The level of competition currently affecting accountants means that it’s tempting to take any and every client who is ready to pay the fees.
But as so many of you have already experienced, this practice is a false economy. Although the initial enthusiasm and cash flow feels good, you may discover later that this client is difficult, or cash poor, or makes bad business decisions. Perhaps they query you and your team on everything, and they’re far less profitable because of the extra time required.
The answer is not to simply take on more clients. That will only enhance the problem you have, and pushing for quantity over quality is what got you in this situation in the first place.
The best thing you can do is to put what I call “roadblocks” in place – qualifiers that help determine whether the potential client is a true fit for your firm, or whether it would be best to encourage them to move on and go elsewhere.
This is hard for accountants to do.
First, you don’t really like selling.
You resist anything that feels like pressure. It goes against the grain. You genuinely want to help people, and trying to get people to buy your services (or buy more of them) feels uncomfortable, so you avoid it.
Second, you still want to increase your firm’s turnover.
This could be a status symbol. “Our firm hit £2 million in turnover last year.” “We doubled our turnover in two years.” “Quarter three we had more turnover than ever before.”
But as we all know, turnover is not the be-all and end-all. It’s profits you really want. It’s an odd thing, really. The people who are so good at finances and advise clients on a daily basis to focus on profitability can be the very ones who still pursue your own turnover levels more than anything else.
No matter how much you agree in principle with the idea that getting more clients is not the answer, it gives you a good feeling to get three new clients this month, each paying an average of £500 per month, which means £1500 per month, which means an increase of £18k in turnover.
But at what cost?
Your team know the cost. They feel it. They’re the ones who are given another (virtual) file, another list of bookkeeping tasks, another set of management accounts to produce every month, another set of tax returns. (By the way, if your news of a new client is met with less than wild enthusiasm, you may want to check in with your team and make sure that you’re addressing your systems properly.)
So how do you take on the quality new clients that you want, but without spending hours and hours of your own time personally meeting with prospects to determine if they’re a fit?
Here are a few ways you can build in the qualifiers that will distinguish the wheat from the chaff. They’ll feel like roadblocks to the wrong sort of prospect, sending them off on a different road, but the right ones will see it as an opportunity to prove that they are a fit. And the chances are, they will be.
Educate prospects using your content marketing skills
The more helpful advice, information, and content that you can share with your prospects, the more educated they will be in advance. They’ll be more familiar with the type of firm you have and the services you provide and even the fees you charge. They will have a sense of your personality, style, and approach.
Their basic questions about tax or profit or growth will already be answered, and your discussions will simply be a matter of “which services would you like?” instead of “do you actually want to work with us at all?”
For examples of the types of content you can generate, download our 29 Content Ideas guide here.
This is a very positive way to weed out the wrong type of prospects – they will weed themselves out by simply not reading your content or not engaging with you.
Figure out the questions you always ask
There are some questions you find yourself asking over and over, every time. What is it that you do? What business structure do you use? What’s your turnover? How many employees do you have? What are you struggling most with in your business right now? Do you have an accountant already?
Whatever those questions are, identifying them ahead of time will help you systemise your sales process. The double win is that not only will you be more efficient, but your prospects will be impressed that this is not your first rodeo. You clearly know what to ask and how to use that information – which enhances their trust in you as an expert advisor.
Use a questionnaire
You may want to consider using a questionnaire that your prospects complete before they speak to you.
Bear in mind that this is definitely in the roadblock category. Some people will give up and not complete it – which I know from experience is a concern to many accountants. “What if the perfect client is frustrated with this questionnaire and they never get in touch?”
My answer to that is to construct your questionnaire in such a way that your perfect client won’t be frustrated. You can do this by:
- Being very up front. “Frustrated by this questionnaire? Click here.”
- Adding a section at the start to explain why you’re using it. “We know your time is extremely limited, so here are a few questions that will help us both get the best out of our meeting!”
- Asking the right questions at the right time. Remember that your prospect doesn’t know you yet: so a questionnaire before your discovery call asking about their turnover, employees, and previous accountant could be off-putting. Think about when and where to ask the questions.
- Knowing who your perfect client is. If you understand who they are and how they think (right down to creating a ‘persona’ for them you’ll be better prepared to create what suits them).
Make your ‘discovery’ call short (15 minutes)
This concept of a discovery call seems to be taking the accountancy world by storm. The team at My Accountancy Place were one of the first firms to integrate this into their proposal and sales system on their website, but we’re now seeing it on many firms’ sites and in their sales processes.
The reason it’s such a win is that, when done well, you can use a short call to weed out the tyre kickers, the cheapskates, those looking for free advice, the wrong sort of people for your firm. They might be a brilliant client for someone else, but not for you. To use the My Accountancy Place example, if someone who is not a digital creative gets in touch, they need to send them elsewhere – not because they’re not a successful or interesting business, but because they don’t fit with MAP’s niche.
Similarly, if you have a minimum fee of £500, and the enquiry is from someone who wants you to do their accounts for the grand sum of £30, you’ll want to move them on rather quickly.
That’s a true story by the way – one of our firms says, “I was contacted today by a business owner who wanted me to prepare their year end accounts for £30. Apparently they’ve done all of the work on Xero so all I need to do is enter it into my software and push a button.”
She shared the story in our PF Community on Slack, and another firm replied to say, “We are really clear from the outset what our monthly minimum is so we get rid of the time wasters before the conversation even starts. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys’ comes to mind….”
Be very clear about the purpose and structure of your discovery call – otherwise it will simply start out as a 15 minute call and become a full hour and a half of free advice.
Delegate initial communications and conversations to someone besides the firm owners or directors
Because the initial discovery call – or questionnaire, or whatever – is based on a structured process, this means that the firm owner or directors do not have to be the ones who hold it.
You can have a receptionist, or administrative assistant, or one of your accountants, or almost anyone hold this short call with prospects as long as you have structured it well and communicated it in advance. You don’t want the owner of a £50 million turnover business thinking he’s got a strategic call with the managing partner of a large accountancy firm only to find that it’s a 15 minute call with someone on the admin team. Be clear, send out the email and/or questionnaire, hold the call, and then move on to the next steps – if they’ve passed the first round.
Learn more about the 7 Systems that integrate this discovery call concept here.
Make the most of video
You can’t be everywhere all at once…or can you?
Thanks to the power of video, yes you can.
If there was one thing I could encourage accountants to do more than anything else when it comes to content marketing and sales processes, it would be to invest in video.
Here’s how you can use video to filter out the best quality prospects:
- Answer some of the most frequently asked questions – either all at once in a longer video, or in multiple short videos. That might be all they need at this time.
- Send a quick thank you video when someone enquires. You can give them a heads up what you’ll be discussing in the next step (discovery call, in person meeting, etc) and they might realise they don’t want to take the next step.
- Explain the process behind your pricing. This way you don’t have to repeat it over and over when crafting a proposal, and if they don’t like your minimum fees or the way you approach pricing, you’ve saved a lot of time.
- Let them meet the team. Have a video that incorporates comments and thoughts from team members about what it’s like to work at your firm, what they love doing, how they help the clients they work with. (Naturally, if the thought of this concerns or possibly terrifies you, your first task is to address your team issues, not your sales or lead generation issues.)
- Use a series of videos throughout the whole sales process. When you get to the stage of sales process automation, you can almost remove yourself from the process entirely: and yet not, because you’re everywhere on video.
If you’re getting started with video, here’s everything you need to get going, including a video equipment list. You could simply use this post as an opportunity to go Amazon shopping this weekend. (You can also access this in our Customer Hub along with all our other free resources.)
Here’s to more roadblocks, fewer enquiries – and more clients.
Let me know how you get on!