Art of Accounting: Cross-Selling Beyond Your Comfort Zone
IMGCAP(1)]In my practice I have always tried to generate additional revenue from existing clients.
It was much easier than searching for new clients. It was also fun since I had an attentive audience when I spoke, and it gave me the satisfaction of helping a client.
When I started, I felt funny suggesting additional services that I would charge for even though they were clearly beyond the scope of my regular services. My first attempts made me feel like I was a salesman rather than a trusted advisor.
Well, one day a client told me he wanted to get divorced and would like to give his wife (who was a housewife) his business and walk away without any financial obligation to her or for child support. He said he would start a new business and take whatever risks were necessary, but wanted to be free of the obligation of making payments. I suggested that I might be able to serve as a mediator and arrange the financial aspects, but an attorney would eventually need to incorporate what was decided into an agreement, including the child support issues from which I wasn’t sure he could divest himself.
I set some ground rules: I would only talk to them together and not separately. I was not representing either of them, but my role would be to help them come up with a financial settlement they both could live with but that might not be the absolute best deal for one or the other. Whatever we decided was not binding, and they could each still engage attorneys and proceed the conventional way. Lastly, I would charge by the hour, and they each would be responsible for half my fee, no matter what the outcome.
They agreed. This was one of my first attempts to perform additional services outside the norm of what CPAs do. Before I made my proposal, I thought about the ramifications if they said they weren’t interested, or if we started and it got going on a wrong note, or if they started fighting, or if they challenged my ability or experience in this type of matter (which was nonexistent), or if I simply could not do what was expected.
Previously the only additional services I proposed were for typical accountant services such as tax audits, tax collection matters, bankruptcy planning, projections for new activities and negotiating bank loans that were clearly in my range of experience and beyond the scope of the regular services I was performing.
Since then I’ve developed extensive expertise in many areas. Although many first-time engagements were a stretch, thankfully they all worked out.
A takeaway is to go beyond your comfort zone—it expands you and provides valuable benefits to clients that you have a history with and who trust you.
Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by www.CPATrendlines.com and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.