You probably didn’t get into accounting for a love of sales. While client prospecting is an essential part of running a successful firm, it takes a whole different set of skills to be a whiz at client acquisition.
The good news is you likely have a lot of the skills necessary to become an expert at finding new clients. Salespeople aren’t technical experts performing some impossible feats we can’t learn for ourselves. Instead, they have learned how to turn their everyday life skills into valuable assets for their work.
You too can become an expert at filling up your pipeline with prospects and converting them into paying customers. You don’t need to put on a broadway musical or use drones for cheeky marketing. Instead, we’ve got the low down on the skills you already have that can help you bring your A-game in the search for new clients.
The skills you need to flex to acquire clients
When you’re meeting prospective clients, it’s time to show off your soft skills.
While hard skills encompass the technical expertise we bring to our jobs like your accounting accreditation or Excel wizardry, soft skills are the personal traits we have that help us succeed at work while not being an essential part of it.
A good example of a soft skill is communication. While you don’t need to be a certified communicator to succeed at your job, it helps you collaborate and provide the best possible service for clients.
A client will assume you’re delivering the hard skills, they’ll want to see your soft skills in action. This means beyond having soft skills, you need ways to showcase them. Here are some of the best ways to do that.
People love to feel heard. Showing that you hear someone’s story and that it’s important to you will convey that you are invested in the wellness of your clients. For some, the relationship with an accountant is purely transactional. But more often than not, business owners want someone who they can depend on for more than just tax time support.
Active listening is remarkably easy to put into practice relative to how powerful the results are. You can make simple changes like maintaining eye contact, nodding when you understand something, and asking follow up questions shows your investment in what someone has to say.
If you take notes throughout a conversation, review some of these notes with the client intermittently. It helps you catch any missing details while also showing how much of an understanding you’re getting throughout your chat.
Pro tip: There’s a time and place for you to lean more into your professional self and your personal self. We feel a need to constantly be professional and convey a specific image, but you will have clients who want to talk to you as a human with your accreditation and reputation coming second. If someone is talking technicalities, put on your professional’s hat, but if someone opens up emotionally, let that personal self come through.
When it comes to asking questions, it’s important to dig into the core of the issues that prospects face without leaning too heavily on accounting principles. For example, instead of asking “What’s your financial runway?” you can ask “How many months can you continue to operate with no incoming cash?”
Be sure your questions are addressing the future of the prospect more than the past. This allows you to fill in the blank of what you would do to help them achieve it. As an example, if you ask about their big business goal in 2022 and it’s hiring employees, you can mention your payroll services and where they’d need to be financially to afford it.
Pro tip: Have a bank of questions you can pull from. Organize the list so questions are categorized by some classification like business size, industry, or revenue numbers. Anything that can help you quickly find the right questions in the moment will keep the conversation active and valuable.
The first conversation you have with a prospect is an opportunity for you both to vet each other. Being able to handle the objections someone could have is essential to keep the conversation going and the prospect invested.
If someone raises an objection, there’s two steps you should take. First, address the objection and understand the core of the issue. You can do this by repeating your understanding of the objection back to them. Second, propose a solution or a timeframe for you to provide a solution. Once you’ve done either, check to confirm whether this is something that will interfere with the conversation.
For example, if someone says that the price of a service is too high, you would start by figuring out why the price is too high. It could be a cash flow issue or they don’t believe the value of the service enough for the price tag. This will determine the approach you take as a solution: possibly mentioning discounted annual pricing for the cash conscious, or providing client references for someone questioning the value.
Pro tip: Practice objection handling with someone you trust. Ask them to play the devil’s advocate during a practice pitch to go through the steps and make it muscle memory. Just don’t come to us if they enjoy the role too much.
Business owners are busy people. You’re also an incredibly busy person. In short, neither of you want to waste your time.
When you’re having a conversation with a prospect, especially if it’s booked for a set time window, it’s essential to keep it moving and focused on key topics. Getting too far lost in a funny story of something that happened today or on a tangent about something unrelated will show you don’t value the time being spent on the conversation.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid all personal chatting. Instead, know that there is a time and place for it.
A good strategy if a conversation is derailed is noting how much time you have left and mentioning something you wanted to specifically cover before that time is up. So if the conversation veers off into local fishing spots, you could say “This is something I could talk all day about, but we only have 17 minutes left in our booked time and I really wanted to cover what you want from your relationship with your accountant.” Then if there’s time left at the end, you can tell them all about your most recent trip to Sturgeon Bay.
Pro tip: Having an itinerary prepared that can be sent ahead of time shows your intent to have a valuable conversation and gives the prospect a heads up on what they should prepare. Then if a section goes long, you can ask what topic is least important to them to steal that time back from.
The best ways to find prospective clients
Now that you have some new skills to flex, how do you start packing that pipeline with prospects?
The strategy that works best for you will depend on your local area, an industry you specialize in, the size of your firm, and more. In smaller communities, some traditional face-to-face networking might work best. While, if you’re a bigger firm with a niche industry, you have to be mindful of the audience you spend effort connecting with because they might not be a great fit.
In general, there are a couple of strategies that can be effective for accounting firms of any size, makeup, or location:
Referrals: Your best clients likely know other business owners who need accounting. Check in regularly and consider starting a customer referral program that incentivizes participating.
Finding a niche: Being the best accountant in the country is a tall order. But what about the best accountant specializing in laser tag operations? Or cat cafes? Maybe find something with a larger market, but being the best in a certain niche will attract those business owners consistently.
Networking at events: Choosing the right event to network at is crucial, but if you choose correctly, you get an opportunity to make an in-person first impression on tons of potential clients. Be sure to come equipped with some kind of branded material like brochures, pamphlets, or the classic business card as these items will keep you top of mind.
Find a local small business community: If you want to find small business owners to connect with, go where the small business owners go. If the group is online, it’s a great opportunity to answer some questions that show off your expertise. Don’t turn interactions into a sales pitch, instead try to show your value in your interactions and let them come to the decision naturally.
Make time for your new clients
You can’t get serious about client acquisition until you sort out your firm’s capacity. One crucial step toward freeing up the team’s time?
Botkeeper is an automated bookkeeping solution that keeps your clients’ books clean, allowing you and your staff to find more leads, close more deals, and increase revenue.