Cracking the code: Winning over genuine prospects for your practice

Feb 6, 2024 | Business development

One thing that remains as challenging for accountants today as it was when I was in practice is that of converting prospects into valued clients. It’s not that you need flashy pitches or to make exaggerated claims; it’s about building a genuine connection and trust.

Picture this: you’re face-to-face with a potential client, you’re tempted to showcase your expertise and talk about your services. Despite your best efforts the prospect remains unconvinced even though you feel they are exactly the type of client you want and should be winning.

It’s an all too common scenario and I’m pleased to say that there are little tricks you can adopt that increase the prospect of such people saying ‘yes please’ rather than ‘no thanks’ (or just leaving you waiting for ages as they don’t want to be seen to have rejected you).

In this blog post you’ll learn what it takes. You’ll realise what you’ve done and said that has helped some prospects to become clients. An you’ll also find out what you omitted to do that let others ‘get away’.

I’ll share with you the five key reasons prospects hesitate, and more importantly, how you can overcome them. And why there is no ‘going rate’ for what you do.

From mastering the art of active listening to crafting compelling responses, you’ll emerge ready to conquer any objection and secure the clients your practice deserves.

Stop trying to sell
Accountants don’t like to feel as they need to be salespeople. We tend to have in mind those who sell cars, (2nd-hand ones are the worst!), double glazing and life assurance.

And we all dislike sales people who are too pushy and seem to have a smart prepared answer to everything they hear. None of us want to be seen in the same way by our prospects.

I think this is a good thing as accountants are very different to those salespeople. In most cases, once you buy from them, you may never meet them again. It’s very different for your clients who expect to receive a personal and professional service from their new accountant.

So we are probably agreed that it would be counter-productive to come across as a pushy salesperson when you are talking to a prospective client. Having said that, you do need to have confidence in the value of your services.

After all, if you don’t believe in yourself why should a prospective client?

What are your priorities?
If you are self-conscious when it comes to your ability to promote your services as an accountant, you need to evaluate your priorities. What is more important to you? To win new business or to avoid getting involved in ‘sales’?

When I talk with my mentoring clients I often encourage them to tell me about the sort of work they most enjoy doing. What work generates the most fees and profit? What type of people engage them to do that work?

The greater clarity you have as regards answers to these questions the easier it can be to attract the type of clients willing to pay you to do the work you enjoy and to pay you the fees you deserve for doing it.

As I have noted on this blog before, rather than looking to ‘close the sale’, we should be looking to complete the sale – when we’re sure there’s a good fit between what the prospect needs and the service you can provide. That means  simply looking for ways to secure the key opportunities you encounter.

Why prospects don’t say ‘yes’
There are five possible reasons people don’t say yes when they hear about your services as an accountant.  Either:

1.    Money – They don’t think they can afford you
2.    Time – They don’t have the time to work with you or to move their affairs to you
3.    Need – They don’t feel they currently need to engage an accountant or to switch from their current accountant
4.    Urgency – They don’t sense any great urgency to engage you or move to you
5.    Trust – They don’t trust that you will be able to do what they need at the fee they are prepared to pay

Accountants often assume the ‘money’ reason is all that matters. Worse is when you focus on a non-existent ‘going rate’ for the work the prospect needs.

This is wrong – other than for the simplest of clients – as there is no ‘going rate’ for YOU and YOUR services.

Your clients get to benefit from YOUR style and approach. They get YOUR commitment based on YOUR expertise which is a function of YOUR past clients and YOUR experience. There is no going rate for that combination – other than what YOU are able to persuade clients YOU are worth.

This is why it can be a mistake to even think about quoting fees (or reducing your fee quotes) until you have clarified what matters most to a prospect.

You need to be patient and to overcome their resistance. You won’t know how best to do this until you know which of the five reasons applies (and it could be more than one of them). So you need to ask questions that will help clarify their concerns.

Often though you will hear the related objections or concerns even before you ask such questions.

Overcoming concerns and excuses
My advice is to prepare for how you will respond when you get overt or implied rejections by reference to each of the 5 reasons listed above.   They can come up at any stage in your conversations with prospective clients for your new practice.

Not everyone will articulate what is on their mind, so you need to be prepared to ask good open questions and then listen to the replies and respond accordingly.
I find it helps to keep in mind that we have two ears and one mouth and should remember to use them in the same proportions ;-). This is something that those smarmy sales people I referenced earlier rarely do successfully.

You may hear impulsive excuses, which might prompt you to empathise and to say, in your own words, something like: “That’s okay. Most people in your situation felt the same way when I first met them but now they have become good clients who recommend us to others.”

Sometimes you will encounter people who have had problems with previous accountants. This has given them a bad impression, in that they assume you are going to be just as bad. Where this happens remain calm, positive and polite. Let them talk and then, at an appropriate juncture, you can try to take control by asking intelligent related clarification questions.

You may meet prospects who sound as if they are very knowledgeable. Often they will make sophisticated observations or ask complex questions. You need to clarify whether they are toying with you or whether they are serious prospects. Show how impressed you are by their knowledge and make them feel important by listening to them and asking questions to ascertain what help they need or whether they are happy doing everything themselves.

Don’t be scared of revealing your confidence, borne of many years experience (if that’s the case). Lots of accountants crumble and allow prospects to walk all over them. This never results in a good, mutually respectful relationship.

Perhaps you face more personal objections by reference to the trust issue mentioned earlier. This may also mean you have been talking too much. Treat any such challenges as questions, and answer honestly and simply then stop talking about your new practice. Instead ask more questions about the prospect, their issues, and their needs. And listen closely to the answers you get.

Delaying tactics, such as when prospects ask you to send some information to them, may also be indicative of concerns. Again, asking clarifying questions may help reveal if the request for information is simply an excuse or is evidence of genuine interest.

Specific responses to overcome

“I need to think about it” – You need to clarify which of the five main reasons is giving cause for concern. Then you can address this – or decide to walk away.

“Your fees are too high” – This may be the only issue or it may reflect a concern as regards your fees compared to their existing accountant. Or compared to what they have heard from others. As I suggested earlier they are NEVER in a position to compare like with like.

If you conclude that you can only win the work (and you really want it) by reducing your fee quote, remember the old adage: ‘If you change the price, change the package’. For example, vary your payment terms, reduce the services covered or when they will be performed.

“Sounds good but I’ve already got an accountant.” – Ask what they especially like in their current accountant. After they’ve told you, be impressed and ask what could the current accountant do better? This will give you some tips. It may also expose gaps in their current service that, on reflection, makes the prospect realise they should be considering someone new, like you.

“I don’t have time to do this now” – Ask if it would be ok to come back to them at a more convenient time, be that a week, a month or three months later. I suggest you ask them to be honest with you so that you don’t waste your time or theirs if they are just being polite and have no intention of using your services.

You may also want to be able to create a sense of urgency by reference to current events. This would help them understand why it is important to think about things now rather than in a few weeks or months time. In what ways will the prospect lose out if they do not make a decision now or very soon?

Yet again, my blog post goes into details and examples that I have also addressed during 1-2-1 mentoring conversations.

I hope you will take away the importance of authenticity, sincerity, patience and empathy in every interaction with your prospects. This gets easier the more such conversations you have and the better prepared you are for each of the five reasons they might reject you.

Despite your best efforts, you will still occasionally be unable to bring a prospective new client on board. When this happens, be honest with yourself. Reflect on the conversation and what you might have asked and/or said differently. We are all continuing to learn all the time.

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