Irma Zaldivar, LSL CPAs & Advisors
CPA license? Check. Working with clients on engagements? Check. Prospecting new clients? Wait, what, is that part of my job? Accountants do not go into this business ever thinking there is a sales component to having a successful career as a CPA. It is no longer enough to be strong on the technical side. Developing sales skills is a key to an accountant’s career development, and the sooner these skills are refined, the better.
An accounting firm gets a new prospect in the pipeline – what happens now? It is important for accounting firms to have a strategy in place to convert prospects into clients. By setting up a simple sales process for your partners, your firm will see an increase in their closing percentage.
- Qualify what makes a good prospect – When you do not qualify a lead, you can waste a lot of time following up and attempting to sell to a prospect that is not a good fit for your firm. By asking the right questions and identifying whether the prospect matches your ideal customer profile, you can identify if this is a client you want for your firm. If you do not know who those high-value prospects are, you will miss out on the chance to pitch your firm to a potential client. But beware, it is important not to qualify potential new clients by rapidly firing questions at them or interrogating them – get to know them through engaging conversations. Pay attention and try to spot whether the prospect is not being forthright with you. Pay close attention to what prospects say, but also how they say it. Try to identify if the prospect is being reluctant and unwilling to provide you with information, such as prior tax returns or financial statements. If the prospect is not the client that you want, take that extra step of referring them to another firm that might be a better fit.
- Research the prospect – Before picking up the phone or meeting with a prospect, take the time to research who they are and what their company does. How do you research a prospect before that big sales call? The first two places to look are the company website and their LinkedIn profile. Visiting their website can give you an inside look on the structure of their organization, their industry, and their services. By visiting their LinkedIn profile, you might be able to gather information like what they look like, how long they have been with the company, their job duties, experience at their former jobs, whether you have shared connections, and whether they belong to any LinkedIn groups, such a non-profit they are passionate for. Google the company or the person you will be speaking to – find out if there are any press or media releases whether anything major has been announced. If the prospect is a public company, visit the SEC website and look for their most recent financial statements. Does the prospect have a Yelp account? Browsing their Yelp page is a great way to see what their customers are saying about them. In addition, visit their Glassdoor page to see which positions they are hiring for and whether they have good reviews from past employees. If the company has a blog, review the last few posts, as you can use these topics as talking points during your call. How does marketing play a role? The marketing department can research the prospect and gather as much information for the partner/manager scheduled to meet or speak with the potential new client.
- Coaching and training before the initial meeting – Marketing has gathered valuable information on the prospect, but now what do you do? You should schedule at least 30 minutes to meet with the partner/manager and present your findings. This is the time to coach this individual on how the initial meeting should go. If they are meeting the prospect for the first time in person, walk them through the steps. Begin by thanking the prospect for taking the time to meet with them. Coach them on reading body language – is the prospect all over the place or does he/she have a clear understanding of the needs of the company? Encourage them to do most of the listening and let the prospect talk about themselves and their company. The more they actively listen to the needs of the prospect, the better the understanding of what the prospect is actually looking for. Are they looking for more of an advisor, do they want additional consulting services in addition to the preparation of their tax returns? These questions can often be answered by the initial meeting just by listening to their needs and not selling your firm. Encourage your partner/manager to take you on these initial meetings. This will help paint a clear picture for marketing to deduce the strengths and weaknesses of the meeting and allow you to coach the partner/manager on some of the weaker points. For example, did they talk too much or did they crack a joke with someone that came across as a very serious and professional prospect? Marketing can make recommendations for future meetings and the partner/manager will thank them later for the constructive criticism.
- Recap initial meeting with marketing – Recapping the initial call/meeting with marketing is a step you should not forget. You really want to move this prospective relationship forward and keep the momentum gained from the initial meeting. Marketing should suggest what the next steps should be. Should the partner/manager send a thank you card/email to the potential client? Should they request the prior two years of tax returns or financial statements to offer them a quote? Should they prepare the quote and ask for a another meeting to discuss the fees and answer any additional questions they may have about your firm? These are all recommendations marketing can offer to the partner/manager.
- Managing the pipeline – Good pipeline management can make you a lot of money. Marketing can assist by helping the partners/managers oversee their individual prospects and keep them moving through the sales process. By tracking 30, 60, and 90 day (or more) prospects, your firm can have a clearer picture about revenue forecasting. Encourage your partners/manager to meet at least once a month to discuss the pipeline. You will be surprised what you can learn in those meetings – like a partner having a previous client in that same industry or a manager that has a lot of experience in that industry. Leverage this information to increase your closing percentage.
Having partners/managers craft their sales pitch should not be a solo endeavor. Remember that marketing plays a crucial role before, during, and after prospect meetings. Good luck and happy coaching!