It takes a lot more effort to find new clients compared to retaining current clients.
Dating and business cultivation share many of the same characteristics. In dating we make a great effort positioning ourselves as attractive and desirable. Once relationships get settled, we often take our partners for granted. Back to business, clients who get little attention because they require little attention are being cultivated by competitors. They are being told they are attractive.
Ten client myths
Why are certain clients at risk? Why aren’t they getting attention? Everyone is great at rationalising.
- I’ve never lost a good client - client relationships can be measured in several ways. Do they bring in lots of revenue? Refer new business? Allow us to address multiple needs? Do we like talking with them? We rationalise we’ve never lost one of these folks
Reality: When clients often create distance when they are dissatisfied. They do less business. Contact dries up. The flame flickers before it goes out. The inactive client stopped being a good client. We rationalise we lost an inactive relationship. Draw them out
- They know what I do for them - you do plenty behind the scenes. You keep current on tax law changes that may affect them. You review relationships. You remind them when filings are due.
Reality: Out of sight, out of mind. Unless you remind them what you are doing, they assume you aren’t doing anything. They need updates, even if the bottom line is they don’t need to take any action
- They would tell me if they were unhappy - although people pout or give the silent treatment in personal relationships, we assume people will be straightforward in business.
Reality: People avoid confrontation. They often vote with their feet. Although the relationship might be sticky and the client doesn’t leave, their unhappiness can manifest itself in other areas. They had the opportunity to refer a friend. They didn’t. Ask: “What could I be doing better?” or “Where do you feel there is room for improvement?”
- They trust me - accounting is a profession based on trust. This one should be obvious.
Reality: They may respect your morals and feel your heart is in the right place. However, they may wonder if you are the smartest person in the room. They are approached by someone with more letters after their name. They bring up subjects you never mentioned
- They understand what I’m talking about - taxation is complicated. As professionals you use terminology understood by your peers. You tell clients what they need to know and explain your rationale.
Reality: They might not understand the technical aspects of your explanation yet are embarrassed to admit it. Someone else explains concepts in simple terms. They like them better
- They have unrealistic expectations - clients hear about people who pay little or no taxes. Perhaps they know some of them. They might be doing something illegal. They want the same result
Reality: The expectations don’t sound unreasonable to the client because they don’t have a point of reference. They need to know what the outcome for the average person would be and the steps you have taken (within the law) to minimise their tax bill
- They know I’m thinking about them - the spouse who forgets their anniversary is the starting point of many jokes. The other person feels unappreciated or taken for granted. Someone else starts paying attention. They establish themselves as the alternative
Reality: Clients pay fees. They are part of your revenue stream. You’ve probably heard the airline announcement: “We know you have a choice in air travel. We appreciate your business.” They need proactive, personal contact
- They understand I can’t tell the future - tax laws change with incoming administrations. Clients need to make decisions now that effect consequences far in the future. Retirement and estate planning are two examples. Sometimes laws change.
Reality: They assume you should have seen this change coming and anticipated the consequences. Hopefully they will be grandfathered under the old regulations. All decisions need to pass the test of making sense economically first, then considering the tax impact
- When they are gone, they are gone - we assume once a client leaves, that’s the end of the story.
Reality: Clients sometimes jump ship (or competitive bids are lost) because the grass looked greener on the other side of the street. It’s the same grass. Your former client might come to this conclusion. Keep in touch after they leave. Confirm they landed safely
- They’ll come back - when we lose out romantically we assume the other person will realise the enormity of their mistake. They will ask to be forgiven.
Reality: Human nature, pride and self-respect are funny things. People may realise they made the wrong decision, but refuse to admit it. This is another reason for keeping in touch and keeping the door open. Compromise means meeting the other person halfway
When things aren’t going well in relationships, it’s easy to rationalise behavior or make assumptions.
Don’t take current clients for granted.
About Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania.