How to Use Low-Touch Methods to Find New Clients

I’m firmly convinced that there are two types of accountants who want to grow their practices: those who sit back waiting for the phone to ring, and those who know they have to do something to seek business.

It’s quite alright if you fall into the former category; there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the passive approach if, indeed, the phone does ring with more prospects and additional business from current clients than you can handle. If this is the situation, then congratulations are in order!

However, I know that’s not the case for most accounting professionals. Whether you blame diminished recruitment and retention activity on the economy or on increased competition, everyone I know can always use more business. Yet, nine times out of 10, they don’t know how to go about looking for it.

While there are lots of ways to market your services, I lean toward “low-touch” methods rather than relying on high-tech ways to find clients. It’s an effective strategy that works time and time again — and often for less cost.

Why Low-Touch Works

The number one rule of marketing is to find a way to differentiate yourself from the competition. Marketing gurus will tell you it’s a combination of the “4 Ps” — place, price, product, and promotion. Boiling that down to something most of us can wrap our arms around is the “product,” or for the accounting profession, the “service.”

Many accountants might believe it’s their mix of services that makes them different — but this really isn’t true.

How you work with clients — and how you treat a client — makes one practice stand apart from another. Unless you have an extremely specific service niche, most every firm offers the same basic tax, bookkeeping, and assurance services.

Instead of using technology, low touch focuses on ways to have direct communications with clients on the phone or in person. While this seems somewhat old fashioned, this approach makes sense:

  • It’s different. With low touch, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be truly unique compared to your neighbor firm or practitioner who thinks the only way to find new business is to have a website or send out an e-mail campaign.
  • Constant communications. Ever heard the phrase, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”? Most clients only hear from their accountants once annually around tax season, but with low-touch methods, there is a constant, consistent stream of two-way communications.
  • Everyone wants to feel special. Regardless how humble a client may tell you he is, we all want to hear from service providers we trust. Wouldn’t you want to know your own advisors are interested in your personal and professional pursuits?

Specific Strategies

At the core of low touch is planning, but even a well-organized person would admit it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the amount of work required to keep in touch with every client on a regular basis. Here are some ways to increase your activity while attaining your end goal — to recruit as many prospects as possible, and retain them (and your current clients) for the long haul:

1. Call your clients, but have an agenda

While this seems simple, it’s actually very painful for many people to do — especially younger generations. It’s much easier and often faster to send an e-mail, right? Sure, but e-mail communications is a cold way to let a client know you care about his business.

Plan to call each one of your clients no less than quarterly, but if you are going to use the phone, have an agenda or a point to the conversation. Don’t say, “I was calling to say hello” or “We haven’t talked in a while so I thought I’d call you.” This tells the client you have no real purpose for calling, so why does the call matter?

How about telling the client about an upcoming tax change that could potentially save him money? If you’re a QuickBooks® advisor, find a way to impart some information to make QB more productive. Perhaps you recently read an article with a business tactic you found particularly helpful in your own business — if so, pass it on!

2. Talk about your businesses instead of asking for the sale

A very effective low-touch method is to set an appointment with your prospect or client with no intent to sell anything. Instead, you want to approach it as a networking conversation to talk about each other’s businesses. This is an especially appropriate way to reach clients, and although they may be bread-and-butter business for your company, it’s quite possible you could up-sell them on something else you offer IF you know their situation.

When was the last time you had this kind of conversation with a client? This approach reinforces the concept of making your clients feel special. If the client trusts you to represent him in an IRS audit, for example, then it’s almost guaranteed he’ll trust you to have a confidential conversation about his business.

This is also the time to exchange referrals, but don’t position yourself as a smarmy insurance salesman and blatantly ask for five referrals. Once you get a better understanding of your client’s business — and he or she of yours — the referrals spring forth organically without much prompting. However, remember the out-of-sight scenario: you want to do this activity more than once a year and you most likely want to do it in person over coffee, lunch, or at each other’s offices.

3. Capitalize on your differences and talk about it

Returning to the initial concept of Marketing 101, how is your practice different? It could be a reason related to geography; perhaps you’re only one of two firms in the small town of Anywhere, USA. Could you have a credential or designation that is a bit rare in your region? You might have a QuickBooks ProAdvisor program certification, but is there a particular industry you work in that others don’t?

If your answer to this last question is “I am a QuickBooks consultant and I work in all industries,” you’ve got a problem. What is it about your QuickBooks consulting that makes you unique?

Once you figure out your differences, it’s time to tell your prospects and clients about it. For example, let’s say you are an accountant and QuickBooks ProAdvisor who has worked with clients in the food manufacturing and distribution sector. That’s a specialty — and sets you apart from others, so it’s time to talk about it by presenting examples of how you’ve helped a client (no names mentioned) overcome a difficult matter.

Again, the crux of this approach is in the dialogue. It’s much more effective to tell someone about this in person or over the phone versus in an e-mail message. You’re going for the “personal” approach.

High-Tech Has Its Place

It would be unrealistic to live in today’s world without technology. We know that e-mail isn’t going away anytime soon, and websites continue to improve with interactive features, especially portals for accountants and bookkeepers to use to exchange files and information.

However, think about all the ways you interact with clients and prospects, and which of these have been the most effective. Chances are, you’ll reach your goals faster and with more positive effects on your own bottom line by reaching out and actually talking to a client.