5 Astute Questions to Ask a Client’s CPA
by Matt Oechsli | @mattoechsli
“I’ve never had interaction with the CPAs of my top clients,” confessed Kevin as he warmed-up to his real issue, “It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m not sure I even know what to say.”
Ouch! Kevin’s real issue isn’t a lack of talking points, it’s the simple fact that he’s had little if any contact with the CPAs of his top clients. Sure, his assistant has mailed the necessary documents for tax preparation, but for whatever reason Kevin had kept himself at a distance.
Whether or not you’re at Kevin’s distance to the CPAs of your top clients, it’s important that you keep in the forefront of your mind that you and your client’s CPA are professionals in kind. You have mutual clients. Nobody takes a back seat; not you, not the CPA.
The following 5 questions should be asked in person. Tax season is over, these CPAs have been running flat out for months, and now is a good time to get face-to-face. We’ve found that this is most effective when you frame it around a “mini-celebration” on all the good work they’ve done on behalf of your mutual client.
So now you’re at lunch, and it’s your treat, again, on behalf of the good work done for your mutual client. Your objective is to make a good professional impression, open the door for future communication, and position yourself as someone willing to go the extra yard to be helpful.
1. “Is my office getting you all the reporting you need in a timely manner? Is there anything I can help you with?”
With tax season behind them, there’s nothing you can do differently this year, but the stress of the tax season is fresh in this CPAs mind. You’re likely to get some good feedback right off the bat. Turn this into a discussion and it could very likely lead to the both of you meeting at some point during the calendar year.
2. “Has (mutual client) shared their financial plan with you?”
Not every affluent client of this CPA will be in possession of a financial plan. This is a positioning question as well as a logical question. Either way, whether your mutual client has shared their financial plan or not, you’ve opened the window for a brief discussion about your mutual client’s financial plan. How frequently you review it, adjustments you make, their overall financial goals, etc. At this stage, you can ask the CPA if he or she has any suggestions.
3. “What are some of the main services your clients are asking of you in today’s environment?”
Now you’re shifting gears and asking the CPA to give you a little insight into their clients, and how expansive their practice might be. Don’t be put off if you aren’t able to get much information, as it’s common for the answer to be along the lines of “Basically, not much different than what we do for (mutual client).” However, you’re probing for insights.
4. “What are some of the common mistakes you see advisors make in regards to taxes? What are some of the common misconceptions they have?”
This question has a tinge of reverse psychology woven into it. By throwing your brethren under the bus, asking about common mistakes, you’re positioning yourself as someone wants to learn from mistakes of others and who doesn’t want to make the same mistakes. The same is true regarding misconceptions.
5. “Who are the financial advisors in the area who, from your perspective, do a really good job?”
Now you’re fishing for information on your competition. If you get a name or two, you’re unlikely to get more than two—if you get any, you can now ask a handful of probing questions. What impresses you most? What is it that sets them apart? And so on. And if they can name an advisor or two, there is a high probability that this CPA is a potential referral alliance partner. Now it’s relationship building and showcasing time.
Getting back to Kevin, he studiously took notes of these questions but was still uneasy about making the “mini-celebration” lunch call. I asked him to keep me posted on his progress.
Success! Kevin did take action and got a lunch scheduled on his first CPA call. The lunch went well enough that he then scheduled a series of these lunches. Some were more engaging than others, but in the end, he had showcased his practice to four CPAs and had received a referral from each. At this stage, he feels as though he’s developed at least three referral alliance partners. And in his words, “All from asking 5 astute questions.”
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