When it comes to searching for new clients, the office is not the only place CPAs can be found on a daily basis. They go to the gym. They go out to lunch. They overhear people on the train. Well, according to Perceptive Business Solutions Inc.’s Bryce Sanders, those places can be just as effective for expanding your book of business as your workspace. Get these tips and more on our latest episode of CPA Conversations!
By: Bill Hayes, Pennsylvania CPA Journal Managing Editor
Unless you are the luckiest of CPA firms, everyone is trying to find new clients. But what are the best ways to find them? Our guest today, Bryce Sanders of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. has some suggestions, including relocated executives, professionals near retirement, and even people at your gym or favorite lunch spot.
First of all, I wanted to give credit to AccountingWeb for running this series you put together of painless ways to find new clients. Today, we'll go through just some of them in an effort to give CPA firms some ideas. In total, there were 15 of these so we’ll just look to explore some of the more interesting ones. All of them are interesting and useful, but some just catch the eye. It would be good to get some explanation on those. Let's start with a convention one. How can you use LinkedIn to identify new clients?
[Sanders] Well, this is something that I do in my business all the time. I actually work with a lot of financial advisers, helping them look at how to find clients, but one of the things that I take a look at, for instance, is, they'll be a type of person that I am looking for, with a specific job title, for instance. For accountants this might be important because they may be the person who makes the decision on what accounting firm is going to be used for their business. Or they're the person who sends out requests for proposals.
What I do is I go onto LinkedIn and I put in the name of the company that I am looking for. I will then get a list of people that are second- and third-level connections, and I am looking for a specific type of title. Like, I might be looking for head of marketing, director of distribution, or something like that. So if you know the type of job that the person is doing, that would be the one who could influence having you as their accounting firm, that is the ideal type of person to look for.
Then what I do is I have a simple LinkedIn message that I put through the system, where I address them by name, I explain I know what it is that they do at the name of that particular firm. I would like to connect. This is what I do. I take a look at the number of connections we have in common and say things like, "It's hard to believe we know 110 of the same people." If we only know five people, I put down we know a few of the same people, or several of the same people, which will probably get them checking to see who they know that I also know. And they might pick up the phone and call up somebody and say, "Who is this guy? Is he a good guy?" That's one of the techniques that I've been using, for instance.
How about relocated executives? How can you get in contact with them?
[Sanders] One of the opportunities you have with relocated senior executives is it used to be years ago that people thought the initials IBM stood for “I've been moved.” That in jobs you tend to move from place to place within a company as you moved your way up the ladder. Well, when these folks come to a new area, they have got to make a lot of decisions pretty quickly, and a lot of them prefer face-to-face relationships. Let's assume this is not a super-high-up person, or a person who is doing business overseas where the firm provides accounting services for their personal tax returns as a perk. Let's assume it's a normal person that's been moved from New York to Los Angeles, or something along those lines.
One of the things you can look at is the clients that you have that work in specific companies, and ask them if there's anybody new on their floor, or somebody who is new to the company, that has just arrived. They will probably be doing the right thing with this person and inviting them out for drinks to kind of get to know the rest of the folks that are going to be working with. It is very easy for your client to invite you along as part of that group, especially if the group goes out on a regular basis anyway. So you are included in the group and you are introduced as the accountant for this particular person. They may well ask around and say the next day, "Hey, is this guy any good? I need an accountant."
However, there is an incredible technique that I came across from somebody in the Midwest. He had a brilliant idea. This was working with financial advisers, but still would be ideal for accountants. So you got this man or this woman and they are relocating to the city. They’ve got a family they're going to bring with them. The family may not be that thrilled that they are relocating. They have got to make a lot of decisions really quickly. These decisions include things like, where am I going to live, what's going to be the best private school to send my kids to? This adviser goes out and, for that particular city where he lives, he buys the magazine that has the city's name on the front of it, like in New York, you've got New York Magazine. Every city's got a major magazine like that.
He buys the issue that has the Reader's Choice Top 10 type of lists, where it's list after list of the top 10. And it's the top 10 neighborhoods to move to, the top 10 private schools in the area, the top 10 hospitals, all that kind of stuff. He buys like a stack of these magazine, let's say 20 or 30 of them, and he keeps them in his office, okay? Executives are relocated, he’s seen it in the newspaper. He knows what the company's headquarter address is. He writes a letter and he says, "Dear Bill, welcome to the city. Hope you enjoy the magazine, I'll be in touch soon." He then takes the magazine and the letter, and he puts it in an overnight mail envelope. Not priority mail, not something similar, but actual overnight mail. And he sends it off.
Although overnight mail has been around for a long time, it still carries the sense of urgency. The person who is the screener opens it up. They see what this is and they pass it on to the person. This is actually valuable for them, because they’ve got to figure out what neighborhood to move to and what school their kids should go to. They don't want to look like an idiot in front of the other managers who they haven't met. So this is useful for them.
He then calls up a couple of days later, gets the screener and says, "Hey, can I speak to the guy? I'm the person who sent the magazine by overnight, the top 10 magazine by overnight mail." The screener remembers it, the executive found some value to it, and that has greatly increased the chance of this call being put through.
That's pretty imaginative stuff right there. Pretty wise on that person's behalf. Let's talk about former clients and bids you lost. How do you get them on your side, or back on your side?
[Sanders] This is something, and again it happened to have been a really smart financial adviser in New York City who did this kind of thing. Very often, when a client leaves, you sort of say "Good riddance." Or "I didn't like that person anyway," or something like that. They have their own reasons for leaving. Very often, they have been prospected by the competitor and they've been given the idea that the grass is greener on the other side. When they get to the other side, they see that the grass is the same color. But they are not going to admit they made a mistake because it's just not in human nature. What this person does is she waits about three months or six months, and then she calls the person up at home, and she says, "I realized that you had your reasons for leaving our firm. You were a very important client to me. I just wanted to make sure that everything worked out as you hoped it would." And she stops talking.
What she has done there is she has met the other person halfway. Because they may have been feeling, I shouldn't have left in the first place, but they weren't going to pick up the phone and call. Now when she's made that call, the other person says, "You know, I'm glad you called. I was thinking about you. I think we should talk," or "I think I might be interested in coming back." So at worst they say, "Yes, everything worked out fine; you don't have to worry about me." At best, they say, "I'm really glad you called; let's talk."
That's interesting. Because you don't have to think of that just being the end of the road when the client leaves. There's always something you can do to maybe get them back.
[Sanders] That is correct and it doesn't always work, however, it's better than just sort of writing somebody off and saying, "I'm never going to talk to that person again."
Here's an interesting one: complainers. If you walk around, you definitely hear enough complaints from people. How can you break through to people who you know are unhappy with their service?
[Sanders] There's a few ways that you can look at something like that. First of all, you've got to come up with a person who actually is a complainer. When you ask a client for referrals, it makes a lot of sense, and you figure you're doing a good job for them, they are going to send one of their friends over to you. But they got this worry in the back of their mind, and that is what if the relationship doesn't work out? They have a real serious problem with it. They may say, "You know, I wouldn't have found this guy if it hadn't been for my friend who made the introduction." That can be disastrous for them. They don't want to go there. They think twice before they're going to be referring somebody with fresh money, or something like that.
However, imagine you've got a different situation. And that is, you've got them looking for a complainer. Again, using financial advisers as an idea, but it would work just as easily in a lot of situations for accountants, you're asking them, "Who do you know that invests in the market, and isn't happy with the results? Who do you know that works with a financial adviser and is dissatisfied with the relationship? I would be interested in talking with them." What have you done? You've planted a seed with your client. Everybody knows a complainer. When they see that person, they say, "You know, I know this guy, and he's a really great accountant. I bet he would return your call, why don't you give him a call?" So they have changed from “Am I going out on a limb,” to “I see a person with a problem,” and it is human nature to want to help make the problem go away. They feel they are doing somebody a favor by connecting them with you.
For this one, it requires that you go to the gym. So it's kind of good; it'll get people to re-up their gym memberships. How can you sell to the people that go there with you? How would you be able to approach that?
[Sanders] When you're talking about going to the gym, here's an interesting thing. Let us assume for the moment that you belong to a museum. You might be going to an opening once a month. You're going to be there for let's say an hour, and there's 200 people in the room. You're going to see a person, you'll talk for a couple of minutes, and then you may not see them for another month. Now we consider the gym. You go three times a week, you go for about an hour, you go 50 weeks out of the year. You are going someplace 150 times a year. You're going to be there for an hour, they're probably aren't 200 people there. There are a lot less and you see the same people all the time.
If it's anything like my gym, what you've got is you've got a core group of people that, if there was a rain storm, they would come in a canoe rather than miss going to the gym. They are always there. You've got the others, but the fact is you've got this core group. You ask yourself, “How much do they know about you and how much do you know about them?” One of the easiest ways to deal with this is to go out and buy yourself some workout gear that has the company logo on it. If you're a one- or two-person shop, have some made up. Get yourself a ballcap that has the company name on it. Buy yourself a T-shirt that has the company name on it.
You don't wear all of these pieces at once; you only wear one. However, you are at the gym three times a week and sometimes you got your ballcap on. Sometimes you got your T-shirt on. Sometimes you've got your sweatshirt on. People are going to look at you and they make the connection of what it is that you do. Because they're seeing the name of your company. You're doing something else and you were not being pushy at all. What you're doing is, you are seeing that they are wearing T-shirts, and one of their shirts says, the so and such corporate challenge race. You see five company logos on there. Chances are they work at one of those companies.
You see somebody with a T-shirt that's got a long word on it that is all consonants and only one or two vowels, it is probably the name of a pharmaceutical. They're either a doctor or they're somebody in the pharmaceutical industry. It gives you an in to ask about the T-shirt.
I like it. It's like there's a little bit of a detective mode in this.
[Sanders] Exactly, and you're not being pushy about it with people, where you're sort of offering your card or asking them business questions. All you're doing is you're seeing they got a shirt on and you see that they went to a concert somewhere and you know the band. And you ask them about the concert they went to.
How do you pitch to, and what's the most effective way to pitch to, clients who are about to retire?
[Sanders] I'm going to look at this from a little bit of a different point of view. And that is, you have got a client who is about to retire. And they may, let's say, work in municipal government for instance. Or they work at a company that is the big employer in town and they've been at the company forever. What you do is, you invite your client out to lunch in order to celebrate their upcoming retirement. You ask them to bring along with them a couple of friends from the office who aren't retiring at the same time, but are probably going to be retiring in about the next six months or nine months down the road.
You all go out to a restaurant together and I'm assuming here that nobody drinks at lunch. So you have your iced teas and your sparkling waters in front of you. You get yourselves seated, you get the food ordered, you hold up your glass, you clink them together, you toast your client’s retirement, and you ask the question, "What are you going to do on the first day that you are retired?" They are probably going to be thrilled about being retired. They are going to tell you what their dreams are or what they're going to be expecting to do.
They are probably, without any prompting or solicitation, going to say, "Thank you very much for all the help that you gave me in getting my finances together so that I can have this kind of comfortable retirement." So you have a happy client. And you have these other two people at the table going, "Hey, I'm going to be retiring in six months and I need this kind of help too." They will probably not say much at the table about it, they're going to be part of the celebration, but they're going to go back to your client afterwards at work and say, "What did this guy do for you? Would he do this for me?" They will probably start to talk to your client, and your client, without any prompting on your part, will probably say, "He did a good job for me. You should at least talk to him."
Speaking of lunches and getting or not getting a drink at lunch, this actually might be one of my favorite one on the list here: other patrons at your preferred lunch spot. I'll admit to being a person who likes their privacy when I'm at a restaurant. How do you overcome this quality in people and use it to find new clients?
[Sanders] First of all, we're going to have to change a word in that. We're going to have to take the word restaurant, and put it aside. One of the people I interviewed – I have a book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor – had come across a bank president with about 35 bank branches across two of our counties in Pennsylvania here. He was enormously helpful. He said, "Bryce, let me tell you about something that I did when I first started as a loan officer, and I still do today, as president of the bank, unless I've got other meetings that I have to go to." He said, "You would be amazed, but people who are small business owners, they don't go out to restaurants. They don't have the time to be away from work. They don't eat behind their desk because people are going to come in and interrupt them with stuff. They don't go to the company cafeteria because they don't have a company cafeteria." He said, "Bryce, these people actually eat in diners, and they eat in luncheonettes, and they eat in coffee shops."
What you need to do is you need to find a part of town that has got a concentration of small businesses. What you then do is, you find a coffee shop or a diner. And it has to have a counter, it doesn't work if it's like a Starbucks, or it's something that has booth seating. It has to have a counter. What you do is, you go in pretty much everyday, at the same time, you sit on your stool, and you have lunch there. You talk to the person on the left and talk to the person on the right, and you're not talking about business or anything like that. You're talking about just ordinary conversation. It's spring now, or vacation plans, or that type of thing.
He said, "When you're in that type of environment, all these people tend to be regulars, and they kind of all know each other. You become part of a group." And he said, "You would be amazed at the amount of business that I have gotten from doing that, Bryce." He said, "They'll be somebody sitting there and they'll go, “See that guy sitting over there on the stool; that's Tom, he's the president of the bank." “Wow, he's the president of the bank and he eats at the same place I do? He must be an okay guy. I'm going to go over there and ask him about a loan for my business. It is counterintuitive: you think everybody eats in fancy places and such. But in reality, you can meet a lot of people like this if you happen to be in the place they go to on a regular basis.
Let's close with marketing to people with a problem. How do you identify these people and appeal to them?
[Sanders] Here's an interesting problem that I have about the word referral. The concept of a friend sending their client to you is something that makes a lot of sense when you're on the receiving end. What you never really think of is your client does not have the ability or the skills to know how to ask another person to be a referral or go looking for clients for you.
Let's assume they're very honest, and they say, "You should really meet my accountant." "Why?" "Well, my accountant is looking for clients and he said I should send some to him, so you're my friend, so I think you should go see him." "Why? Are you being paid to do this? Do you get a finder’s fee for this?" It just puts the other person in such an awkward position. Try something different. You’ve got a client and you helped them with a problem. Now let's assume for the moment you have a husband and wife couple. And it's a second or third marriage situation, and the wife is considerably younger than the husband for instance. And the husband is very concerned that, if they pass away first, their surviving spouse doesn't really know much about handling money because they were a traditional couple. Let's say they're in their 70s or 80s and one person always handled the money pretty much. And the other person, let's say, ran the household. They’re concerned that, if they're the ones that handle the money and they're no longer there, somebody is going to take advantage of the surviving spouse.
Well, they happen to have a good accountant and that good accountant is you, and you set everything up for them. You introduce them to a good financial adviser, you introduce them to a good attorney. You helped them put together a budget, you sat down with the spouse. You explained this was a concern they had, and you explained how budgeting worked and where the money was, and all that kind of stuff. Maybe you did some financial planning for them. And they feel that they can now rest easy, because if anything happened to them, their spouse would be in good hands, specifically your hands.
Chances are, if you've got a client who's got a problem like that and that's what they're concerned about, they know other people of the same age that have the same problem. So what you do is, you ask them who else they know that happens to have that problem. You're coaching them, you are not writing anything out because this is not scripted or anything like that. You are just asking to put things in their own word. It comes across sort of as a problem/solution action. "Bill, I know that you are very concerned about what is going to happen to Wilma if anything happens to you first, because you're the person who runs the finances in the family. We got that set up. I think maybe it'd be good for you to tell that story to someone else." At which point, they go to their friend, and they go, "Hey Fred, you know, I was very, very concerned what would happen to Wilma if anything happened to me, who was going to look after the finances for my wife, if I died first? Fortunately, I've got this great accountant. He's helped me out with this. I know you're in a similar situation to me. And you're concerned about your spouse too. You know, I really think you should meet my accountant because he helped me with this problem. He may be able to help you too. I'm having dinner with him on Thursday of next week. He said I could bring a guest. Why don't both of you come along and meet him? I think you would enjoy it. We'll make a fivesome out of it, my wife and your wife, and the two of us, and him."
That is a way that you could coach them. You'd want to sort of polish it up a little bit, but that's a way that you could coach them in how to extend the invitation to someone who has the same problem that you have solved for them.