When Clients Don’t Buy What a CPA Firm is Selling Reviewed by Momizat on . Charles Green has posted an interesting thought-piece over at the Trusted Advisor site: When clients don’t buy what a CPA firm is selling, it’s unlikely that th Charles Green has posted an interesting thought-piece over at the Trusted Advisor site: When clients don’t buy what a CPA firm is selling, it’s unlikely that th Rating:
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When Clients Don’t Buy What a CPA Firm is Selling

Charles Green has posted an interesting thought-piece over at the Trusted Advisor site:

When clients don’t buy what a CPA firm is selling, it’s unlikely that they don’t want what you’re selling. More likely it’s that they’re not buying how the service is being sold.

For example, a potential client is talking with several accounting firms about a significant assignment. One firm has expertise in that area and understands the client’s issues, and the meeting goes well. The firm bids competitively, recognizing the value of potential future work. The final presentation is a hit, but another firm gets the engagement.

The firm is surprised because the winning firm is not one that many in the business community would consider to be as competent. A week later, the firm asks the client for feedback. The client politely demurs, suggesting that the bid price may have been a bit out of line; maybe next time. The firm is puzzled, and concludes that things really are getting awfully competitive out there.

A month later, a partner of the firm accidentally (though legally) hears that the winning bid was 25% higher than the firm’s own bid. Some weeks later, the partner sees the would-have-been client at a golf course, and in that informal setting tells him of the new information, saying, “I can appreciate that perhaps you told me price was the issue to avoid a difficult conversation, but I would consider it a favor if you’d be truthful with me and help me understand what happened. It happens too often, and I don’t know why.”

The client assesses the CPA’s sincerity, and replies: “The truth is, there just wasn’t that sense of something—chemistry, trust, click, I don’t know what—that we had with the other firm. You had a fine track record and lots of good things to say. Your firm certainly has the credentials and clearly understands our business—but we just didn’t connect, we didn’t feel like you understand our company. You were eager to be helpful, but it was as if you were eager to be helpful for anyone—not just for us.”

The CPA firm partner asks, “What could we have done differently or better?” The client responds, “I don’t know. It’s just one of those things. You have to get your times at bat. But I think we’ll be seeing you again one of these days.” The partner leaves the golf course dumbfounded.

So:  That said, is there anything you can do?

A way to better pitch business in the future?

Green claims that first off,  it’s very important for consultants to realize that very often your expertise, technical skills, reputation, and ability aren’t being called into question at all when you don’t get a client.  Then, think of a way to build trust.  You can’t quite come out and say “Trust Me!”  But maybe you can build trust in the very way you sell, and by doing some thinking about larger needs a client may have beyond a specific project at hand.  How do you do that?  Maybe make your sales pitch part conversation, in order to really engage with the client and develop rapport.  And step away from the immediate project at hand to notice, and respond to, greater needs that a prospective client may have that are beyond the immediate challenges facing it at the moment.   More:

. . . The deeper truth will not be spoken aloud: The financial buyer really wants someone who makes him feel good about the decision. Someone he can trust, someone whose selection will allow him to sleep at night, someone he knows will go the extra mile, who can be depended upon to speak the truth, who knows the limits of his abilities and is not embarrassed to admit them when appropriate, someone who will behave appropriately in all circumstances, who knows how to finish his sentences, who treats his people the way the CFO treats his own staff, who “gets how things work here at XYZ”—and so on.

These are subjective qualities that defy objective rating or ranking and involve inferences and observations from interactions with the firm and its representatives, rather than responses to direct questions. In short, the financial buyer is trying to make an emotional decision that he can then comfortably rationalize.

What the Problem Is

Robert S. MacNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, once said, speaking of politics, “Never answer the question you’re asked.” He may have been right in politics. In business, he’s only half right.

The selling accounting firm cannot avoid answering the question asked by the CFO—and the firm must also answer the questions that are unasked. Those questions cannot be answered directly, as in “You can really trust me to work well with your people” or variations thereof, because “Trust me” is about the least trustworthy thing one can say. Instead, the firm must demonstrate those qualities in how it sells itself.


Principle 1: Sell by doing, not by telling. The most effective client relationships are those that have been around for a while. The firm and the client have gotten to know each other and the client has come to trust the firm. Because the best selling is virtually indistinguishable from doing, the CPA firm should design the sales process as much as possible as if it had already won the job.

The firm should build into the sales presentation how it would work with the client upon getting the job: engaging directly with the client as much as possible; talking openly and collaboratively about design and staffing alternatives; suggesting key issues to be decided; generally behaving with comfort and ease; having a conversation, not making a sales pitch.

A CPA firm that builds selling-by-doing into its sales process will become more open, transparent, and collaborative, precisely the behaviors that let the client assess trust, compatibility, “fit,” “chemistry,” and other intangibles.

Most clients set up sales processes to be distant, formal, and structured, and that must be respected. But within bounds, a CPA firm can suggest to clients that the selection process be more action-oriented. It is, after all, in the client’s interest to get the kind of freewheeling insights and ideas that come from open exchange.

Principle 2: Client focus without the vulture. Here is an exercise. A CPA dissociates herself from the winning or losing of a job, picturing herself in the future beyond the decision and feeling utterly indifferent about whether she won or lost.

She holds that thought, then asks herself, “What does this client really need, not just from this project, but in a much bigger context?”—without being limited by the request or her own service offering.

She now has some sense of what the client needs, but is not vested in winning or losing the job. She then returns her attention to the job at hand, picturing herself calmly advising the client about what needs to be done, and how, and when, and with what approach and resources, moving the client forward in the larger direction of what needs to be done.

Those who can honestly speak the truth about what needs to be done, without attachment to winning and losing, will convey the biggest emotional truth to the client: They will convey that they care about the client. 

Trust Involves Balance, Care, and Time

Additional Interest:

What’s Working, What’s Not, in Accounting Marketing Today  —Rick Telberg, CPA Trendlines 

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