For successful tax, accounting and financial services professionals, the ability to turn prospective client inquiries into long-term client relationships is a critical skill. Even if most of your business comes from referrals, your ability to effectively manage those inbound referrals could mean the difference between success and failure for your business in the long run.
The importance of lead generation for accountants
In today’s connected world, prospective clients are searching online for more information about local financial services firms. After a search in Google or other search engines, prospects will look for more information about you and your firm through your website, blog, online review sites and social media profile pages. If prospects are already able to find lots of great information and reviews about your firm online, then congratulations… you are halfway there. However, if these prospects found your information online, you can be sure they also found information about your competitors as well. Even referred clients can be lured away by your competitors if they have a better “showing” online or when prospects start making phone calls. Conversely, prospects can also be easily spooked away from your firm if you do not handle their inquiries extremely well. Being responsive, helpful and friendly on that first phone call may mean the difference between securing the client vs. sending him/her away to another firm.
How to generate accounting leads (consistently)
We see approximately two-thirds of prospective client inquiries as incoming phone calls and approximately one-third or more of new leads also come in via email. This mix makes it important to be ready to handle both types quickly and effectively. Across thousands of phone calls and website inquiries coming into our client firms, we find that those who do the best job in handling these leads also tend to close more of their inbound calls and leads. Below are a few simple, but important tips used by our best clients to turn high-value prospects into long-term client relationships:
1. Answer the phone.
This may sound simple and obvious, but you would be shocked how many financial pros do not answer their phone, even during business hours. On the other hand, you’re leaving clients on the table and slowing the process to grow your accounting business. However, to drive this point home, imagine that you have leaking pipes in your home. You may do a Google search, find a few plumbers with good reviews and then call a few of them. One of them answers the phone, answers your questions and gives you an estimate. All your other calls go directly to voicemail. Which plumber are you most likely to hire? Time and again, our experience and many studies make it clear that firms that answer their phones are going dominate in securing new client business. Your phone provider may have options to forward incoming calls to different numbers during different days/times of the week. You might also get fancy and have different numbers for your existing clients and another phone number for your marketing and advertising. During business hours, especially, you need to have inbound sales calls go to whoever is your best “salesperson.” If that person is you, congratulations… you really should be the one to receive and handle calls.
2. Hire an exceptional assistant (or virtual assistant)
In the event that you or your best salesperson is unable to answer a call from a potential client, it is important to either have a well-trained assistant, a virtual receptionist service or, at a bare minimum, a professional-sounding voicemail message.Assistants should be responsive, professional, personable and reliable. They can help to ask a few key questions about the prospect’s needs and then work to schedule an appointment with a professional. Receptionists also provide the additional benefit of helping to screen out sales phone calls and any prospects that are not a good fit for your firm. Provide assistants with good training, technology tools, written process documents and scripts to help them answer basic questions. They should always be positive and helpful, especially when it comes to describing your firm and your services. Virtual receptionist services (~$100-$300+ per month) may be a good next step if you are a solo practitioner, working out of your home, or not ready to hire someone full-time. Your voicemail greeting(s) should be friendly and provide options to get information on office hours, directions (if you have an office), and also a brief pitch for your firm (“Thanks for calling Bakersfield’s premiere accounting firm for small businesses…”). Finally, provide information to your callers on how long it will be to return the call, something like “We will get back to you shortly, usually within one business day or sooner.”
3. Respond to emails and voicemails… early and often
Research studies, including those from InsideSales.com, show that your chances to convert email leads into clients dramatically increases the more quickly you respond. In fact, the Lead Response Management Study from InsideSales.com showed that businesses who respond to website leads within 5 minutes are 100 times more likely to connect with the prospect vs. responding in 30 minutes. We also see this to be the case with incoming tax and accounting leads from our TaxBuzz “MatchMe” service. TaxBuzz members who are the first to call the prospect often win the business.However, when you get busy with client work, you will probably need help. Be sure to have your receptionist or other staff members ready to reply to emails using a well-written, standard script that you provide (contact us for some examples). You and/or one of your staff members should also receive emails with attachments of the incoming recorded voicemails so they can be routed, listened to and responded to quickly. Just like you, your prospective clients also get busy. Therefore, calling and emailing them just one time is not enough. You should usually call at least two times and also email at least two times. With lead management systems, like our CountingWorks PRO Platform system, you may also set up a series of automated, drip email campaigns that can keep you in front of prospects with a series of up to four emails. If a prospect tells you that he/she has already found someone or is no longer looking, you can “call off the dogs,” but be cordial and polite. Thank him/her for letting you know and ask the prospect to keep you in mind should their needs change. You never know, their first choice might fall through.
4. Book the appointment.
Many of our clients tell us, “If I can get prospects into an appointment with me, they usually retain me.” If you have a well-crafted “pitch” and story to share with clients in an appointment setting, your experience, confidence and should put the client at ease and see the value of retaining your services. Your receptionist or whoever answers the phone should spend just a few minutes getting a brief assessment of the potential client’s situation. Then, if it seems like a fit for practice, schedule a time to come in the office (or virtual office) or to do an initial phone consultation with you or a CPA/tax professional in your firm. While this may mean taking some meetings for clients that ultimately do not materialize, your ability to secure a client goes up dramatically once the potential client comes in to the office or participates in a phone consultation. It’s often a numbers game, especially when you are in growth mode. Based on the client’s needs, always be prepared to share why you are the best for the job – have your best pitch ready. Confidently present your knowledge, experience and solution to their needs. Also be ready to share client case examples and 5-star online review examples. These testimonials and reviews are especially relevant for clients who have situations that are similar to the prospect’s needs.
5. Be prompt, present, pleasant and professional – the four P’s of client success
This is another piece of advice that sounds obvious, but it goes a long way. Again, though, you would be surprised how many complaints we see regarding these aspects coming in the form of one-star accountant reviews on our site, TaxBuzz.com. However, on the positive side, when these aspects are handled well, we also see many, many fantastic 5-star reviews, full of praise for the accountant for their responsiveness and helpfulness. Clients want to trust and feel comfortable with the person they choose as their accountant, tax professional or financial planner. Having a thoughtful, receptive and confident demeanor, starting with the first phone call, will help put a potential client at ease. It is also important that you do not sound rushed, pushy or too busy when speaking with potential clients. Even in the middle of a hectic day, potential clients should feel as though you are giving them your full time and attention. Qualifying questions can be asked, but in a way that doesn’t sound like you are grilling them like they are undergoing an IRS tax audit. Listen attentively and fully answer their questions. Follow-up after meetings and always give them a timeline on next steps, when the project(s) will be completed and when they will hear from you next.While these five tips may seem like common sense, it may also seem daunting for small firms to balance busy schedules with fully implementing all these tips in their practices. However, even a few simple and inexpensive technology tools, combined with preparation and planning, and improvements in your approach can quickly increase your ability to secure new business.You only have one chance to make a first impression. Implementing these tips will help you to earn and keep your clients’ trust. You never know which prospects will turn into your most high-value, long-term clients for your business. At CountingWorks and TaxBuzz, we help to fill-up our clients’ inboxes and make their phones ring. We help our clients with websites, social media marketing, communication tools and we also help practices to build and protect their online reputation. Contact us today to learn how we can help: 1-800-442-2477 x3