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I have lost count of the number of times I have heard CPD speakers and so-called practice development gurus telling us we need to me more proactive. Apparently, compliance work is about to dry up and we're going to lose all our clients unless we start being "proactive". And they present this as something new.

But hasn't this always been the case? Someone once said "clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I suspect in fact some witty writer made that up and attributed it to an anonymous guru, but whoever said it - they were right.

When I look back over the clients we have gained and lost, the new clients often with a sorry history of a previous accountant that didn't talk to them or give any advice. And very often our losses are those that fell through the net, where we should have tried harder and spoken more often but for some reason we didn't (in my defence I could identify quite a few personality clashes in this group, clients who simply wouldn't communicate anyway).

Have these clients joined or left us because they wanted a firm that offered fancy tax planning or state of the art software tools? No, in most cases they just wanted someone to talk to.

So my take on 'proactivity' is simply getting out there and talking to clients. I know it's out of fashion with electronic communication and the squeeze on compliance fees, but our goal for 2012 is to ensure that all our clients get the conversations and meetings they want to feel that we care. In my experience, meetings often generate new ideas and new work, so even where we can't get the full rate for a meeting there's a strong argument for not charging for it and treating it as a marketing exercise.

As BT used to say, "it's good to talk" - not to text or email or write. An unsolicited telephone call to a client to ask them how they are getting on is a good start. A face to face meeting at their premises is best. You can always say you are passing and can you drop by for half an hour for a coffee. If you don't, there's a risk that some of your best clients will be talking to someone else, and you don't want that!

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By carnmores
06th May 2012 19:12

bloody marvellous

old fashioned common sense at last ! well done. 

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By Flash Gordon
06th May 2012 20:35

Devil's advocate

But when you next put their fees up will they be thinking that it's because of your extra meetings?

And what about the ones who feel obliged to agree to see you but don't actually want to / are busy trying to earn a living / would prefer you to just prepare their accounts without any bells and whistles.....

I'm all for making clients feel wanted / valued / important but remember that everyone is different. Some might welcome you with open arms. But if I had an accountant who kept wanting to drop by I'd be looking for a new accountant who would leave me in peace :)

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By ShirleyM
07th May 2012 07:43


All the marketing buzzwords have been done to death in recent years. If you asked 20 clients what pro-active means I think you would probably get 20 different answers, and probably the same if you asked accountants, too.

It all becomes rather meaningless then!

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By carnmores
07th May 2012 09:56

not so much advocate as just plain devil

you have got everything out of proportion Flash - i dont think our blogger is on a continuous tea and biscuits run - i think most if not all of his clients will see the value of his visit pretty quickly he strikes me as emminently sensible , have a reread of his last para

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By Flash Gordon
07th May 2012 12:29

Not devil in my books

The point I was trying to make is that one size doesn't fit all. Most of his clients might see the value of his visit but what about the ones who don't want the 'added value' / 'pro-active' (yes Shirley, it is all meaningless!) service? If you don't take each client as an individual then you run the risk of alienating some when pleasing others.

An example - OP has 100 clients all earning him £10k per year and me. I pay him £500k per year. He starts popping round occasionally & making the odd phone call. 100 clients are moderately pleased (or even delighted) and think he's so great that when he puts his prices up by £2k they agree with pleasure. Golly gosh he's £200k richer. But then I think 'bugger[***] me I hate being disturbed by this accountant' and sack him in favour of someone who leaves me in peace except when it suits me. All of a sudden he's actually lost a net £300k (before tax). If he'd thought about it he could have left me off his list and stayed £200k better off.

So yes make clients feel wanted, but make sure you're giving them what they want and not what you think they want (or what you feel they should want).

Of course if he was bringing a good selection of biscuits and didn't mind sharing them with my dog then maybe I'd make an exception.....

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By petersaxton
07th May 2012 14:35


If I visited all my clients once a year I would not be doing other work for half a day every day.

Most people don't want to be disturbed. I get plenty of salesmen offering to meet me and stressing it's all free! Many people would be put into that category.

It's true that some people appreciate it but the skill is choosing the right clients.

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By RussellD
08th May 2012 09:24

Sales approach

I know sales people have a bad reputation but something I discovered from them (which may be relevant here) is how they group clients into A, B and C categories. 

A clients are the most valuable to the company - perhaps biggest fees, perhaps best margins, perhaps within 'niche' sector, perhaps least extra work required.  They tend to get visits and invited to corporate hospitality events etc.

C clients are the least valuable to the company - not always about fees, but it could be, they may be the client who takes more time than they are prepared to pay for, low margin, wrong niche or whatever.  These clients are probably only on a newsletter list with little other intentional contact.

B clients fit in the middle.


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