempted to make this item number 1.  Another list of people I’ve lost count of are those who choose a potential accountant because they’re a Xero Gold partner or a QuickBooks trainer or whatever it be, only to discover that you and your team only have three or four clients on these systems, and they know more about it than you do.  That’s not what your prospects (or clients) want. They need you to be up to speed with the latest and greatest when it comes to accounting software, integrated apps, tax credits, or whatever they’ve heard vaguely about.  They expect you to know more than they do, and to impress them every time they talk to you about the newest idea.

If you’ve become “certified”, that’s a nice start.  But be sure your expertise (or lack thereof) will find you out if you (and your team) are just coasting.

4. You don’t have a niche.

When I was judging the Practice Excellence awards this year, one of the categories was New Firm Of The Year. It was fascinating to notice that of the firms who entered in this category, almost 70% of them had a specific niche – and some of these were exclusive to that niche.

What that tells me is that the new, young, hungry, start up accountants have wised up to the fact that being a generalist isn’t effective or profitable.  They want to get it right from the beginning, and that involves choosing an area or industry that they know better than anything else.

As we’ve discussed at length before, a niche doesn’t mean you sack a third of your clients because they’re in the ‘wrong’ industry.  What it does mean is that you pick an area you’re particularly good at, and you pour most (or all) of your efforts into that area – marketing, customer service, systems, support, and everything else.

Your prospects want this.  In our Xero Summer Camp webinar on social marketing, our own Ashley Davis identified that when he was choosing an accountant, he went with one that specialised in his industry. It mattered to him because he knew he would get the most up to date, relevant advice – and resources that applied specifically to him and his business at the time.

5. You didn’t follow up

Now, I know that almost all of you follow up the first time. You have the call, you send the proposal, you send an email, perhaps you send another email.

And then you give up.  “Clearly they’re not interested,” you tell yourself. “If they had questions, they would ask. If they wanted to go ahead, they would have responded straight away. I’ll just leave it.”

That could not be further from the truth.  Sometimes they’re gathering information but they’re not ready to switch accountants just yet (either emotionally, financially, or in some other way). Most of your prospects are ridiculously busy (rather like yourself) and so they managed a spare hour to meet with you initially but now the urgency has faded.

But most of all, they expect you to be responsible for following up.  If you’re to be their accountant – reminding them of VAT and corporation tax due dates, keeping them right with the HMRC (or IRS), giving them the peace of mind that all is right with their accounts and tax and financials, then you have to start from the proposal process.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m going to annoy them with my emails and contact”.  If you truly did annoy them, they’d either unsubscribe from your emails, or they’d finally reply and say “No thanks”.  And in my experience, most accountants do not err on the side of too much follow up. You almost always err on the side of not enough.  So go a little further than you would normally. It might surprise you how thankful they are.

6. You never replied (to an email, call, etc)

When a prospect is beginning the process with you, their trust level is low and building.  They’re hoping all will go well, but the slightest hitch can put them off.  One of my clients told me about a prospect he had who took to Twitter to complain about an email or appointment-setting that didn’t work as it was meant to.  (Interestingly, he did end up signing up and two weeks later took to Twitter again to rave about his amazing new accountants.)

I’ve experienced this myself.  I arranged a call with a company recently following a very impressive content marketing process.  Somehow (I don’t even remember how) I got on their mailing list and read their emails now and then. One of the emails really struck a chord with me, so I went to their website. They had an appointment-booking feature on the site which was so clever and well done I booked the call then and there.  I was excited, interested, looking forward to it. And then I got a cancellation of the appointment, with no explanation, and a suggested rescheduled time that didn’t suit me.  I was confused, and replied to ask why this had happened, and I got no reply…until a few hours later when I got another cancellation and suggested time which again didn’t suit me. By this point I was slightly annoyed, and ready to give up entirely – but the company very wisely both phoned me and emailed personally to explain that they had sent a personal note with the cancellation, but apparently it hadn’t arrived, and they shifted things around on their end to ensure the call was held at a time that suited me.

The slightest thing can throw off a prospect.  Do everything within your power to stay in communication – using whatever communication means that suit your prospect best. Whether it’s Skype, Twitter, email, text, live chat, or owl post, be where they are.

7. You were too cheap

When it comes to hiring an expert, we expect the fees to be high.  The more expert they are, the higher the fees.  We’ve all read the stories of companies who doubled or tripled their prices only to discover that they got more business as a result – more of the right kind of business.

Granted, some people just want the cheapest accountant.  They’re price checking.  I read an interesting blog post by someone who phoned ten accountants trying to get a price and was really annoyed that she couldn’t. “How hard is it to give a price?” she wondered.  I, on the other hand, wanted to applaud those accountants.  They recognised that she didn’t truly value the work they would be doing, and their processes were constructed to weed out prospects with that approach.

Another issue many accountants have is that of having set prices long ago for no distinguishable reason. You just picked a price out of the sky and went for it, and now you feel bad if you change it, because your current clients would be frustrated.  Remember that you don’t have to publish prices on your website or tell prospects what you’re quoting each other.  Start the price changes with the next prospect, and see how it goes.

8. You gave in when they pushed back on price

This one still surprises me.  There are so many accountants who still do this: you would rather get the client at a lower price than take the risk of losing the job by sticking to your guns.

I used to work with an accountancy firm where this was the standard, unwritten policy. If a client or prospect pushed back on price, we always gave in. It has taken me almost ten years to un-learn that terrible, terrible business practice.

Do not, ever, reduce your price without reducing the value as well.  There is nothing wrong with recognising that this is a good prospect who is keen to work with you, being willing to be flexible, and working with them to help ensure they get good service at a price they can afford at this stage.  But when you let them take the lead on price, they will always do so, and it shows their understanding of the value.

The best answer you can give to someone who pushes back on price is, “That’s no problem. What would you like to remove?”

The only exception I can think to this rule is if you’ve originally quoted something, and by the time the prospect is ready to start work, you’ve doubled your fees.  That’s very frustrating for a prospect who has been working hard to afford the original quoted amount, and now comes to discover that you aren’t ready to honour it.  If you’ve quoted estimates and then made changes, communicate clearly with your prospects before they come back to you and are frustrated.

9. They weren’t sure how the process would work

This is one of the most critical elements for anyone in professional services, and particularly for accountants.

Your prospect wants to know what happens…

  • when they sign up
  • during the transfer from their previous accountant
  • with invoicing and payment
  • if they have a problem or question (in different areas such as accounts, tax, payroll, bookkeeping, etc)
  • before deadlines
  • after deadlines
  • at the end of the year
  • at the start of the year
  • in the middle of the year
  • …you get the point.

They want to be reassured that you have a system, and you are going to follow it for them.  It adds to your credibility, expertise, and their comfort levels. It’s yet another reason they would choose you over another accountant. If your process is clear, defined, and best of all saves them time and effort, you’re in.  If it’s muddied, confused, and causes them more hassle than anything else, you might have lost the job.

It’s not always about you, either.  By way of encouragement, there may be a few reasons that are completely beyond you which may explain why they decided not to go ahead (or not yet), such as:

  1. They’re not ready yet. They’re getting information, but it’s just not time. Whether emotionally, mentally, financially, or in some other way, they aren’t ready to flip the switch.  Just stay in touch, be friendly and helpful, and let them come when they are ready.
  1. Something major happened in the business after speaking to you. They lost an employee, or had to let someone go. Their business partner has sprung a surprise on them.  There was a flood.  A family member got sick. Any number of things can happen which would cause them to need to delay this big decision.  Again, stay friendly and helpful, and stay in touch.
  1. The enthusiasm they had may not have been for you. Sometimes when we’re talking to a prospect and they start getting excited about all the possibilities, we presume that excitement is translated, “I love your firm and want to start tomorrow”. But it might be that they’re just excited about their business and the new opportunities you discussed – or even, as I’ve seen happen before, they’re realising they can apply some of the things you’ve discussed with an existing provider. That’s okay.  Again, stay in touch, be helpful and supportive, and let them come when ready.  

Hopefully you can see a pattern here.  No matter what the reason – stay in touch, be friendly, be helpful, provide solid advice, and stick to your guns.  They’ll either come work with you eventually, or they’ll say no.  Either one is a win.