Tracy Crevar Warren

Five Potential Deal-Breakers

Strategies on how to avoid them.

May 11, 2009
by Tracy Crevar Warren

Winning new business is the lifeblood of a vibrant practice. Despite the doom and gloom of this economy, there will be increased opportunities for CPA firms to earn business as decision-makers carefully consider their current advisors and the price-value ratio of these relationships. Thriving in these leaner times makes it more important than ever to take full advantage of each new opportunity that comes your way.

To help you in this quest, here are five potential deal-breakers to avoid on upcoming sales calls.

  1. Winging it.

Just because you and your colleagues are good talkers and have dozens of similar clients, DON’T be tempted to “wing it” on your next sales call. Potential clients are going to be more discriminating than ever as they look to retain new advisors. So be prepared by:

  • Doing your homework.
  • Visiting on your prospect’s Web site.
  • Identifying key areas of focus.
  • Researching their leadership team.

Does anyone in your firm know them or have common connections? Have they had any recent triggering events that could have changed their focus such as mergers, plant closings or new leadership, to name a few? Check out their presence on search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Visit them on social sites such as LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter. Are they blogging, if so about what?

Then assemble the best team to advance the new business opportunity. Determine who will take the lead during the meeting, what questions you will ask and who will play what role on the call. Consider your value propositions and success stories. For example, how have you helped similar clients and what results did they achieve from retaining you and your team?

  1. Assuming anything.
  2. You would be amazed at how many times assumptions can get you into serious trouble when developing relationships with potential clients. Although you may have a dozen clients who are approximately the same size and serve the same industry, keep in mind that each client is unique. There are countless scenarios that could be taking place inside an organization. For example, some may be struggling with succession issues while others may be struggling with issues from a recent merger or acquisition. Perhaps cash shortages are being caused by late paying customers while others are experiencing record-breaking growth. The best way to avoid assumption blunders is to ask carefully-crafted questions. Explore areas of interest and pain. Use your industry knowledge to find out more about the specific prospect that you are pursuing.
  1. Launching into your pitch without learning their story.
  2. Starting a sales meeting with your “pitch” seems like a logical first step when meeting with a new prospect. Often the potential client will even ask you to tell them who you are and what you do at the meeting’s onset. Beware. Responding immediately to these questions can be dangerous. Why? When you do not first learn their story, you lack the understanding of what is important to them and potential areas to avoid. This can lead you to talk about things that could be a turn-off to them such as focusing on your firm’s size when they are interested in advisors who will provide a high level of partner involvement and consistent staffing from a team of professionals who understand their particular business and can bring pro-active counsel.

    To eliminate this pitfall, respond with something like “Thanks John, I will be glad to share our story. Before I do, I’d like to ask you a few questions so I can learn more about you and how we can best help you.” Once you understand a little more about their specific situation, you can tailor your responses in ways that best meet their needs.

  3. Lacking a genuine interest in helping the business succeed.
  4. In lean times, many decision-makers are carefully examining current CPA relationships. Keep in mind that prospects may be talking with you because they feel that their current advisors are simply not worth the fees they charge for their services. This often results from CPAs not showing a genuine interest in helping the business succeed. Providing the basics just doesn’t cut it anymore. In fact it can put a firm in the commodity category in which price wins.

    Consider questions that decision makers are asking: Is my organization a top priority or an after-thought? Do they provide a commodity or do they bring true insight and counsel to my business? Are the fees charged in-line with the value I am receiving? As you meet with prospective clients, understand their insights into these questions. Learn what they are looking for in a new relationship. Once armed, be able to demonstrate the following: How will you let them know you are genuinely interested in working with them and helping the business? How can you meet and exceed their expectations? What will you say to communicate how you have overcome their concerns with other clients?

  5. Exploring whether the prospect will be a good client.
  6. Although new business is the lifeblood of CPA practice growth not all business is good business. When your firm’s revenues are slipping, It can be tempting to jump at all potential business that comes you way. Proceed with caution. Be true to yourself and the prospect. A poor decision now could lead to additional woes for both parties in the future. Use the sales process as an opportunity to find out all that you can about the potential client. Look for clues in what they say and don’t say. Ask questions such as: Do they fit your ideal client profile? Are they solvent? Will they be difficult to serve?


Take every opportunity to win carefully-targeted new business in this economy. Use the new playing field to your advantage. Make this a record-breaking year for growth in your firm.

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Tracy Crevar Warren, president and founder of The Crevar Group, advises professional services firms striving to grow and maximize performance. She is an author and frequent speaker on various growth, business development, and marketing topics for local, regional, national, and international audiences. Warren can be reached at 336-889-GROW (4769).