Even though a predatory approach is common in other industries, it is still comparatively rare in the accounting profession, and many accountants balk at the idea of taking clients away from other firms.
Though there might be ethical considerations pertaining to particular cases, in general there is nothing unethical about offering a prospect a better service than he or she is presently receiving. If the client is genuinely dissatisfied he or she will respond to the overtures of others, in which case the client is doing what he or she wants and there is no question of impropriety. Conversely, if, despite being dissatisfied, the client resists the overtures of others and sticks with his or her existing accountant come what may, again the client is doing what he or she wants and there is no question of impropriety.
The truth is that many partners are reluctant to prey on others’ clients out of fear that the same might happen to them. This is a different matter. In a truly competitive environment, the forces of competition work both ways, and there is no way you can hope to win business from others without running the risk of others taking business from you.
The fact is, of course, that this kind of competition has already entered the accounting profession, and no one is going to turn the clock back. The only question is how you are going to respond to this development. Are you going to see it as a threat and mutter disapprovingly while your competitors steal your best clients, or are you going to see it as an opportunity and begin actively prospecting yourself?
Sometimes the need to change accountants is brought on by problems or changes of routine within a business’ accounts department. Often the telltale sign that an opportunity exists is when a business advertises in the newspapers for accounting or bookkeeping staff. This is a particularly lucrative breakpoint, because a business is more likely to consider changing accountants when their own accounts department is under review. To pick up on these opportunities you regularly need to:
Check newspaper classified advertisements for accounting positions
Where you see advertisements, write to the company and suggest a meeting. Where possible, be specific i.e. if the advertisement is for a staff member in the credit control department, mention how you can help solve their credit control problems.
Listen to industry grapevines
Talk to your friends and clients in the industry and listen to what they say about their competition. If there are rumours of a company experiencing accounting or financing problems, contact the company and suggest ways you can help.
Talk to employees
Whenever you talk with a bookkeeper or credit controller take the opportunity to ask a few probing questions about their internal accounting system. If it is appropriate, offer them a free hour of your time to help with any problems they might be experiencing.
Financial state of a business
It is important to keep tabs on the financial state of target prospects. Though few business owners will consider changing accountants when things are just ticking along smoothly, some might be tempted to look for a better deal when things are going well, and most will seek fresh ideas and help when things are going badly.