Editorial team AccountingWEB.co.uk
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Can telemarketing work for accountants?

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13th Jun 2011
Editorial team AccountingWEB.co.uk
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This is a subject that appears regularly in Any Answers.  I have attempted to collate and summarise the best tips and advice - including my own! explains Mark Lee.

1. Be clear as to what sort of leads you want

The key is to ensure that whoever is making the calls is briefed effectively. Before you or anyone else starts cold-calling on your behalf you need to be clear as to what makes your practice different, what criteria the target client needs to satisfy and what services you want to promote. Preparation is key here and can save you loads of time that will otherwise be wasted attending meetings that are a waste of time.

For example, are you after new businesses that have yet to appoint an accountant or established businesses who will need convincing that you could be better than their present accountant?

2. Ensure everyone involved knows what you are offering

How do you know you’re better than the prospect’s current accountant? Whoever makes the calls will need to understand how to ask key ‘open’ questions and how to relate what you can do to what the prospect says they need. Empty promises are unlikely to help as that’s probably how the present incumbent got the job in the first place.

Careful but unobtrusive questioning is required to ensure that any follow up meeting is more than an information gathering exercise for the prospect who then reverts to his existing trusted adviser with the new ideas you have freely given away.

3. Set a clear objective for all cold-calling and telemarketing exercises

The best you can hope for from telemarketing is to secure warm qualified leads for meetings. Without careful planning you will simply get a load of meetings with people who want a cheap accountant.

You may be better off aiming simply to get permission to have a follow-up call at a convenient time. Although you’ll then be fully prepped, do note that the prospect will NEVER be sitting there waiting for the phone to ring. They may forget, they may have some key business activity that takes priority. But, if you’re lucky, they may give this follow up call more attention as they have agreed to it in contrast to the initial cold-call that was simply an interruption to their day.

4. Think about how you will qualify prospective leads

The biggest complaint I hear from accountants about their telemarketing efforts is that the lead wasn’t properly qualified. The prospective client simply wanted a new accountant who was cheaper than their current one. Hopefully this is not your key selling point. In which case what do you want the prospect to be saying before you decide it will be worth meeting with them?

5. How will you close the deal?

Telemarketing is only ever the start of the sales process. YOU will still need to be able to satisfy the prospect that you’re the right person to help, to solve their problems and to provide the solutions and service they require. YOU need to be able to ‘CLOSE’ the deal. If you can’t do that you’re wasting your time.

6. Ensure the prospect gets multiple pre-meeting ‘touches’

Meetings will be far more worthwhile if the prospective client feels positive about their interactions with the accountant (through the telemarketer) beforehand. And such feelings can be enhanced by making contact (touching) the contact more than once. So after a meeting has been fixed up over the phone, ensure the firm should, at a minimum:

  • send out a written confirmation perhaps with a short relevant piece of promo literature (NOT a full brochure – unless the prospect requested this)
  • If there’s time, look up the prospect on LinkedIn or elsewhere on the web (not simply their website) and try to find an excuse to send something relevant and useful to them before the meeting
  • Ensure that your messages are tailored and not standard sales messages
  • Where ever possible evidence the fact that you specialise in the prospect’s industry, business type or something else relevant to them – prove that you have specific expertise and are not ‘just another accountant’
  • The day before the meeting someone should call the prospect to confirm the meeting, location, time, how best to find the building/park

7. Focus on what prospects most want

Businesses are typically more interested in pro-active business advice than in the process of producing their accounts or tax returns. Instead you will need to be focused more on value and benefits and able to articulate specific relevant examples of these.

One way in which accountants can distinguish themselves when using telemarketing for new clients is to ascertain the nature of the tax issues and problems facing the prospective client. Detailed tax issues and problems can then be explored at an initial meeting even if the accountant may require later require support in developing and implementing solutions.

8. Relevant experience counts

Yes, you could ask your staff to source leads and to get cold calling but this is unlikely to be as effective as using experienced telemarketers. ‘Experienced’ that is in generating qualified leads for professional service providers. 

It is MUCH easier to educate such specialists as regards the specifics of your firm than it is to train up in-house people to be effective at qualified lead generation through telemarketing. For a start, the first 20 seconds of a call can be crucial. As is the ability to keep going despite getting lots of ‘no thanks’ when you get through to prospects. And there’s a skill to getting through the gate-keepers too.

9. Consider getting appropriate training

On an Any Answers thread last month about cold calling obstructions I endorsed a recommendation by @charlesgrace for a training system named after David Sandler. At one extreme this helps you to weed out timewasters early in the sales process.

As already mention though I think it makes more sense to engage a specialist to make the calls rather than spending time trying to do it yourself.

10. Incentivise the outcomes you want

The key is to ensure that any incentive acts to motivate desired results. Telemarketers who are paid for each lead they generate will secure loads of inappropriate leads. There’s no point in the accountant then going to loads of meetings that are not with desirable and real prospect clients.

I suggest instead that you incentivise teamwork rather than pay a fee per meeting fixed up or per new client signed up. You don’t want to attend meetings that have no serious prospect of allowing you to generate the fees you want for the work you enjoy doing. And paying a third party by reference to your success at ‘closing’ isn’t going to work well either.

This thread (and others) on Any Answers contains further tips along these lines from @maxxy who provides telemarketing services for accountants.

One way of encouraging teamwork is to pay per day’s work undertaken by the telemarketing service with no long-term contract. This can help ensure that everyone has the same objective – to maximise the benefit of the exercise for both parties. This includes monitoring and adapting how the exercise is working in the light of experience.

Please share your views, experiences and tips re. telemarketing below.

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB.co.uk and chairman of the Tax Advice Network. Visit his personal website and blog.

Replies (8)

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By justsotax
13th Jun 2011 11:04

a very interesting article....
as I am a little cynical as to the real value of telemarketing. Afterall who wants a client who is happy to jump ship following a phone call....what kind of loyalty can you expect? - I think we all want the life spend of a business (or 5-10 years realistically) - not just 1 or 2 years. But you make some good points.....

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By Bob Harper
13th Jun 2011 12:44

It works, but...

@Mark - great article and I would add that there are two broadly two approaches; hope or strategic. One should be called telesales because it is a numbers game, the other is telemarketing.

There is a lot of negativity and preconceptions about telemarketing, mainly because so many businesses do it wrong. But, it does work, it just doesn’t works as well as it used to. Today you really need a better strategy than making 100 calls a day.

Readers may be interested to know that a survey of buyers of professional services found 39% were very likely or somewhat likely to initially identity and learn more about potential providers through a phone call. 

My rule of thumb is to use telemarketing after researching the market and only when there is a specialism to be offered. Ideally the fee and lifetime value needs to be worthwhile. So, if you act for sole-traders and charge £200 a year telemarketing may not look as viable tactic compared to £20,000 a year for a complete outsourced service.

Expecting too much is a reason why many accountants say telemarketing doesn’t work; if you can get one or two leads a day that should be regarded as a good day. And, you need a voicemail strategy because so many people are not available. I suggest 3-5 planned messages.

It helps if you have a process. I suggest the objective of the first call is to book a follow up call. The purpose of the follow up call is to book a meeting. The objective of the first meeting is to get a second meeting. The objective of the second meeting is to sign the client up.

This way all the sales pressure is off and like Mark says there can be other steps along the way.

Fundamentally, telemarketing should be paid for on a results basis. I recommend a project fee to hold the accountant accountable plus payments on results which will be meetings and sales.

Also, firms should understand that the full results of telemarketing will not be know for two years. This assumes email address obtained from calls where prospects are not ready for a meeting are used in email marketing.

Bob Harper

Accountants Websites 

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By Jekyll and Hyde
14th Jun 2011 12:44

I would agree it works, but...

... if you have one or two practices in a location telemarketing (or any mas marketing campaign) then they can easily meet their capive audience and initially get in the door. If you have say twenty practices all telemarketing, in my view, the message is always lost and it is difficult to get in the door initially. It therefore dilutes the benefits of having that campaign.

For me, as an accountant, the same goes with tweeting/facebook, etc. If you have a niche market you may be able to do this, but if you have a general forum and there are say twenty other accountants in your area doing the same, you message is evdiently diluted with all the others and the time may outweigh the costs.

For me knowing when and where to telemarket is key to a successful campaign (I have built up a nice little practice from mailshot campaign) and based on what I am being told by my clients (I have only lost 2 clients in last 18 months and hope that this will remain low) there are far too many accountants telemarketing/mailshotting within the Chesterfield area and as businesses my clients are fed up with the time being wasted on such phone calls. This is good for me as I get to see some of the mailshot letters. Therefore perhaps the timing of any marketing campaign is more important than the message coming accross in that campaign.

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By Jekyll and Hyde
14th Jun 2011 12:48

Bob Harpers point on a 2 year period for calculating success

I can agree, in the past I have had potential clients phone me and start by stating that they received my marketing letter, only to find out that I sent it out some 24 months ago. Always a good phonecall to have to pick you day up.

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By Robjoy
14th Jun 2011 14:18

Cynical

How can I think of using telemarketing (or telesales, or any kind of cold-calling) when I hate being on the receiving end so much? There is so much bad telemarketing around I am liable to just switch off and say 'Not interested, goodbye' before I have even a vague idea what I'm being sold. On the odd occasion someone gets through my brain fog it really makes me cross to have someone try to sell me payroll outsourcing (2 man business), bookkeeping services (it's what I do!) or fleet management (2 cars!).

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By The Doctor
17th Jan 2012 20:39

For what its worth...

I've found a fantastic firm of telemarketers - http://www.brightlightsmarketing.com/.

I'm currently enjoying a 300% ROI and 50% appointment success rate.

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By Patata4g
07th Mar 2013 21:48

The comments suggest telemarketing works for some firms, but not others. From my experience, of running telemarketing campaigns for accountants, those that fail often fail for the same reasons.

To help firms decide if telemarketing was right for them I wrote a free guide http://bit.ly/RPOrUD It warns firms of what to expect and describes the skills and resources needed to make a success of it.  

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By hham12
04th Jul 2016 15:56

Hi Mark,

Very interesting article before reading this, I was under impression that telemarketing doesn't work for accountants.

Do you think the meeting (if taken place after a successful telemarketing campaign) be at accountants' address or the prospective client address?

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