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How not to convert prospects into clients


What do you do when you’re on a discovery call and realise that actually, you don’t want this prospect to become a client? Zoe Whitman reveals the signs of potentially difficult clients.

25th Jul 2022
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If you’ve joined any of the previous episodes of AccountingWEB Live’s Bookkeeping Show, sponsored by FreeAgent, you will have learned that I’m a big fan of having an ideal client, and not every business will fit your ideal client persona. Sometimes you’ll find yourself on a call with somebody and just know, it’s not going to work.

This happens regularly.

But when we’re building businesses, it can feel so urgent to find clients and to be “at capacity” with work, that the thought of saying no to anybody we have the skills to help feels absurd.

This happened to me a long time ago when I worked with Paul. He was frankly, a pain in the arse - or to cite the commonly used slang, a PITA. From the first encounter with Paul, I allowed him to hold the power in the relationship. He dictated what he needed me to do and when. He told me he’d “eat my time”. He knew best – even though he’d hired an expert.

Needing the client, and knowing how to do the work he needed, I did what he asked. I updated the crazy workaround spreadsheets he needed by 12noon on a Thursday, I sent him the email he wanted for 9am every Monday, I dropped everything every time he decided he needed an hour of my time. But I resented taking him on, every day.

Until working with Paul, I’d never considered that saying no was an option. These are the signs I should have looked out for in that initial conversation:

I didn’t have control of the relationship

I needed to lead that sales call. I was the expert but I allowed Paul to take control. He led the conversation and asked me questions about my skills and experience when really I should have led the conversation by asking him about his business and his needs.

If you find you’re being interviewed by your prospect, you can take control back of the situation by simply acknowledging that they have a lot of questions, but turning it around. “If it’s OK with you, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your business and tell you about how we work with our clients.” The person asking the questions is the person with the power.

Not knowing how to price

Luckily for me, Paul told me how much I should charge him! But pricing is a challenge when you don’t know how it’s going to work with your client. We frequently see this in The 6 Figure Bookkeepers’ Club, our community for bookkeepers. I can tell the work feels in some way misaligned because even though they’ve likely priced the client up using a proposal tool, they’re still questioning whether the price is low.

If this is happening for you or if you feel you might as well price high to hopefully price yourself out of the job, there might be an underlying message about how you feel about the client.

Not wanting to send the proposal

And on top of not knowing how to price, you might find yourself holding off sending the proposal – or hoping you don’t hear back. Reluctance to speak to the client on the phone and reluctance to get started with the job are both signs that something isn’t right.

So how do you stop the call rather than get it to the point of sending a proposal and hoping they’re getting three quotes and they don’t choose you?

Be honest as soon as you know

Describe the way you work with your clients and simply say, “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to work in the way you need us to.” You can describe why – whether it’s that you can’t meet their demands for bespoke spreadsheets at specific times or that you don’t work with clients in their industry, or that you don’t use a piece of software that they want to use. And then going on to recommend one or two other bookkeepers or accountants that might be able to help instead.

They’ll value your honesty and you’ll feel in control

Ultimately, an even better solution would be for that call not to have happened in the first place, and if you ever go through this experience of ending up on a call with somebody who isn’t a good fit, ask yourself:

  • How can I be clearer about who I work with to put off the wrong prospects?
  • Can you include minimum pricing on your website to rule out those who don’t want to pay the fees you need to charge?
  • Can you vet your prospects before they are able to book a discovery call with a form prior to booking?

Saying no to a client can feel really hard - especially when you need the money, but working with a client who will never value your service will lead to you having to make difficult decisions later. Making the right decision at the first opportunity will give you the space to take on better clients for your practice.

Zoe will be talking more about this topic on the next episode of the Bookkeeping Show, sponsored by FreeAgent. This Wednesday, at 9.30am, AccountingWEB’s Joanne Birtwistle will quiz Zoe Whitman, Jo Wood and Karen Kennedy on how they convert prospects into clients.