Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A “Conversation” With Your Clients – Part 1

I realize all of you are doing double duty as April 15th approaches, but here’s a bit of light reading for a respite from the weightier tax matters you are dealing with…

One thing corporate marketers are paid to do is maintain a link between their company and its customers. The marketers often refer to this effort as first establishing and then maintaining a “conversation” with their customer base.

Why do they do this? Their goals are multiple – placing their company in a positive light, creating loyalty, reinforcing the “brand,” generating future sales and promoting positive word of mouth by the customer.

Accountants have the same need for their business. The reality is that most readers of this blog don’t talk with their clients – even their good clients – often enough. The reason is that they don’t literally need to. To explain: If the client has their data and documents in decent order that’s pretty much all that is needed to prepare the necessary filings. Oh, there might be a quick phone call or two to clarify some point, but nothing like a real conversation.

But, so what? Do you HAVE to talk with clients more than is necessary to do their work? I believe the answer is ‘yes’ if they are an “A” level client (businesses or non-profits, high worth individuals, big trusts, etc. that populate the list of your high revenue clients). Here’s why: I advise accountants all the time about how they can convert desirable prospects into clients. Invariably, these prospects already have an accountant. In effect, I am coaching them to succeed in their campaign to lure that client away from you. I proceed with the assumption that these clients aren’t receiving sufficient attention, and only rarely am I wrong. It may take six months or even more, but we are successful often enough for you to be concerned. Don’t make it easy for a competitor to seduce one of your good clients away from you and over to their practice.

Therefore, my advice is that you maintain an ongoing conversation with your best clients. If you stay in touch with them and build a real relationship, do their work competently and charge prevailing rates in the community, you will be in pretty good shape if someone else comes along with the objective of stealing them.

How do you maintain a conversation? I’ll write a more detailed post after tax season, but here’s one suggestion that is perfect for tax season: First, complete the return and prepare it for mailing. When everything is ready to seal in its envelope, grab a colorful 3M “stickie” and handwrite a message with a similar effect to the following: “(name) take a look at line (X) on form (X). We should talk about this as you go forward. Rgds, (your first name).”

You can find some issue in ANY return that merits discussion. If they are making a killing, then the focus can be upon ameliorating future state and/or fed tax burdens. If there is some sort of decline of revenue, margins, pretax, bank line, borrowing ability, etc. then the issue can be to talk about strategies to reverse the trend(s).

Why a handwritten stickie? It shows that you took a special interest in the client’s personal situation. You have demonstrated a concern for their individual welfare/success. You are reaching out and honoring them as a person. The handwritten stickie reflects a bit of you. You are giving them attention. It is not the action of a cold, withdrawn “professional” maintaining a formal and distant connection via form letters signed by staff but instead a humanistic action undertaken by you personally. The act isn’t one by someone who is treating the client as merely one account among hundreds who are processed and spit out by a high volume, impersonal production line. And so forth…

Yes, you are correct… it is all about feelings. The client will feel a connection. In all likelihood that little stickie will lead to a later conversation – a real one – where you will have the opportunity to talk about issues that can lead to project work, consulting, planning, etc. Even if it doesn’t, you have touched your client in a humanistic, individual manner and that always positively affects retention and referrals.

Powerful stuff. Give it a try.

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