When “No Obligation” Means “Sales Pressure”

No obligation meetingSomehow, many accountants have taken up the phrase “no obligation meeting” or “free consultation” to the point that it is losing its true meaning.  Many who see it (in a direct mail letter, in an email, on a website, in a blog post) simply skim by it now, presuming that it means “an opportunity for us to sell to you”.

No one likes to be sold to.  Actually, we don’t mind it, if it is natural and flows directly out of our need being matched with a provided service or product.  But the pressured sale is always resisted, as you well know.  (Most accountants have a horror of being pushy in sales, and can tend to lean the other way by simply hoping that the world will somehow find them and ask to become a client.)  Many prospects who seemed keen and excited have faded away, and we don’t always know why.  Sometimes, it’s because they felt pressured instead of invited.  Online marketing lends itself very well to a low-pressure or even no-pressure sales process.  It’s all about content and education.  Blog posts, emails, webinars, seminars, ebooks, free articles, sample documents, free stuff…your marketing public is welcome to dip in and dip out, take what they like, and never even engage with a human being until they are ready.  And when they are ready, from the prospect’s perspective it’s merely a natural progression from one thing to the next, rather than feeling they’ve been forced down a particular path.

So, the “no obligation meeting” or “free consultation” claim does not fit as smoothly into the new marketing process as it used to.  True, you want to encourage prospects to take action – but if they are simply meandering about online and come across your website, is it likely that they are ready to phone up and arrange a proper meeting right away?  Or is it more likely that a free download, or a newsletter focused on an area or industry of particular interest to them, will catch their eye?  By this stage in business, no one expects an accountant to begin charging fees simply to discuss whether their appointing you as their accountant would suit or not.

Here are a few alternatives to the standard “no obligation” statement – either on your website or elsewhere:

Request a quote – this is the number one most desired, and least provided, option on accountancy firm websites.  You don’t have to publish a full pricing list (although that would definitely be on the creative side, and would stand out), but you can capture the interest of those who are serious about taking the next step.  You will want a proper follow up sequence based on your proven method of determining interest level, but at least this conversation has begun.  Perhaps you send a quick email thanking them for their interest, quoting your minimum fee, and asking for more details.  Then a phone call a day or two later, to make sure they got the email.  Or a series of emails, and the phone call only happens when a reply is received.  Every firm will be different, but slowly encouraging your prospects through a process could make things more comfortable for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions – Many companies use these on their websites, and they’re an excellent way to weed out the queries you get over, and over, and over until you’re tired of answering them.  Isn’t it difficult to change accountants?  Should I consider a limited company, or incorporating?  Can I use online bookkeeping?  How much do you charge for a set of accounts?  What types of clients do you work with?  Consider having your team write down, for a full week, every question they get asked by clients.  (This might be made even easier by the fact that many of these questions could be asked by email.)  Then begin to write answers to each of those questions, and if applicable publish them on your website.  If they are only applicable to clients instead of prospects, consider an online hub to which clients can log in and view their own FAQ’s.

Request an online meeting – Perhaps a prospect is ready to chat, but the effort of finding your offices, driving through traffic, or simply getting away from their own place of business is too much.  Or they can’t justify the time investment as yet.  Or they’re in another region, or state, or country.  Make it possible, and very easy, for them to request an initial conversation online – either via Skype, or Gotomeeting, or another online service.  There are literally hundreds of options for this (if you and your prospect both have iphones, for instance, you could simply set up a FaceTime call), and you will enhance your firm’s reputation as being switched on to new technology.  And you’ll save valuable time for yourself, as well.  If this is a prospect with whom you decide not to work, a short half hour call should identify that.  If things look good and they are in principle happy with the minimum fee, arrange an in-person meeting.

Request a tax review (or another specific option).  Offering a “meeting” or a “consultation” can sound too generic.  What about structuring a simple, short review on an area that many people struggle with, and offering that free instead?  Perhaps your firm is an expert on property tax.  Or you work with veterinarians.  Or most of those who come to you are startup businesses.  Choose something that you are good at, and do often, and structure a simple document that asks the key questions – leading questions that encourage someone to work with you.  Be sure not to give away all the answers during this review.  If you are speaking of property tax and there are several options that could help the prospect save money, don’t share them all (or any of them necessarily) right away.  Mention that there may be a few, and you would be glad to look into that further if you had more detail on the client.  Then quote a minimum price and you’re off.

Offer diagnostics.  One of the features of our Business Builder webinar programme is a set of diagnostics that you can use to send directly to clients, or embed within your website.  They cover areas such as Online Marketing, Profit Improvement, Raising Finance, and more.  Each area is one that has been identified as a frequent topic of conversation, and each diagnostic has been built to draw out the critical issues, which you can then discuss with your client or prospect.  Click here to take the “So, You Want to Raise Finance?” diagnostic and view your report immediately online.

Surprise us.  Those are a few of my ideas, but perhaps you have some more!  As I’ve mentioned before, I wouldn’t recommend going to other accountants’ websites to determine what you should do: unfortunately, many of them are still well behind the times.  Try the creatives, like HubSpot or Kissmetrics or Hinge, for ideas, and adapt it for your firm.