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When your accountancy firm loses that job but it doesn’t matter

Sep 2, 2016

5 Reasons its ok

Losing a prospective client for your accountancy firm can be discouraging. There might be good reason for it, and in that case there are changes you can make within your lead to sale process.

But sometimes it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, it’s actually a good thing you lost that job, or that potential client. Here are 5 reasons it’s more than okay, and you can press on doing the good accounting work you’re doing.

You were too expensive

People pay for what they value: we know that. But accountancy is a high-competition, high-pressure market – today more than ever. Your buyers have more options than they’ve ever had before. They are often deciding, not between two or three accountants, but ten or twelve.

This is particularly true if you’re a smaller firm or struggling to get new clients. Maybe you desperately needed that new job. A long-time client left, or went bust, or retired. You haven’t gotten a new lead in a while. You’re feeling the pinch, and you find yourself muttering, “I know I could have gotten that one if I’d just gone in £500 lower.”  Or £5k lower. Or £50k lower.

Don’t give in.

Now, I’m presuming a few things:

  1. You’re good at what you do: very good.
  2. You have a history of delivering this kind of value in the past.
  3. You’ve given strategic thought to your pricing, and it’s not random.
  4. The fee you quoted would have absolutely delivered matching value (perhaps even a bit more value).
  5. You shared the quote or proposal in a way that allowed the prospect to ask genuine questions and fully understand what’s included.

If all these are true, being expensive is a good thing. It means that you have expertise, a track record, and respect for yourself and your services.

Remember, just because someone says no doesn’t mean that they’re saying no forever.

They could just be saying no for right now. Maybe they don’t have the budget for it, or were just price checking or dreaming or testing the waters.

For all of these reasons, sticking to your guns is critical. Who do you think they’ll come to when the money does come in and the budget frees up? When the other accountant lets them down? When they realise that it’s worth spending two, or three, or twenty times more with an expert than with the cheapest quote they got?

“If you think a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur.” – Red Adair

Stick to your guns. Let them go – and they’ll come back later. Either that, or they weren’t your best type of client, and they would have been a great deal of hassle you’ve just avoided.

They didn’t get on with you

Sometimes, the product is right and the price is right and the proposal is right and all the pieces are in place…except for a personality fit.

You didn’t talk their language, or they yours. They were super-aggressive with demanding deadlines, and you’re a bit more laid back (or vice versa). You wear suits and have a clean haircut and all the pens on your desk are arranged in order, and they wear jeans and a flowing beard and showed up twenty minutes late because they ran into a friend on the way, and that frustrated you. Or you work remotely, and they wanted in person meetings.

You have to like your clients. You don’t have to like them every moment of every day – sometimes they’ll drive you a little crazy, and sometimes you’ll do the same to them. They’ll take six months to get their records to you, or days to reply to a critical question. But in the main, work with people you like and respect, because you’ll be better able to help them.

If that new prospective client doesn’t get on with you, have the humility to respect that, and not to take it personally. People do, still and always, do business with people.

Remember too that they may not be able to express why they’re not ready to go ahead. If you just don’t click with someone, it’s unlikely you’ll follow up and get the answer, “I’m sorry, I really don’t like you all that much.”  They’ll say it’s not time, or they’re not ready, or they’re going on holiday, or whatever excuse is handy not to hurt your feelings. Be pleasant and available, but let them make the call.

They prefer to work with a local accountant

Geography is beginning to matter much less to many businesses looking for a new accountant. Thanks to all our online tools and the globalisation of business, you aren’t restricted by those in a twenty mile radius of your office (if you have one).

But there are still a few people who for whatever reason need – or just want – someone round the corner.

I had an enquiry come in from a firm in which everything was going swimmingly and we were all in agreement and we had all the meetings in the diary and all was going to be very well indeed…when it turned out that one of the partners insisted on an in person meeting first, before they signed any proposal. I offered a Skype or Gotomeeting video chat, but they preferred an actual, come-down-to-our-offices sort of meeting. The kind I used to do all the time in a previous business and a previous life.

It’s not about the meeting or the opportunity or the person. They’re a solid firm with big ambitions: but I knew that we had to start as we meant to go on. Our company is 100% remote and virtual, so the firms who have a partnership with us do so primarily online. We hold meetings on Skype or Gotomeeting or Slack or Zoom. We get maybe one phone call a day (on a busy day) – everything else comes in via email. We send texts to our clients late at night, sometimes, or if we do happen to meet in person we might go round to the pub or coffee shop instead of a boardroom.

That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and we honour that. We honour it so much that I couldn’t have that meeting with that firm, even though it was a big and very prestigious one. The prestige isn’t the point: it’s the partnership element. In order to truly help our clients, we have to have a meeting of the minds – and the technology, too.

What’s excellent about this is that there are no hard feelings on either side. When you’re clear about who you are and how you do business – and they do the same – it’s a win if you can do business together…and it’s a win if you can’t. You might even (as we did) offer to find them someone who is a better fit for their communication preferences.

Be of help to your prospects – even if that means losing the job.

They were just price checking

Most accountants I know are excellent at weeding out the price-checkers, the tyre-kickers. You’ll know that this type of enquiry isn’t serious.

It may include some of these characteristics:

  • Price is mentioned in the very first sentence, email, conversation, or meeting.
  • Prices or fees are asked about multiple times (or in varying ways).
  • Jokes are made about discounts, offers, or how poor they are.
  • Demands are made about meeting times and requirements.
  • Meetings or calls are not respected (late or no-show with perfunctory apologies).
  • Everything is about them and their needs – no interest is shown in who you are and what your process is.
  • Comparisons are made to other accountants.
  • Promises are made about the future (“When that new project comes in, I can afford to pay more”).

You may know even more than I’ve listed there – many of you experience this almost on a daily basis.

The key is to be polite, helpful, and firm. Be clear about your process for determining a true fee – and don’t be sucked in by wild promises or someone who is in a hurry. (Unless they legitimately have an urgent tax or accounting issue with penalties or deadlines – but I would venture to guess that if that were the case, they wouldn’t waste time to quibble about fees.)

Go through your process. Be the expert you are. Respect their time and their question. And then if you determine it is just a price checker, give them your true price and watch them walk away.

You don’t deliver what they need

It can be extremely tempting to suddenly add new capabilities to your service listing when it’s requested in a prospect meeting. Perhaps they need to raise finance, or get help with a sticky situation with a business partner, or they want advice on marketing or HR. It’s  not a specialty of yours, but you’ve done it once or twice and it seemed to go okay.

If there is a little voice in the back of your mind saying, “I’m not entirely sure we can deliver what they need here”, listen to it. Most of us have ignored that voice to our peril – I certainly have, and it cost me a great deal financially as well as a significant loss of  my time, and a great deal of stress and strain.

Know not only what you’re really good at, but also what you’re not so good at. If there is anything you’re absolutely terrible at, know that too. Be honest – with yourself and your prospect – and be willing to lose the entire job if that one service hinges on it.

One of my clients recently answered a question in one of our diagnostics with, “I don’t want to be categorised as an expert.” This confused me a little. First because most accountants do want to be known as an expert (you can charge more and you get better clients), and secondly because I’ve been preaching this for years. “Be the expert. Be visible in your expertise. You’ll get more business.”

So we talked about it, and he explained. “I’m reluctant to say an expert in anything, because when you say you’re an expert people ask you the more complicated questions. And I don’t want to say I’m an expert and get questions that I can’t answer.”

“So what do you do if that happens now?” I asked. “If a client asks a question that you can’t answer?”

“Well, I would find someone else who could, and either work together with them, or send my client directly to them to get the issue sorted out,” he replied. “We’d make sure we clearly understood their problem so we could find the answer for them.”

We talked it through further, and in the process of identifying key messages for their website, we were able to pinpoint the fact that this firm is quite expert in recognising what the true problem is.  “I often use the term ‘guru’ when referring to one of the members of our tax team, to refer to her skills without saying she’s an expert,” he said. “Maybe it’s just the word – we need to find the word that means she is more clever than I am in her area.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an expert to me. The very best kind of expert of all – the one who has the humility to know what they’re good at, and what they’re not.

So there you are. Five good, solid reasons to lose that job, and be quite content with the outcome.

And now you have your time freed up to spend on the right kind of clients. The ones who value your fees, like you and the way you work, and who need exactly what you deliver.