What’s the first thing you need to find out from a new client?

Feb 7, 2023 | Key Business skills, Networking, Sole practitioners

When you are approached by a prospective new client it is tempting to simply give them what they say they want. Often this will be a fee quote to help them with their annual compliance obligations.

As this area of work continues to become more commoditised, so will the need to distinguish yourself from other accountants increase. One way to do this is to ask better questions of each prospect.

One key area for questions is around what the client really wants.

This is best understood by reference to an apocryphal story about Black & Decker in the days when they only sold one basic product. A group of newly recruited executives were asked what it was that their customers wanted from them.

The standard answer was ‘drills’.

No” they were told. “Our customers want HOLES.”

Obvious when you think about it. What the customers really wanted was NOT what they said they wanted to buy.

If there was an easier way to make holes that might have been more appealing than buying a big old heavy drill.

Indeed, if the salesperson enquired further as to what the holes were for, then it might even transpire that a drill was not the best purchase anyway.

Perhaps the customer simply wants to hang some pictures on the wall. They have tried banging nails in but the concrete wall is too tough. Hence the decision to get a drill. If they are a novice then it would be up to the sales person to identify the need for suitable rawl plugs etc. Maybe even selling a range of rawl plugs to suit different wall types where the holes are to be drilled. And to help ensure that the right sort of drill is sold.

How do you feel about this idea of focusing on the equivalent of a hole in the wall that your prospective clients want?

In recent years it has become very clear to me how few accountants seem to be aware of this concept. The vast majority talk about what they do and then pitch for new work without an awareness that what clients generally want are results and solutions to problems.

In the first instance they may simply want someone to help them comply with their legal obligations to prepare and file accounts and tax returns. They may not even be aware of other services or how your advice could help them (beyond how to pay less tax!)

This is where it can be helpful to clarify new clients’ previous experiences of accountants. If you are their first accountant you may be able to help educate them over time as to how valuable you could be to them. If they have had poor experiences in the past, will they resist your efforts to provide more services or welcome them?

I’ve noticed that there seems to be far more emphasis on finding out a prospective client’s ‘pain’ in sales training these days than I ever saw in my past life.  It’s not always easy but it can be so rewarding.

What do you try to find out when you meet with a prospective client or when you’re networking and hoping that you will gain new advocates for your work?

Do you take time to find out what’s behind their enquiry and what real challenges, problems, opportunities and issues they have?

Do you focus more on finding out what they really want and need?


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