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How do you manage challenging tax client prospects?

· 8 minute read

· 8 minute read

Have you ever had that prospective client that seems to know everything? It can be difficult to maneuver clients who seem to not really want professional tax help, even if they probably need it. There are ways to win over even the most challenging tax client prospects.

In this episode of the Thomson Reuters podcast, Pulse of the Practice: A Client Story, The ‘Know-It-All’, we cover how to manage the more difficult situations, and how to use those challenges in a positive way.

What if a challenging tax client prospect is a good client referral?

Like many tax and accounting firms, you probably rely on referrals from other clients to expand your business. You might start the prospecting journey with a phone call before an in-person meeting to get a sense of this potential new client. After speaking to a referral prospect, you may realize they are probably not the best fit for your firm, so what do you do? As a tax professional, it’s wise to learn how to push through and pitch to the more challenging tax client prospects, as well as the easier ones.

Sometimes you get a client who tells you they know a lot about taxes, or they used to work in accounting and used to do tax returns. Here comes the first red flag, but knowing this is a referral, you don’t want to cause any friction so you decide to see what you can do for a more resistant client.

Although that initial conversation could seem like it won’t be fruitful. A good place to start as far as your standard procedure is to invite them in for a consultation anyway by offering them an assessment of their current situation, and go from there.

How do you work around red flags?

To convince the harder won clients, you need to go into the ring with your story straight. What are you offering them? You can respectfully listen to a client, but also go in with the tone of  “this is the way we work, and we have a very specific process”. Remember, you’re not just doing tax returns, you need to have a plan for what else you might offer them as far as advisory services. Even the most challenging tax client prospects might later become your best clients, or they might refer a great client to you.

Knowing in the back of your mind that every client is a potential lead, don’t wash your hands of them just yet, despite red flags in the conversation. You may find that as you start explaining details about how your firm works, this potential but unlikely client might say they know things and question your price and insist they can handle their issues themselves. How do you convince them otherwise?

As you go through the meeting, you can often predict that the price of your services is going to be an issue, yet another red flag. The best approach is to go into the process and talk about pricing upfront for various offerings and extended advisory services. You may get pushback on the price. But it’s best to just proceed with your pitch to a client who comes in seeming to already know what they need to do. At some point you may have to make a decision of where to draw that line in the conversation. When you start talking about pricing the challenging prospect often ask a lot of questions. How you manage the conversation may also depend on your level of experience. One thing to remember is that you want to keep in good standing with the happy client that referred this challenging client.

Experienced CPAs advise that you have to stick to your story. Go ahead and invest that hour just because of the referral relationship aspect, if nothing else. It’s not good business to avoid a referral just because they may not be your ideal client, because again, clients can surprise you. Also consider this: if a new client agrees to meet with you, then you know they must have some interest. When you are making a pitch to a client, even though you sense that they may not be a good fit for your firm, you can still give them a lot of good information and ideas that could open their minds, even if your initial pitch might be rejected.

Consider time with challenging tax client prospects as the cost of marketing

These seemingly impossible conversations with potential clients can be considered the cost of marketing. If you choose to go ahead and pitch to a client who doesn’t seem to want any help, the trick is to find that opening. You’ve got to protect your relationship with the existing client who sent you this more challenging potential client.

Many tax firms don’t have marketing budgets; they grow on referrals instead. So if this challenging tax client prospect is referred by a trusted client and they recommended you, where do you draw that line? Is it just a five or 10 minute conversation? There’s a cost to maintaining those existing relationships, because any referral could be a potential client or affect relationships with the ones who sent them to you, and that’s how you have to view the cost of your valuable time.

As long as you followed a consistent process and procedure and you haven’t done anything different, you’re going to be able to maintain that consistency of expectation for all of your clients overall.

Of course it is easier to communicate with clients that come to you in trust that you will handle their business. Their trust factor of you is higher. So how do you build trust with a potential client who is questioning your expertise, or claiming to know as much as you do? Consider budgeting in for the fact that this type of client is going to ask a lot more detailed questions. You have to change your process slightly because when the ‘know-it-all’ comes to you, you’re going to have to explain things more. You may even have to defend your position and your pricing structure.

Bring the confidence with an open mind

In some cases, you have to remind or ask a potential client why they were willing to talk to you in the first place if they seem to have all the answers for themselves. You have to build that trust factor and remind them of your level of expertise to convince them that your knowledge will lead them to greater success.

It isn’t ideal when clients start second-guessing you. If your client or potential client doesn’t trust you, that can have a negative impact on the client relationship. In a perfect world, you want to have a client that is inquisitive enough to ask questions, but not question the method that you’re using in order to build a strong client relationship.

When dealing with a more uncertain potential client who is coming to you with open arms in need of advice, you need to have a totally different approach where you have to bring the confidence to the table for them. It’s easy to forget that with the ‘know-it-all’ type of client, you still have to bring the confidence, but in a different way. Sometimes challenging tax client prospects are looking for someone who can match their own strength. The pressure they put on you is just their style and they’re looking for someone who can match that, so they know that they’re truly being led by an expert. Even though they’re going to ask a lot of questions and it feels counterproductive, that’s just part of their mechanics. Some more challenging clients are looking for your expertise, and you may have to prove it.

When trying to manage challenging clients who question everything, you may feel you are being tested. Once you get to a point where you go, “Hey, I know what I’m doing. This is my turf. This is what I do,” your confidence can convince them to consider your proposal. You don’t see it a lot, but when you do run across a client that questions everything, you have to decide, is that someone you want to do business with and if so, what’s the best approach?


Listen to the “A Client Story – The ‘Know-It-All’ “episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform: GoogleAppleSpotify, or Stitcher.


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