Do you assume you know what (new) callers will want from you? Are you able to distinguish real prospective clients without devoting too much time to the others? Do you operate like other professionals or by reference to wishful thinking?
These are key challenges for all of us. We want to encourage prospects to get in touch. And then we need to be able to determine whether the person in question is a genuine prospect. And, if not, we want to ensure they will come back if their needs evolve and for them to refer others to us.
Many happy of us, and I am still not perfect in this regard, make a number of common mistakes when strangers contact us.
1 – We assume we know what they want
It has taken me years to stop letting my assumptions drive conversations with prospective clients. We all know the logical reason for this I’m sure. But stopping doing what maybe a lifetime habit is rarely easy.
Instead of assuming I make sure to ask questions to learn what people want ‘in their own words’. And, crucially, what is behind this request.
This is also a crucial way in which we can build rapport with prospects.
In time we can work out how much we need to know before we can decide if they are a prospect we would like to have as a client.
Even when we think we know what someone needs, we can make our advice more relevant and memorable if it reflects what they have said to us. Rather than it coming across as standard advice given to everyone regardless.
When the caller is a prospect, there is certain key information you, as their potential accountant, need to ascertain.
You might assume that every new client wants their accounts and tax returns completed and filed on time. What about their attitude to reducing their tax bills? Their attitude and experience of HMRC? What else is on their mind? What are their plans, ambitions, goals and dreams?
Of course you may choose to gather more of this sort of thing during a more detailed conversation or even a meeting (online or face to face). Which leads us on to the second classic mistake.
2 – We devote too much time to ‘suspects’ who may not be real ‘prospects’
This can happen in at least three ways.
The first is when we spend too long on an initial unstructured conversation (as I have done too often myself).
The second is when we arrange a meeting (online or in person) before clarifying whether the caller (suspect) is a real prospect.
And the third is when we allow such meetings to drag on before we know we really want this person to become a client.
And that can depend on a number of factors such as:
- The services they want and your experience and ability to provide these
- Any specific areas of advice or support they need
- Their previous experience of accountants
- Their relationship with the truth
- Their ability to provide the AML data you need
- Their willingness to pay your fees on your terms
By having a structured but flexible approach to initial conversations and to initial meetings you will be better able to disqualify those enquiries less likely to generate profitable work (assuming that is your focus).
Many accountants struggle to do this and either spend too long on the phone, zoom or in meetings with people that they, only later, realise are NOT ideal clients.
Or worse they take them on, start work and only later realise they cannot recover decent fees for all their work.
3 – We hope that offering free advice upfront will create a client
How many other professionals do you know who give free advice to suspects or even to prospects? Dentists? Solicitiors? Vets? Medical specialist consultants? In each of these cases you pay for an initial consultation during which you set out your concerns and they then tell you what it will cost to resolve matters.
“Accountants are different” you say – and I would agree. ‘All’ accountants offer a free initial meeting. Indeed. But the amount of free advice they give varies enormously. And many who give free advice do so because they lack the self-confidence to be assertive with clients. This leads to clients who later take advantage of their accountant’s good nature. And they are reluctant to pay for advice in the future. After all, if you give it away free to prospects, why should clients expect to pay for advice?
Better structured initial conversations and meetings are key here.
4 – We hope we are creating strong advocates
The theory you convince yourself of is that if you offer help and advice even to those prospects who cannot afford your fees, then hopefully they will be so impressed they will come back later and/or tell other people how helpful you are.
There is plenty of logic here – in theory. But it would be a mistake to assume it always happens – or indeed that the suspect will even remember your name, let alone be able to pass on your contact details. You need to be make this easy for them to do or stop hoping for a good return on the time you invest with suspects who do not become clients.
I like to think that the style of our initial conversations is one of reasons accountants choose to work with me 1-2-1. They realise they will not be getting a standard spiel. And that whatever we discuss is tailored to their current needs. Another reason is the coaching and support they get if they want to avoid any of the above mistakes – or any of the others that many accountants make.
But I never assume I know what drives accountants to first get in touch with me ;-)
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