Cross Selling: How to Mine Current Clients for More Services
CPAs must transition from generic accounting and compliance services to advisory services in order to stay relevant. Cross-selling and offering additional services to current clients is key — not only to bolster the firm’s bottom line but to ensure a proper transition of the practice into the future.
What Clients Want
To appropriately cross-sell services or increase current services, firms must understand clients’ needs and work with them to achieve their goals. Firms can achieve a mutually beneficial advisory service plan by forming real relationships with clients, approaching them at the right time, and accurately communicating how additional or new services will help them achieve their business goals and objectives.
The same trait that makes CPAs the “trusted advisor” makes us able to provide services outside of our traditional parameters. Clients want services and recommendations from someone they trust. But trust doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen from behind our desks. The best way to create a trusting relationship is to meet with the client in a setting that doesn’t involve the service you are providing; take them to lunch or invite them to an event without the agenda of accounting and tax. Allow them to relax and have your time without the thought of it being billable. Be mindful that attempting to cross-sell services prior to a solidified relationship will often create skepticism and an adverse relationship which can be difficult to overcome. The level of relationship needed to start cross-selling services is achieved when the client is asking you for referrals or your thoughts on other types of services. At that point, they have indicated that they trust your judgement and are looking for like-minded people to provide services to them.
Timing is Everything
Nothing is worse than having the proper relationship with a client and picking the absolute worst time to discuss it. As with most things in life, timing is everything, and it’s no different when selling a client on additional services.
Waiting for the proper time to cross-sell or add services depends on many factors. There is typically no bad time to sell core services, which, for example, may derive an intent to save the client taxes because the client expects this from their tax accountant. Ancillary service sales, such as nexus studies, estate planning, external CFO services, wealth management, budgeting, R&D credits, cost segregation studies, and industry comparison and analysis, require a well-placed conversation. A good approach is to plan numerous client meetings at the beginning of the year and develop conversation points to bring up during those meetings (a means of dropping subtle hints) regarding the additional services. The more times you can mention these subtle hints spread over multiple meetings, the more successful the sell will be when the client asks; because ultimately, at that point, you’re not selling, they’re asking because you gave them the idea all along. However, when they ask, you need to be ready to sell.
The most common mistake accountants make is that they try to sell without fully understanding the services or the products they are selling. Furthermore, they are quick to bring in another partner or third party to sell the service for them. As discussed above, the relationship and trust is with you, therefore you need to be the one to sell. Spend the time to understand the additional or third-party service, what the process entails, the client’s level of effort, the pros and cons of the service, and the approximate price range. Practice your pitch ahead of time to sound seasoned on the topic. Confidence and clarity during the initial conversation will set the table for a properly engaged client, resulting in more acceptable expectations and a meaningful delivery of the service to grow one’s business and help the client at the same time.
This article appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.