The proposal process for CPA firms can often feel like shooting at a target while blindfolded. You might have a general idea of what the prospective client wants, but are probably unsure of which services to highlight, how to differentiate your firm or how much to bid. By qualifying prospects through informational meetings or Q&A sessions, you can identify what to include in your proposals in order to win the business. Here are three questions that can help you “remove the blindfold” and hit the bullseye.
How will you measure success from this engagement?
In many cases, the needs of a prospective client may be more complex than just completing a tax return. Qualification dialogue can reveal some underlying organizational structure issues or past financial mistakes that may need to be adjusted. We recommend getting to some of these more complex or intangible needs by asking how they will measure success. You can also phrase this by asking, “What does an ideal engagement look like to you?” By asking this question, you will often uncover needs that are just as important as the technical work, such as frequent communication, training for their staff or minimal disruption to day-to-day operations. You can also use this information to highlight not only WHAT services you plan to deliver, but also HOW you plan to deliver those services to meet their measures of success.
Who else will be proposing on the work?
Believe it or not, this question isn’t as awkward as many people think. Most prospective clients will expect this question, and you’ve got nothing to lose by asking it. Even if they prefer not to mention firm names, you can still gain valuable information with a few follow-up questions phrased to explain why you are asking. For example, you could say, “I understand if you prefer not to mention other firms specifically, but would you be willing to share some characteristics about the type of firm you’d like to work with? For example, the size or specializations of your ideal firm, and if you’d prefer a local or national firm? This information will help us get a sense of how we fit with your expectations.” These questions will likely open a conversation that can provide key ways to differentiate your firm in the proposal.
What is your budget?
It is ironic that CPAs tend to be very uncomfortable in conversations about money when it comes to bidding. We’ve shared ideas for getting the right fees for your services, but the process of charging the right amount for your services starts before you even begin typing the proposal. We recommend beginning with the simple question, “What is your budget for this work?” In many cases, prospective clients may not want to disclose what they are willing to spend, and that is OK. You can respond, “I understand. All I ask is that if we aren’t in the range you expected, you give us a chance to follow-up with a conversation to see how we might better align with your expectations.” If you have understood their needs properly, pitched the right services, and differentiated your firm, most prospects will be open to further discussion around pricing.
The qualification process is meant to be a dialogue, not a hard-press sell. The most important part of asking these three questions is how you treat the answers. Use follow-up cues such as “tell me more about that” or “how does that compare to your past experiences” to bring out more details. During the dialogue, focus these questions and answers toward conversations around similar circumstances you’ve encountered and how you’ve helped. Most importantly, be sure to address what you’ve learned in your proposal in order to increase your odds of winning their business!