1100 SE 17th Street | Ft. Lauferdale, Fl 33316
Room block of $246 per night.
Lawrence M. Lawler, CPA, EA, CTRS, NTPI Fellow
Everyone at ASTPS wishes all of our members, friends, associates, professional colleagues a happy and safe Thanksgiving Day. We all have much to be thankful for every day of the year. Let’s take today to stop and realize how blessed we are to live in this great country. God Bless You All.
This is the third in a series of posts following the thread of closing sales for tax problem resolution practitioners. Background on the series can be found in Essential Elements 1; the first post in this series.
In the last post I discussed setting the stage in a manner that ensures the prospective client is quickly and fully convinced they are in the right place; a place that specializes in solving tax problems.
This post concerns another step you can take prior to meeting a prospect that primes them to hire you without any lame excuses, like the ‘go home and think about it” excuse.
Buyers are comforted by the perception that a practitioner has a system already thought out, designed, and implemented for the express purpose of dealing with the type of problem they face. Therefore, the prospect must experience your system from the moment they arrive at your firm.
The first evidence of a system is that the prospect is greeted as an expected (and welcome) guest. If it is their first visit to your office, there are steps to be completed. First, they are asked to complete a pre-interview form that requests their name, address, date of birth, and other personal information including a brief description of the problem that needs to be resolved.
Upon completion of the pre-interview form, they are asked to have a seat while the Administrative Assistant sets up their file in preparation for their scheduled interview. Of course this will take a few minutes that affords the prospect time to watch the tax problem resolution video, read some of the testimonials, and notice your credentials displayed in the waiting area.
The Administrative Assistant then informs the prospect that the appropriate entries have been made and that the file is immediately being given to the practitioner and the prospect will be invited in momentarily.
The practitioner quickly reviews the pre-interview data to gain an impression of the prospect and the tax problem. Then, without delay, requests the prospect be shown in to the practitioners office.
The interview commences with the practitioners full attention being on the prospect. The next Essential Elements post will discuss recommended interview steps.
This is the second in a series of posts following the thread of closing sales for tax problem resolution practitioners. Background on the series can be found in Essential Elements 1; the first post in this series.
Closing a sale starts before the first time a prospect arrives in your office. Like live theater, the stage must be set, the props in place, and the actors rehearsed and ready to go. Setting the stage for closing a sale is simple, yet essential to raising the odds of closing a sale.
Outside the theater is a marquee proclaiming the production on stage. In addition to informing passers-by of the current offering; it lets the theater-goer know they are in the right place before they even enter. If your location permits, your outside signage should perform the same tasks, particularly letting them know they are in the right place to have their tax problem resolved.
Even more important is your waiting room because you have total control over the setting and the impression prospects get when they enter the scene. You likely have the various framed credentials hung in plain sight, but there are other confirmations of your expertise that will serve to create the tax problem resolution aura you want to project.
First, assemble a loose-leaf notebook of testimonials from satisfied clients. This is a powerful persuader as the prospect will perceive a lower risk if they see that other have been pleased with your services. Title the book something like: “What Our Clients Think of Us.” If you do not have enough testimonials (yet) to make a book, just laminate those you have, set them out, and get busy requesting them from clients as you successfully complete cases.
Next, create a video on tax problem resolution to run in the waiting room. A custom video on tax problem resolution can be created in PowerPoint and saved as a movie file to be run on a continuous loop. Besides your computer with the PowerPoint software, all that is needed is an inexpensive ($40) DVD player with a small television ($130) to show the video in your waiting room. If you do not want to invest the time to create the video, you can purchase one customized for you from ASTPS.
If you have authored articles, have them dry mounted and framed to grace waiting area walls. If you don’t have articles, invest some effort and write a couple and submit them to local newspapers. Not a writer? Find a ghost writer and you can still get it done. No excuses allowed. Published articles enhance your credibility as an expert in the field.
Press releases are a simple, yet effective, credential enhancers. A few lines on a new tax rule, an announcement of attending a training session, the hiring of a staff person; press release topics are endless. Print media need to fill space in their publications day after day and will publish most press releases submitted. Once you have them place them on the copier, enlarge their size, and make some marginal notes of where and when they appeared. Laminate them and put them in your “Us in the News” loose leaf notebook.
Even print ads that you have run can be used much like the articles and press releases. Or if you only have a few mount them on a small stand-up sign on the front desk where clients and prospects check in upon arrival.
One final stage prop might be an award you have earned from a professional organization or group. It will be best used being displayed in the waiting room, but some practitioners have said they want them displayed in their own office. Not a problem, simply have someone take a picture of you holding the award, label the picture, frame it and put the picture in the waiting area. The label might be an engraved plastic or brass plate reading, for example: “A Proud Day for James Smith, CPA” or “James Smith, CPA Receives the Chamber of Commerce Business Leader Award.”
Once you have the stage properly set, closing the sale is almost a matter of just not messing it up. The prospect came to you with a desire to hire someone to solve his tax problem, make it happen.
The next Essential Elements will be number 3 and will focus on the importance of having a system and selling it to your prospects.
When I teach the ASTPS Sales, Marketing, and Management Seminar I often mention that I win the engagement from nearly every prospective client who sits before my desk. Not only that, the few that do not engage or firm are those that I really don’t want. This isn’t a bragging or boastful ego pump to make myself feel special. It’s a fact that is intended to get the attention of my audience. I want them to listen because I have spent the last forty years as chief salesman for our firm and without sales firms wither and die. The art of closing, which is what I am really talking about, is a skill that anyone can learn. Yet, I find that each week I have a conversation with one or another of our ASTPS members who has a low closing ratio between interviews with prospective clients (prospects) and new clients engaged.
Once the prospect is in your office, you must close the sale or watch your investment in marketing walk out the door. Marketing is the discipline needed to bring the prospect to you. Selling is the discipline needed to generate revenue.
This Tax Splash posting is the first in a series of short articles that I am posting on how to achieve the same results I get year after year. There is no magic, but understanding what it takes to succeed in sales is critical. Everyone will have their own style, but the basics must be understood and applied. I will relate specific planning, procedures, and techniques that I use, but real success will only come when you have the requisite understanding that they are based on the essential elements of selling.
You can read any of the thousands of books on sales and selling, but they leave you to interpret and apply their concepts to your tax problem resolution practice. I believe such reading can only benefit your efforts and encourage you to do so. However, if I can provide some insight beyond the “what to do” of so many books by adding the “how to do” perspective the blog will become a useful tool for ASTPS members I want to help. Readers’ comments and opinions are welcome. You may agree or disagree, no problem, as long as it is kept civil.
To make the article tread consistent: I will title each post in the series Essential Elements followed by a descriptive title and a series number. This format will allow you to locate the posts easily on Tax Splash. For example, this post is Essential Elements: 1 Closing Sales. The second post will be titled Essential Elements: 2 Setting the Stage, the third post will be Essential Elements: 3 Having a System, and the fourth post will be Essential Elements: 4 Baby Steps to Yes.
After number 4 I will assess the response, I hope you find the effort helpful. If you do, let me know – it will only encourage me to continue writing on salesmanship topics!
IR-2013-84, Oct. 31, 2013
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.
Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
“This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country. We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail
Other characteristics of this scam include:
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:
Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to email@example.com.
More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.
The source of this posting is the IRS website:
e-News for Tax Professionals <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ASTPS offers webinars on tax problem resolution topics. The webinars are approved for Continuing Professional Education credit for CPAs and EAs. Additionally, attorneys may submit their certificate of completion to their State Bar Associations and request continuing credit for their attendance.
To date, any interested party could log in to the webinars, but only ASTPS members were awarded continuing professional education (CPE) credit for attending. The purpose of this open approach has been to allow interested professionals the opportunity to sample the quality and content of the webinars. Over 200 persons registered and attended from the convenience of their office or home.
Commencing with the next webinar, access to the webinars will be limited to ASTPS members in good standing. The webinars will remain a no-cost benefit of membership and CPE will continue to be awarded. Based on the average cost of CPE credits this benefit alone makes your annual dues a real bargain. We will continue to offer eight CPE qualified topics per year specifically related to tax problem resolution.
ASTPS will notify our entire database of the upcoming offerings and those wishing to attend will register in the normal fashion. Anyone wishing to attend who is not a member in good standing may join ASTPS and gain access and CPE credit. ASTPS Membership applications must be submitted 48 hours before the webinar to allow time for administrative staff to process applications.
ASTPS will continue to schedule the country’s leading tax problem resolution practitioners to present on-point webinars on important and current topics. There is no other source to acquire comparable quality content regardless of price, let alone as a free membership benefit.
Watch this short video, and see why you can’t miss Boot Camp. Only two cities left in November 2013.
See additional details and registration information HERE
The last best practices posting on marketing and advertising was essentially excerpts from Circular 230. Today, I will be more original and practical by describing some of the other items that ASTPS considers best practices. Keep in mind that ASTPS is determined to remain the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for the tax problem resolution industry. Members should be cognizant of these industry problems and report any violations they encounter.
IRS Look-like Notices
One of the most onerous violations involves direct mail pieces that imitate actual IRS notices. There is not a week that passes without some of these ersatz (phony) notices being forwarded to ASTPS. As recently as yesterday a member presented one from PTR in Encino, CA. It turns out that PTR stands for Perfect Tax Relief and their screener claims they are “tax masters.” I’m not so sure it makes sense to refer to yourself as “tax masters” based on the reputation for consumer abuses that the Tax Masters firm of Patrick Cox earned in the recent past.
An aggregator is a firm that claims to secure engagements for professionals who will in turn assume responsibility for providing the services negotiated by the aggregator. The business models vary, but the common thread involves the aggregator marketing for tax problem resolution cases, collecting the fee from the troubled taxpayer, and paying over a (usually small) portion of the fee to the professional. Generally, the aggregator is unlicensed and has no credential for performing representation before the IRS. If they have issues with their business practices, they form a new corporation and go right back to the same practices. Their licensed practitioner/associate may find they cannot dispense with the problem so easily. A serious issue with most of these models is the lack of control on the claims, statements, and promises the aggregator makes to secure the engagement. Once the engagement is secured and payment is collected, the practitioner is expected to deliver the sometimes impossible outcome promised by the aggregator. When the outcome isn’t delivered and complaints are filed it’s the practitioner who has to face the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility. If the aggregator has too many problems – it’s simply time for a new name and the next round of consumer abuse.
Circular 230 does not prohibit contingent fees in certain types of engagements. However, it is apparent that the IRS generally frowns on them. If a practitioner is inclined to charge a fee on a contingent basis, the engagement cannot be for the filing of an original return and should only involve a service that the IRS is likely to review. ASTPS recommends clearly stated engagement letters for most tax problem resolution cases, but in the instance of contingent fees, the standard even higher. The engagement letter should clearly describe the fee to be charged and provide a sample of such calculation.
Disclosure in Marketing
Direct mail, email, website, and all other forms of marketing for tax problem resolution cases should disclose the website of the firm. The website should disclose the location of practitioner office(s), phone number(s) of the firm, the credentials of the practitioners, principles of the firm, predecessor and affiliated firms, and other names used by the firm, if any.
ASTPS recommends practitioners maintain regular contact with tax problem resolution clients. The most common complaint involves the taxpayer feeling that his representative has been non-responsive. It often takes but a five minute phone call to assure the client that their matter is being handled. The IRS cannot be hurried; nonetheless, practitioners often take the heat for the protracted time to handle a tax problem resolution case when it’s the IRS who has caused it. Practitioners should provide regular updates, even when it’s simply to say the IRS has not responded as yet.
Members are invited to offer more topics to be included in the ASTPS best practices. Simply post your comments on the blog or email the office with your suggestions. You can contribute to raising the public perception of the tax problem resolution industry.
Circular 230 offers advertising and marketing best practice rules and guidelines for those who practice before the IRS. Regardless of your credential as a CPA, EA, or attorney, you should be familiar with these guidelines. The sole exception being the firm that does no advertising or marketing. If that is you, we will address your needs and why marketing is important in a separate posting. Read the following excerpts from the Circular 230, then over the next day or two I will post some additional best practice recommendations from ASTPS. Here’s a few selected excerpts from the Circular 230:
Section 10.30 of Circ. 230 sets forth rules and guidelines for solicitation, advertising, communications and improper associations. Under §10.30(a)(1), a practitioner may not, with respect to any IRS matter, in any way use or participate in the use of any form of public communication or private solicitation containing a false, fraudulent, or coercive statement or claim; or a misleading or deceptive statement or claim.
The rule further provides that any lawful solicitation made by or on behalf of the representative must clearly identify the solicitation as a solicitation. In addition, the source of the information used in choosing the recipient must be identified, if applicable.
The rules also allow a representative to disseminate fee information concerning fixed fees for specific routine services, hourly rates, range of fees for particular services, and fees charged for an initial consultation. If desired, a representative also may publish the availability of a written schedule of fees. Any statement of fee information concerning matters in which costs may be incurred must include a statement disclosing whether clients will be responsible for such costs. Circular 230 §10.30(b)(2) binds a representative to charge the fee for at least 30 days after the last publication of the fee information.
Under Circ. 230 §10.30(c), practitioners may communicate through the use of professional lists, telephone directories, print media, mailings, electronic mail, facsimile, hand-delivered flyers, radio, television, and any other method. The method chosen cannot cause the communication to become untruthful, deceptive, or otherwise violative of Circular 230, however. Circular 230 §10.30(c) provides that a violation exists, for example, if a practitioner persists in attempting to contact a prospective client after the prospective client has made it known that he does not want to be solicited.
Where radio or television is used, Circ. 230 §10.30(c) requires a practitioner to retain a recording of the actual transmission. In the case of direct mail and e-commerce communications, a practitioner must retain a copy of the actual mailing, along with a list or other description of persons to whom such communication was distributed. Copies of broadcasts or mailings must be retained by a practitioner for at least 36 months from the date of the last transmission or use.
A representative may not, according to Circ. 230 §10.30(d), in matters related to the IRS, assist or accept assistance from a person or entity who, to the representative’s knowledge, obtains clients or otherwise practices in a manner forbidden under these advertising and solicitation rules.