I Was Wrong

What are the three hardest words to say in the English language?

Some people might think “I love you” are the three hardest words. (Especially after six months of dating, right? Scary stuff…)

But I think “I was wrong” are really the three hardest words to say.

Nobody wants to admit they were wrong. Not to themselves, not to anyone else. Three little words. Not even 10 letters! But oh-so-hard to say…

Marriages have ended because someone wouldn’t or couldn’t say “I was wrong.” Elections have been lost, wars have been fought, and empires have crumbled in the face of someone’s stubborn inability to say “I was wrong.”

So how easy do you think it is to get a prospective client to admit that they were wrong about something?

It’s not. But you need to understand, that’s often what you’re asking them to do when you ask them to move their business to you. You’re asking them to admit they were in some way “wrong” about their current accounting relationship.

The challenge is even harder when your prospect’s current client is a longtime friend or, even worse, a relative. (I remember doing a realtor seminar north of Atlanta a few years back, and getting about a third of the room to tell me they would be firing their current accountant. One particular attendee had been griping about her accountant all morning, but nevertheless didn’t raise her hand when I asked how many would be firing someone. I turned to her and said, “Why on earth would you keep your accountant after everything you’ve said about him this morning?” She turned red and said, “Because he’s my father-in-law!”)

So — how do we get our prospects to move their business to us without forcing them to say those three most difficult words in the English language?

Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes the prospect is just so angry at their current accountant that anyone new will do. (In the dating world, that’s called a “rebound” relationship, and it’s usually not a good thing — but hey, if a client is on the rebound, somebody is going to wind up with that business.)

Sometimes it’s harder. Sometimes you find a client who can really benefit from your service — you’ve put them in real pain over the mistakes and missed opportunities that are costing them thousands in tax — and for some reason or another, you just can’t push them away from their current relationship. But the door is at least open, or they wouldn’t be talking to you.

I’m going to give you two “power phrases” to use when you’re faced with this scenario, and I invite you to think what else you might say to help them make the switch.

The first is a TaxCoach “classic.” It lets you attack the bond between a prospect and their current accountant without actually attacking their current accountant personally, or questioning the client’s judgment in choosing that accountant in the first place. It’s a simple suggestion…”It looks to me like you’ve outgrown your current accountant.”

Pay attention to what I’m doing here, and what I’m not doing here. I’m making it clear that the current relationship isn’t working. But I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the current accountant, and not suggesting that the prospect was wrong to choose them in the first place. In fact, I’m actually complimenting the prospect, not attacking anyone.

The second is a little more aggressive. I’ve borrowed it from the financial services field, and some of you who offer investments might be familiar with it — or at least with the challenge it represents.

Investment advisors are frequently faced with the challenge of getting clients to sell losing positions. Problem is, nobody wants to sell and “take the loss.” That would mean admitting they made a mistake when they bought it, right? So what do they tell us? “I just want to wait for it to get back to even,” right? Even though the value is already gone whether they sell or not.

Let’s say my client bought $10,000 worth of Microsplat a year ago, and that position is now worth $8,000. I’ll say to my client: “So, you paid $10,000 for that Microsplat stock a year ago, and now it’s worth $8,000. Let me ask you, if you had $8,000 in cash right now, would you invest it in Microsplat?”

Usually, the client will say “no.” That opens the door for me to ask, “Why would you hold the stock, then, if you wouldn’t be willing to buy it?”

You can adapt that same strategy for any decision the client “makes” and then “holds” — including, of course, their choice of a professional advisor. “Mr. Prospect, I asked you a couple of weeks ago, ‘when was the last time your tax guy came to you and with an idea for saving money’ — and you said ‘never.’ Let me ask you now… if you were sitting down to pick a new accountant right now… with everything you’ve learned since we started talking… would you pick your current accountant?”

What am I doing here? Well, I’m attacking the current accountant a little more aggressively, for sure. (Sometimes that’s fun.) But I’m still not asking the prospect to admit he was wrong back when he originally picked that accountant. I’m asking him to make a hypothetical decision about today and giving him the chance to make the right choice now.

Here’s your bottom line. You need to be aware that sometimes, asking a client to give you their business means asking them to admit they were wrong the last time they decided where to put that business. Respect how difficult it is for people to admit their mistakes. Give them an easier out, and you’ll find yourself closing more business.

I started this article by asking you what are the three hardest words to say in the English language. I’ll finish by asking what are the three most beautiful words in Latin. Anyone? (Lucror vestri dignitas, of course — “Charge what you’re worth”!)