Exploitative Accounting Firm Marketing Tactics
Maybe your tax forms are starting to trickle in through the mail, maybe you have been hearing that the IRS will never contact you by phone to collect money or threaten audit, or maybe you’ve heard a certain innovative CPA firm mutter the word “taxes.” Rest assured, tax season is here.
Sundberg Tax and Accounting is different. In fact, Justin started it to make a distinct difference from other accounting firms. One area of which he is not a fan is the sales function of most accountants. As part of our mission of helping people take control of their tax situation, we thought it would be wise to tell of the three main sales tactics to make people more aware.
There are three main unacceptable ways an accountant markets toward other people. We’ll call them Fearmongering, Would’ve-Should’ve-Could’ve, and Technical (Mis)Communication. These are very technical terms, so we’ll go into each one.
Accountants know that the average person doesn’t know the tax code. In over a dozen years of working with taxes, I’ve met only two people who had a good grasp of taxes: one of them was a CFO, and the other was an ex-tax accountant. The lack of knowledge is not the problem. The problem is how knowing about the lack of knowledge is used.
Knowing that people generally don’t know the tax code, some accountants scare people with the idea that something is going to cost them thousands of dollars unless they act now.
This is the exact same technique used by phone-scammers. By creating a sense of urgency, they intentionally rush the decision-making process. As the old adage goes, “Quick decisions create regret.” I’ve seen clients make a complicated tax election that cost several hundred dollars in fees, only to find that it saved them $28 in the current year. It’s true, we would’ve suggested the same election, but we’d let that person keep their $300 until spending it actually makes sense. Why spend money now if you can just spend it later?
Generally speaking, except for some payment dates, there are very few rock-hard tax deadlines. Most big elections can be made late, and there are procedures that allow for retroactive elections in most cases.
Our position is to not scare people into working with us. If it is a huge deadline, we’re going to tell you about it in advanced. We don’t forget people. If you’re ever worried about a deadline, just shoot us an email or even a text message. We’ll give you the real story about what the rules say and about all the possibilities, not just one.
We’ve also seen fearmongering with the Trump Tax Law. Following the media’s lead, some accountants focus on only one thing. I was talking to someone about the new tax law at a networking event, and they complained that they wouldn’t get a benefit for their charitable contributions anymore. They were visibly bothered. While analyzed alone, that might be the case, but the only reason is that the standard deduction increased by over $5,000, making it irrelevant for many to itemize. What that man’s accountant never told him is that he now gets to deduct much more than his charitables.
We’d also mention that, on top of his additional federal deduction, we could get him a special Minnesota deduction for his charitables, too.
In a great world of using unknowns to invoke fear, we use that same unknown to talk about the positive. We’re not here to make you feel bad about an extra deduction, just like you don’t contribute to charities just for the tax deduction. If you want a way to lower your taxes by spending money, talk to us. If you want to donate because you’re a good person, go with that.
This is a technique that accountants use to make clients feel bad about their current accountant’s level of service.
Let’s give this one an example. Suppose a taxpayer, Mike, has worked with us for two years. Next, let’s suppose a huge tax law passed, such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Trump Tax Cuts).
Suppose Mike is single and has a W-2 job.
In a desperate attempt to get Mike’s business, another accountant insists that we should’ve talked to him about the impact of the tax law. While the other accountant likely hasn’t read the law or talked to all of his or her own clients, that doesn’t matter.
In reality, Make was not highly impacted by the tax law besides different withholding.
Maybe some accountants talked to all of their clients. We expected the tax law to pass long before it did, so we had two articles ready to go the next day, one for individuals, like Mike, and one for businesses.
Further, we later sent out an email to each of our clients telling them the general impact the law will have on their specific situation and saying that if they had questions or wanted specifics, they could feel free to talk to us. It’s not like we charge for a friendly phone call.
The last marketing technique we’ll discuss here is what we call Technical (Mis)Communication.
If you’ve ever seen a tax accountant give a presentation, it often starts off, “According to Section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code, gross income means all income from whatever source derived, unless excluded by law.”
Seriously? If you get more money, it’s income? I’m an glad someone could give you that information. You needed that foundational piece of information, and you care about the section number, right?
So many accountants communicate to impress their audience about their ‘vast knowledge’ of taxes. The problem is that going into the section numbers or the technical rules puts the audience to sleep. Section numbers and quoting the tax code are relevant primarily for accountants.
Sundberg Tax is significantly different. When we speak, we use plain language. We don’t use overly technical language, and we don’t introduce a concept with a section number (though we might add it as an aside for you note takers).
We communicate to communicate.
We’re not going to impress you by alienating you with tax jargon. We’re going to explain rules as plainly as possible. We don’t need to cite tax code section numbers to impress you: you are going to be impressed by our sheer knowledge of the subject.
Remember, accountants are good with numbers. So don’t let their nap-causing inability to communicate impress you. Start coming to events that won’t bore you (understandable, relevant, and actionable).
Different By Design
There’s a reason many of our processes were designed from the ground up. While we might get more sales by using fearmongering tactics, we believe that would be taking advantage of our technical tax knowledge. We believe it is in the best long-term interests of our clients and our firm to empower people to know their tax situation better so no one can take advantage of our clients.
We always have our clients’ best interests in mind. If a tax or life change has a large impact on our client, she or he can rest assured that we already have a plan specific to those circumstances to best address the situation.
In fact, by just watching us present about tax rules and strategies, anyone will be able to tell we’re different by our clarity of information, our positive message, and our ability to relate to the audience unlike any other accounting firm.
While our niche is small business, we help corporations, partnerships, and businesses of any size. “Small” indicates “not a public company.” The more income a business or business owner has, the more taxes we can save.
Our new business and side business clients are amazed with our results working with their business they thought was “too small” to need a CPA.
We hope that now that you are aware of the typical marketing tactics of other accountants, you are less likely to be pushed into a hasty decision. We hope you can see our firm as being different and believing that by making knowledgeable, well-informed decisions, people, and our firm, will continue to prosper together.