Someone asked me the other day, “In the early days when you started your accounting firm, how did you win new clients”?
If I got the chance to meet with a prospect, the likelihood was high – over 90% – that I would win their business.
There are perhaps two main reasons why new clients came to me.
The first is me… in chatting with prospects at events etc, they liked my manner, knowledge etc and made an appointment to meet. I demonstrated a good understanding of their business when I met them: mostly, I had looked at their past accounts, identified areas of interest for discussion etc.
Before the initial meeting, I did my homework. I thoroughly reviewed their accounts and memorised important points. No notes or files were taken to the meeting, just my head. I committed details of the prospect’s business to memory.
Over time, by reading a lot, attending lectures and conferences etc, I was able to store details of different approaches and strategies that an entrepreneurial business might be able to use. I armed myself with these solutions which enabled me to take an armoury of them to the prospect’s table as required in an impressive and convincing way.
The prospect gained utter and complete confidence in me.
As I say, I committed details of the prospect’s business to memory. Amongst other things, it showed that I was interested in their business. It also demonstrated that if I said I was going to do something, I would do it and would not forget.
In other words, someone on whom they could completely rely.
The second reason is that many prospects were recommended to me by banks, brokers etc. so I worked hard on relationships with referrers. It is the most important thing that professionals of today should be doing. I don’t mean that they should hire a boat at the Cannes film festival and throw a lavish party. Yes, there has to be some reciprocity – people who refer new business to me may expect me to refer clients to them from time to time. My golden rule is that I will only recommend someone on the basis that he/she is the best person to serve my client’s needs, not because of past referrals he/she has made. Likewise, I always wanted to be recommended myself because I was the best possible person to handle the client’s requirements and for no other reason.
So my advice is: Pick your referral sources carefully: always go for people you can trust and who share your high values and who have the skills to be best placed to handle the client’s requirements.
I’ve also been asked to lay out a simple personal strategy for success when dealing with clients. Using some of Apple’s early marketing philosophy, I came up with:
In Tune: I will strive for a “truly complete” connection with the desires, ambitions and concerns of my clients and prospects. Nobody will understand their needs better than I will.
In Focus: To be successful in this goal, I will focus absolutely on it to the complete exclusion of other diversionary opportunities.
The Signals I convey: I must be constantly aware that my firm and I will be judged by the signals we convey to clients, prospects, and the marketplace in which we operate. Those signals must always be consistent, appropriate, professional, inspiring, and assisting so that my firm and I are perceived as being entirely trustworthy, knowledgeable and innovative whilst being completely attuned to the needs of our clients.
On the last point, about the signals that clients and prospects see, I cannot stress how important it is. Don’t allow mismatches to happen – for example, producing fantastic work which you have incorporated into a detailed report only to spoil the whole thing with a string of typos and spelling mistakes. Or where another part of your organisation does substandard work. At the end of the day, you will be judged by the lowest level of work and advice – just make sure it’s always top-notch.
One day soon, I’ll write about the now famous refreshments menu I put in place to greet clients when they called to see me. And the care we took in how cups and saucers are placed on the table in front of the client (we recruited a well-known local restaurateur to show us how to do it properly).
There are many other factors and the above is but the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it will fire up a few young professionals to do great things.
He was a Council member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales from 1988 to 1996.
Martin Pollins ran his own firm based in Sussex and was the first Accountancy firm in the UK to advertise on television and Martin went on to create and launch the CharterGroup Partnership (the UK's first Accountancy network) and then LawGroup UK (one of the largest networks of lawyers in the country).
Martin started work on the Bizezia concept in 1996, developing the broad range of information resources and products over the past 18 years.
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