[IMGCAP(1)] Succeeding at the sales process is one of the more challenging aspects of your role as a CPA. In most cases, you have to sell your own work. For most CPAs, sales does not come naturally and frustration can build quickly when things aren’t moving in a positive direction. 

Something that vexes many of my clients to no end is the non-responding prospect. Whether you’ve spent one or one hundred hours on your pursuit the pain that comes from the non-responding prospect is acute – particularly someone not experienced with the sales process. They ask me, “Art, why won’t my prospect call me back?” I usually ask a few follow-up questions to my client to diagnose the nature of the issue, and we’ll go a few of the more common challenges now.

Reason #1: It’s not a real lead/opportunity. I call these “fake referrals.” Perhaps a referral source was trying to “throw you a bone” and they said they had spoken to someone who could be a good candidate for your services. But that’s where it ended. The prospective client was already using a CPA, and while an ideal client for you, they had no intention of changing providers. If you suspect a fake referral, circle back with the referral source and ask for more intel on the prospect, scope of their discussion, and how long they have known that person. You may learn quickly that it was nothing more than an elevator conversation – as well as learn about the quality of this referral source.

Reason #2: They are busy and it’s not a priority for them. Let’s face it - No business owner, CFO, controller or individual enjoys the process of changing CPA firms. Therefore it is not going to be a priority unless it is critical and urgent. They face many critical and urgent issues in their business on a daily basis. For many closely held businesses, everything from an IT systems outage to a delivery driver out sick or a delayed shipment of raw materials falls in the owners lap. You can overcome this obstacle by creating urgency as well as a systematic approach to pings with valuable information that begin to show the prospect what they are missing by not working with you. Vary your approach and call before hours and after hours. Maybe they dislike phone calls – so try email or texts. Being extremely flexible (such as offering to meet early or late and on weekends) and leveraging the assistant can help to secure some face time can help as well.

Reason #3: Their timeline for a decision is months away. When you presented your proposal or engagement letter, did you ask when they would be making a decision? If not, you are probably wrongly assuming that the decision was eminent. Meantime you are pestering them with calls and emails weekly, when, in fact, it could be months in the future at an off-site board meeting. Avoid this error by always understanding when they will be making a decision, and who will be involved in that decision.  

While the reasons for non-response can be numerous, in many situations you may be tempted to give up in a non-responding situation. My advice? Don’t. Case in point – a client had a pending litigation case from one of the largest law firms in town and it had been months since my client received an update or response from the attorney. My client had become quite frustrated with the lack of information and response from the attorney. I suggested he continue to ping him – and the very next time he did - the attorney responded. Some circumstances had changed but the case was set for trial in the Fall and work would begin soon. However, more importantly the attorney had another lead for my client – an urgent fraud investigation. It’s impossible to know if the ping made the difference in getting the fraud referral – but one thing is for sure there were many capable CPA firms in town vying for the attention of this attorney and firm. It’s just that my client didn’t give up – and that made all the difference. Treat your no-return-calls as an opportunity to do a little investigation and find out what you’re really dealing with.

Art Kuesel is the president of Kuesel Consulting where he helps CPA firms perfect their growth strategies and actions to drive revenue in the door. He can be reached at art@kueselconsulting.com