Voices

Capitalize on client buying cycles

If a successful accounting firm isn’t your goal, why work so hard?

In the daily rush of building and maintaining a prosperous firm, many professionals miss the subtle signs that keep them from increasing their profits, providing additional services, and increasing their referral base, essentially relegating them to “one-and-done,” seasonal practices that are little more than commodities with little client loyalty.

You need to create an ongoing resource as your clients’ lives unfold. However, before you can be that resource, you need to know your clientele. Don’t miss the indirect, yet vital clues that each client provides; it’s those elusive blurbs and comments that determine where they are in their lives and purchasing cycles.

Why is it so critical to pay attention to clients’ buying cycles? The statistics below provide some reasons.

• Merely increasing client retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent, according to Frederick Reichheld in a study for the Harvard School of Business.

• Multiple direct response advertising studies have shown the following:

• Up to 95 percent of all ads written only target 5 percent of the intended audience.

• Conversely, the probability of selling to an existing client is 60 to 70 percent, while the likelihood of selling to a new prospect is only 5 to 20 percent.

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, we invested in one of the best customer relationship management software programs available.” It’s true, a good CRM system can help companies manage their current and future client relationships, and increase profits by automating, tracking and organizing that communication. However, the best technology in the world is rendered impotent if you don’t use it as intended.

In my nearly three decades of experience, I have found that many professionals are anxious about making phone calls; often, they don’t know what to say, or how to expand the conversation beyond the obvious. Sure, you can increase your number of daily client calls; but if all you say is a variation of “Hi, how are you; anything new with you? No? OK, talk to you next month,” then you’ve achieved nothing!

It’s More Important to be Interested than Interesting

Eliminate your fear; become a good listener. What your client says provides the next question. Approach the conversation as a relaxed chat with a friend. Begin with the topic you have in common, the work you’re doing for them. Ask about their work, their family, hobbies, etc. Then, casually ask about their plans, their children’s’ or spouse’s goals, etc. As they share information, take copious notes.

The majority of your conversations should be face-to-face or on the phone. Texting and emails are impersonal; your goal is to establish connections that sow the seeds of loyalty. Set up Google Alerts so you can receive links to articles on specific topics that align with your client’s interest and send the articles to them. If your client is a business owner, suggest the possibility of exchanging referrals (as your relationship strengthens). All this nurtures the bonding process.

The previous statement should not be taken lightly. Bonding and branding in business create a very lucrative coupling. Take a company like Harley-Davidson, for example. They communicate with consumers on a visceral level. Their brand positioning represents a sense of freedom and adventure to customers. Harley doesn’t try to be all things to all people; their message is tight and focused. They get people to raise their hands and say, “They get me, and I want that too!” Their brand is so impactful that on any given day you will see someone walking around with a Harley-Davidson tattoo, some of whom don't even own a motorcycle.

All Consumers are Motivated by Self-Interest

Take Harley’s example and run with it. For instance, as you send information that may interest a client, include a few lines of professional wisdom, such as how they can take advantage of a particular thing from an accounting perspective.

In time, you may find yourself having similar conversations with many clients. Create a client inventory profile; as recurring themes arise, start speaking directly to them.

Here’s an opportunity to have your brand (you) stand out from your competition. Enhance your “expert” status and distinguish yourself from your competition by becoming a published author. Write, print and distribute a series of topic-specific e-books, pamphlets and special reports that speak to your clients’ needs within each profile group.

How valuable would it be if your client told you they were getting married or divorced? Consider the possibilities of knowing that the company where your client works is dissatisfied with its current CPA firm. Or what if your client tells you they’re changing industries, becoming a partner, or starting a new company?

Be proactive; convince your clients you’re not just the best option, but the only option for their specific accounting needs. Feature a series of two-minute, service-specific testimonial videos (depending on your specialty and client profile index). Prominently lead with these raving fans on your website and your waiting area.

For maximum effectiveness, how you deliver your expertise is crucial; provide information from a client’s perspective rather than that of an accountant. Eliminate the industry jargon when speaking to clients. Your message must be engaging, compelling, relevant and, most importantly, interesting.

Technology has changed the landscape; consumers have many options. Far too many websites are visually appealing, but they don’t engage. Many provide a laundry list of services but don’t capture anyone’s interest. Information is presented, but it’s dry and full of industry jargon. If it’s not interesting, readers move on and don’t return.

To conclude, it is a colossal error to think that all clients share the same qualities, interests, needs, lifestyles, timelines, etc. — that each client’s ever-evolving needs don’t affect their lives and purchasing cycles.

As an accountant, you know that business profitability is achieved by acquiring more clients, doing more business with existing clients or increasing your prices. Creating additional business opportunities (cross-selling) with someone who knows you, trusts you and likes you is substantially more comfortable and lucrative.