Screening potential clients sounds rather clinical, a bit like screening for a disease.
Truth be told, D clients are like parasites. They can be painful, demand attention, drain your energy, query your bills and if they refer you work - breed more parasites. Most significantly, they’ll damage your brand, morale and culture.
Unlike the parasite and host relationship, accountants should partner with like-minded new clients, forming a stable, happy, mutually beneficial, and long-term relationship.
To avoid future heartbreak, ask questions to establish suitability and indicate your expectations prior to sealing the deal. In other words, before falling head over heels for a prospective client, take them on a whirlwind date to ensure the partnership isn’t doomed from the outset.
8 speed dating questions, and the insights you’re seeking:
1. Tell me about your business...
You’re looking for evidence of a proven track record (or a string of failed attempts). How transparent are they, are they accountable for their previous indiscretions?
2. Who is your previous accountant? Why are you looking to change?
You need to rule out commitment issues. You don’t want a one-night stand. If they’re frequently changing accountants, they may lack loyalty, or fail to see this professional relationship as a long-term thing.
3. What attracted you to our firm?
If you’ve been set up by another D client, be wary of flippant responses and get evidence that they share your relationship standards. However, if this is a blind date set up by an A client, swipe right.
4. What issues concern you the most in your business right now?
Look for signs that indicate hopelessness, incompetence and extreme sensitivity to taxation. Partnerships should be give and take, you can’t be expected to do all the heavy lifting.
5. Are you up to date with all taxation returns and payments?
If they’re serial offenders their response could indicate multiple years and payments outstanding. This signals risky business ahead.
6. What services do you require from your accountant?
If their answer screams ‘seeking accounting companion of minimum service, at minimum cost’ this romance could be dead in the water.
If they speak your love language, they’re likely to want things like growth, better systems, improved cashflow, help to achieve their goals, or perhaps they want better work-life balance.
7. Let me tell you a little about the way we do things at this firm.
Not a question, but an excellent way to gauge if you’ve mutual interests. This is where you discuss your gold Xero status, explain that you specialise in Business Development, coach a number of top clients, offer attractive service plans, have a clear purpose and vision and live into your Core Values daily.
8. I believe that we can add significant value to your business. To be clear on your needs, let’s get together for an hour. In this moment you’ll know if the feeling is mutual.
Position date two as a complimentary one-hour meeting where they’ll need to come prepared with additional information. You’ll also discuss their goals and dreams.
If the spark is gone, let them down gently.
Intuition and gut feelings are crucial. If you sense a lack of alignment, adapt your ‘It’s not you, it’s me…’ speech and offer an alternative accountant who is looking for growth or more suited to meet their needs.
It comes down to values.
Core Values provide a benchmark for new relationships. Reference this framework at the beginning of a relationship to ensure they’re on board. You can go back to them if they slip below the line in the future.
At The Gap, we encourage our clients to use our Mutual Commitment Statement when entering a coaching relationship. This document outlines the expectations of the client and accountant in relation to having a successful working relationship and is signed by both parties.
Keep the flame burning.
You’re their most trusted advisor. They’ve bared their financial soul to you and you know (most of) their dirty little secrets. Because of this, you’re often the first person they reach out to when they experience trauma (financial or otherwise). You must nurture this relationship to ensure the trust remains.
8 of the top 10 causes of relationship breakdowns are:
8 of the top 10 causes of relationship breakdowns are: arguments, lack of communication, growing apart, infidelity, trauma, appreciation (we have a Core Value for that), money and boredom.
I’ve disregarded the other two, which centre around children and how you make them. In all other respects there are clear parallels between romantic relationships and client relationships. Both require communication, attention, forethought and fun, or you’ll get bored and grow apart.
D clients prevent us from delivering more to our A clients.
Our A clients are the ones we're happy to slam a few Friday night pints with over a marriage break up (most accountants have done this at least once!). So, next time you have an annoying D client moment, remember it’s never too late to express your expectations.
Calling time on a toxic relationship can be liberating for you and your team. If the flame’s gone out, dump them, and don’t look back.
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We also have an entire system - The Proactive Accounting Meeting - for that second date. This enables you to position your various value add services as business best practice from the outset, i.e. annual Cashflow Forecasting, Business Planning and Accountability Coaching.
*The 8 questions and insights for effective new client screening have been adapted from Viv Brownrigg’s Practice Manual, circa 1996. The world hasn’t really changed that much. The future is human.