An introduction to prospecting

Prospecting is probably the most mundane, least understood, and consequently the most ignored aspect of practice development among accounting firms. It is also the most important. No matter what level of sales skills, client skills, or people skills you have, without prospective client opportunities your growth will be severely limited.

Prospecting is seeking and securing prospective clients. It is the key to successful practice growth. It involves directly approaching people, seeking to persuade them of the qualities of your services, and – above all else – staying one step ahead of the competition.

In some ways, these are activities that are quite alien to most accountants. Accountants are trained to work with numbers, not people. Traditionally, they provide independent opinions and avoid getting too close to their clients.

In the early stages of their careers they have little contact with clients and so they often lack good communication skills. They prefer to rely upon their professional competence and integrity, not marketing techniques for securing and retaining clients. It is not surprising, therefore, that some accountants view prospecting with trepidation.

Prospecting does not fit comfortably into the accountant’s orderly world. It is a tenuous activity with no clear beginning or end, and the results are often not easily quantifiable, especially in the short term.

It can require extensive participation in non-occupational activities, such as meeting people at clubs and business gatherings, proving personal competence in unfamiliar arenas, and spreading the firm’s professional reputation. Above all else, it means coming out of the back room and making yourself and your firm more visible.

Notwithstanding all of this, the simple fact is that the more prospects you contact, the more opportunities you will have, and the more clients you will engage. Without prospecting you limit your possibilities of growth to your existing referral network. Therefore it is important to ensure that the culture of your firm includes a solid commitment to developing and maintaining a prospecting program.

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