Before delving into the strategies that can help you win and maintain clients for your accountancy practice, I must manage your expectations. There’s no magic bullet or hidden secret that will replace everything you already know about client relationships. What follows therefore are fundamental principles that, if you keep them in mind, will assist you in attracting and retaining the type of clients that you want.
Consider the essence of forging enduring bonds with your clients or, indeed, with anyone. This doesn’t mean you need your clients to become personal friends, but rather, you must establish rapport, cultivate genuine empathy, convey a sincere concern for your clients’ well-being and success, delivering value and building strong relationships based on trust and reliability.
Many of my 1-2-1 mentoring clients recognise that this is very much how I aim to serve them. And some have said that they keep me in mind as a reminder of how they want to deal with their clients – even though they are acting as accountants and business advisers rather than overtly as a coach or mentor to their clients. NB: Spoiler alert: I am NOT perfect. I make mistakes. But I evidently TRY to get these things right consistently – and to set a good example.
If you haven’t had the benefit of someone providing you with this style of support, then, wearing your accountant’s hat, try to recall a time when you went the extra mile to understand a client’s unique financial situation and delivered a tailored solution that truly made a difference in their life. Those are the sort of moments that build lasting client relationships.
An integral aspect of this process is transitioning from a transactional mindset to a consultative one. And this can be especially challenging for employees who may need training in how to do this – even more so than for sole practitioners and partners who have a clear financial stake in the practice.
Prospective clients seeking your services are not interested in a sales pitch; what they really want is to feel that you understand them and their needs and are able to seek comprehension and guidance.
Do that effectively and you will stand out so positively compared with all of the other accountants who are still stuck with a traditional transactional mindset. This means you probably need to be asking more questions – out of genuine interest rather than just because they are on a list. And not rushing to assume you know what services the client wants or needs. They may seem to be much like other clients in the same sector, but they are all individuals – just as no two accountants are exactly the same either.
There is a huge difference between ‘selling’ to prospects and ‘helping them to buy’ (or to choose YOU). The difference is largely one of attitude. It’s one of the reasons I will often reference ‘COMPLETING the deal’ rather than ‘CLOSING the sale’.
So to win the clients you want I would encourage you to:
- ask them questions to find out what they want and need
- help them to see you can provide those services, support and advice on fair terms
- help them to feel good about their choice and decision
Start each day with a simple mantra: “Today, my goal is to support as many clients as possible.” Prioritise their needs over meeting quotas, as this will help lay the foundation for robust, long-term relationships.
It’s crucial to understand that doing the basic compliance work and delivering information are only part of the equation; equally vital is instilling trust and providing valued support, guidance and insights. Emotions are potent influencers in decision-making. Thus, HOW you communicate what you have done and what a client needs to do are just as important as actually doing the work.
And good communication is judged NOT by your efforts but by how well it is received and understood by your client.
Consider a situation where a client was facing a complex tax issue, and you not only provided a clear, comprehensive solution but also offered unwavering support throughout the process. The relief and gratitude your client felt during this time is a testament to the value of a client-centric approach.
Instead of merely selling services, focus on providing ideas, solutions, and peace of mind. This is what I do when I am engaged to provide 1-2-1 mentoring support. I love it when my clients confirm that their own client relationships have improved after they started to care about their clients the way they feel that I care about them.
And always keep in mind that your clients will grow to expect the level of service that they experience with you. The more they feel cared for, supported and ‘important’, the more loyal they will feel. On the other hand, if they feel they are being treated as a number, and do not get prompt responses, updates or even bills, the less loyal they will feel. And the easier it will be for other accountants to tempt them away from you.
Emotions are key
It has taken me many years to accept that clients often make choices based on emotions and subsequently rationalise them with logic. Indeed, I still struggle with this to a degree.
So my message here is a definite case of “don’t do what I do, but do what I tell you”! Your mission is to instil confidence in your prospects so that they want and value your advice, your guidance and even the compliance services that you provide.
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