Replacement CSR Headed for First Place Finish!
Robert Roth, CPA in Verona, WI
Things don’t always go the way you want them to, that’s a given. This can happen with the NCI Plan 2 program. In fact, approximately 25% of the Client Service Representatives we hire for our Plan 2 clients need to be replaced within the first 60 days of the program. Knowing this, we’ve built in safety measures to help our clients replace their CSR when this situation arises. Bob Roth was one such case. His initial CSR was not working out and needed to be replaced. He worked closely with NCI to see this through and we hired a replacement by the name of Victor Romandine. As you can read in this newsletter, and several prior issues, Victor has been highest performing CSR we have hired and trained over the past year and he and Bob have had a healthy lead in our annual CSR Sales Race for the majority of the race. Read on to learn more about this incredible story and how perseverance paired with an NCI Plan 2 marketing program can generate amazing results!
Tell me a bit about your accounting and business background that lead you into owning your own accounting practice.
I was in sales for ten years and got tired of rejection. So I went back to school and finished up a degree in accounting. I had been at the University of Wisconsin during my undergraduate days and never finished a degree. I went back with a six month old child and picked up the credits I needed to get an accounting degree. From there I worked for a real estate developer for a year in accounting and then went into a CPA firm that I was with for six and a half years. I was working 110 to 130 hours a week during the tax season. I started January 2nd and worked every day until April 30th with no days off. Having young children, I got tired of that so I decided to start my own practice in 1996. We’re looking at 19 years in business this November.
That’s excellent, congratulations. How long had you been in business and what was your annual billing total when you decided to implement the NCI marketing program?
I basically bought myself a job. I was very comfortable; I paid my bills. I would have part-time seasonal preparers help me during tax season. They worked 10-12 hours a week the rest of the year. I was very comfortable but I wasn’t getting rich which wasn’t the intention at that time. Now, I’m looking towards retirement and with the stock market as flat as it’s been the past 10-15 years, my practice is my retirement account. About four years ago I bought another tax preparer’s book of business which I found through accounting practice sales. It didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped it would. Last year in February I was on the accounting practice sales website looking at accounting practices to see what else might be available for purchase. That’s when I stumbled on NCI. I searched the term “accounting practice sales” and your company website was the second search result that came back from that.
That’s one of our search terms since we broker practice sales for our clients in addition to our marketing programs. What was the overall size of your practice at that time?
We were doing about $230,000 annually.
Does that include the book of business you had recently acquired?
Yes, in all of her literature the owner indicated that she was going to be billing $100,000 the year I purchased her business. I made her an offer at $80,000, which she accepted. Within a month of the purchase, her largest client, which was worth $15,000 a year, left because the bank told them they needed a different CPA. She was not a CPA. I don’t know if she knew they were leaving or not at the time of purchase. Their bank convinced them to go with a large CPA firm in Milwaukee.
Despite the fact that you had taken over and you are a CPA?
Yes, and I had met with them and started doing their payrolls. We had discussions. So shortly after purchasing I lost $15,000 right off the top.
That’s one of the many pitfalls of buying a practice.
Yeah, everyone looks at gross billings or gross billings plus 10%. I bought at 80% of perceived value and probably ended up with 50% of perceived value in the end.
I’m guessing that played into your decision to utilize the NCI marketing program.
Yes, and another reason the decision was easy to make, about seven years ago, I lost a client who told me a salesperson had come to see him and told him that he could get all the things I was providing on a monthly basis for less money than I was charging. A light bulb went off after that. So I had lost that client to a CPA firm that was using the NCI marketing program. So the concept wasn’t foreign to me. As I’m looking through all your information on the NCI website, it clicked for me that the client I lost seven years ago was to an NCI program client. So I didn’t look at it as, “that will never work.”
That can definitely be a hurdle for some of our prospective clients because it’s often an alien concept to them at first. I think we covered some of the reasons you decided to use the NCI program, you wanted to build the practice up to prepare for retirement, you had experienced losing a client to an NCI program and you had been burned by the practice sale you mentioned. Were there any other deciding factors to undertake the NCI marketing program?
After I found the website I called your 800 number to speak with a sales representative and started discussion, and everything I heard was logical, everything made sense. When I looked at your two year projections of income and expense for the Plan 2 program, being a CPA, I cut the revenue numbers in half and it’s still profitable! You still make money. Then when I looked at the fee to do the program and I compared that to what I had paid to acquire the practice I had recently bought. Plus buying a practice is a crapshoot, when you buy a practice, are you going to retain the client base? Will you lose 50% of them? You don’t know what will happen. Your program is a flat fee, you know what it costs up front and when you look at the projections and the numbers it becomes, “I can spend $30,000 and they’re guaranteeing me $300,000. Whereas with buying a practice, I could spend $100,000 and only end up with $50,000 worth of business from that deal in the end.”
When you look at it that way it’s a no brainer. Who would turn down a $300,000+ annually recurring return on an initial investment of $30,000? Of course there will be skepticism over a claim like that but looking at the numbers it’s a great deal.
I would probably have been more skeptical if I was not aware of a situation where I had lost a client to your system. When it happened to me, I thought, “How can they do that? They’re charging them less than I charge, they have to be paying the sales person, it just doesn’t make sense.” But then when I looked at the program and realized how the fee setting worked and how I was going to make money on that client, it made sense.
What was your major concern before signing up for the program?
I really didn’t have any concerns because I had seen it work. I had readjusted your budget numbers and they work.
When did you start your program?
We started the week after April 15th last year, so it’s been almost exactly a year in the program.
How much new business have you added via the marketing program?
We’ve grown by about 60% from this time last year. Prior to the NCI program the practice was growing at between 5%-10% of annual revenue each year.
Todd mentioned to me that your current CSR was not the CSR we hired during the recruiting week of the program, can you tell me what happened with that situation?
NCI comes in, they do all the interviewing. We hired two appointment setters and a CSR. NCI leaves, the appointment setters were trained and they come in and start calling. Monday morning my first appointment setter is supposed to be there and he’s a no-show and he didn’t call with an excuse or explanation. So I speak with Todd and he tells me that when Bob comes back in a week to train my CSR, he’ll hire and train a replacement appointment setter as well and we’ll go from there. During the interviewing process, Bob only had five interviews scheduled for the CSR position and three showed up. One called back after the first interview and said they were not interested in the position. So we have two candidates left and we select the better of the two, which doesn’t necessarily mean we have a good candidate.
With hindsight, if I were in that position again I probably wouldn’t hire either one of them and we’d redo the recruiting. So we hire the better of the two. Bob comes back and does a week of field training with her and they sign one client during field training. She doesn’t have a whole lot of sales experience and what she does have is mostly experience with inside sales on the phone. So again, not the greatest candidate. Bob hires a new appointment setter during training week. Things are moving but not as quickly as I like. She’s going out on appointments and getting a lot of no-shows on the appointments. I’m thinking, “This doesn’t sound right.” So things aren’t going well, we replace another appointment setter and finally get a couple appointment setters who are starting to do good work but the CSR isn’t closing. Now she’s been here 60 days and she’s made two sales. During this period of time I’m on the phone regularly with Todd which is a great benefit and he’s a great help. I’m asking him, “Should we keep going? Should we terminate? What are we going to do?” NCI has the 60 day guarantee on the CSR and we’re closing in on that date. So I ask Todd to give me his best advice and we decide to terminate the CSR. It’s just not happening. It’s a numbers game, and she had actually terminated an appointment setter using that same principle. So then I had to call her in to my office a week later and have the same conversation with her.
Now I’m a week away from a vacation and we terminate the CSR. Again I’m in constant contact with Todd to make sure we have everything in line. At that point in time I have one appointment setter and no CSR. We ended up keeping the appointment setter, which was Mike, my appointment setter who is blind and who still works for me. So I ended up going out on some of the appointments in the interim and that sealed it for me that this program works. When you go out and follow the program and are able to sign up clients you realize that yes, it works. So now it’s time to hire a new CSR and Todd and I are working closely on that. We get down to a point where we have three candidates in the running and you go through the process and almost offer one of them the position and they say, “I’m no longer interested, I’m going to stay in my current job.” That’s really frustrating. So now we have two really good candidates, Victor being one and the other was an older gentleman. So it’s a question of who to choose and I think both of them would have done a great job so I relied on Todd’s expertise. I asked him who he would hire and the decision was made to hire Victor Romandine. Todd influenced that decision quite a bit and I’m very happy with that.
I can see why, you and Victor have been enjoying a healthy lead in our annual CSR sales race. That’s excellent. Hats off to Todd for a job well done and to you for having the perseverance to get through a false start in the program.
I do job searches for my clients also and when I go to do one I’m up front with the client. I tell them they may burn through ten employees before they find the right one.
Exactly, hiring is not an exact science, especially when it comes to salespeople and appointment setters who need to produce consistently to justify keeping them on the payroll. We’ve talked about the challenges you overcame early in the program, what has been the biggest challenge in running the program since then?
I would say staffing. I’ve hired accountants for seasonal tax work before. This year I hired someone full-time starting the first of January thinking that’s going to take care of us. That person was more of a tax preparer than a bookkeeper. The program is definitely intensive with bookkeeping work and hiring bookkeepers to help with that. So that would be the biggest challenge, hiring good bookkeepers.
Another challenge has been pricing. Figuring out some of the pricing has been difficult, like where to place the monthly minimum and pricing and collecting back work. It’s hard to get the prospect to see the benefit of doing the back work.
The irony is that if the back work doesn’t get done they will never get their accounting in order. I know you recently purchased our Advanced Processing home-study kit to help with the bookkeeper issue. Have you had a chance to review that seminar yet?
I haven’t had a chance to go through it yet.
Well make it a priority because that should definitely help out with your biggest challenge, finding, training and compensating high quality bookkeepers is a big focus of that program.
One thing that will be a challenge from an accountant’s standpoint in that program is, a commission bookkeeper? That’s just not how it’s done in the accounting world.
That’s the whole point! Good bookkeepers can be hard to find and when you do find them you want to reward them accordingly for the good work they do. Plus, that commission is tied to their productivity so they don’t make any extra income unless they do additional work above and beyond the expected average.
That’s another thing that when I do job searches for my clients, salespeople are very money-motivated. That’s something I’d think you would need to be careful of when hiring bookkeepers under that model is that you have bookkeepers who are money-motivated.
I think we’re all money-motivated to some extent but you’re right, you need people who will really respond to that incentive. In sales, you need people who are motivated and generally don’t need much supervision or oversight and they definitely have to be motivated by sales commissions.
That’s where I failed as a salesperson. I wasn’t money motivated, I just wanted enough money to pay my bills. I wasn’t a great salesperson due to that.
It’s funny to hear you say that because I experienced something similar. I worked in sales here for a number of years and I had the same struggle, I’m not particularly money-motivated either and that can really hold you back in that role. You have to be hungry for it.
If I paid my bills by the 15th of the month, I didn’t work real hard the next 15 days.
It takes a specific type of person to be a successful sales rep. It takes a certain personality and certain drive and not everyone has that.
That was one of the things I was focused on during recruiting. When we interviewed the first CSR, my question to her was, if I put an extra $5,000 a month in your pocket, what will you do with it? Her answer was, “if I get to that point…” and right then I had the idea that she might not be the right person for the position. If you’re a confident, money-motivated person you should have an answer for that question and you should know that you’re going to get there if I’m telling you that you can get there. I want to hear that you’ll buy a boat or a new car or something. If they already know how they want to spend that money, they’re the right person.
You want someone who is already visualizing themselves as successful in the position. We might need to incorporate that question into our recruiting process, it’s interesting.
There are truly money motivated people and there are people who just want to pay the bills. That was the old me though, now I’m planning for retirement, so we’re money-motivated now!
What advice would you give to someone considering the NCI program?
I would definitely tell them to do it. The service and what NCI gives you is unmatched. Coming out to your office, doing all the hiring and training for you. Lining you up with Indeed.com, lining you up with lead sources and those types of things. The service is all there, it’s a turn-key operation.
As far as I know, there really isn’t anyone else offering that kind of service in the accounting industry, other than us, anymore.
Yeah, and it’s just not something that accountants do. We don’t hire salespeople. We get by on referrals and word of mouth. We look at going out and buying someone else’s practice. Those types of things.
Right and it’s typically a seller’s market so you often pay a premium for someone else’s clients and sometimes for someone else’s problems, whereas if you build a program organically with the NCI marketing approach, you end up paying around 50 cents on the dollar compared to buying one.
The advice when looking at purchasing the program is to use everything NCI has available for you. Review the material they give you, like the projections.
What advice would you give to someone currently running the program?
Similarly, use all the resources and support available to you at NCI. Todd was great, the first CSR doesn’t work out, now what? You don’t give up, you use what’s available to you. Now I do very little on the marketing side of things. Victor does it all. I don’t need to coach or train him, it’s his baby.
Victor’s doing a heck of a job.
Even with Lindsey, my first CSR, I was pretty hands off. I had Todd or Bob work with her. Things weren’t going good so I let Todd and Bob know that they needed to handle it. I wasn’t out helping her or retraining her in sales.
We offer unlimited support, and we tell our clients to offer that as well. We practice what we preach. So let’s talk some numbers, which accountants obviously appreciate and understand. What is the largest client you’ve signed through the program in terms of annualized billing?
Annual revenue from that company is going to be around $7,500. The largest dollar volume that the client is doing that we’ve signed is around $500,000. They’re paying us about $500 a month plus tax work at the end of the year.
What are some of the larger back work amounts that Victor has collected thus far?
I think the largest has been $2,000 in back work, that’s the discounted amount and we spread it out over four payments for the client.
Have you been surprised with the success of the program?
I don’t know that I’m surprised. I’m happy, very happy. When I look at your projections and factor in the false start with Lindsey then Victor coming in to replace her around mid-August, now we’re four months off on the projections. If I remove those first four months, then we’re right where we’re supposed to be with your projection. Currently, we’ve signed 63 new clients over the past year (61 of those coming in the last eight months) and we only lost one. That’s not what my projections show!
That’s a great retention rate. In the NCI projections we build in a 15% attrition rate.
For my version of the projections I used 10%, so I figured I’d get around 8 clients a month but lose one each month as well. Instead, I lost one all year and that was a company that went out of business so it had nothing to with the service being provided.
That’s even better! Can you sum up your overall feelings on NCI, our marketing program and our sales and support staff?
I’m 100% all for it. You have the program and you know what you’re doing. It’s pretty much hands off. I made the phone call and I wrote the check and NCI took over and have generated 63 new clients for me in a year.
That’s great, we really appreciate the kind words. We’re always very happy when we can take a program that gets off on the wrong foot and get it to where it needs to be. That’s always our goal and we’re very happy to be able to feature you and other clients like you, as a success story.
Looking at the program and looking at the documentation, I wasn’t concerned when I knew I had to replace a CSR. It didn’t concern me because NCI said they’d stand behind the program in that event.
It’s something we deal with fairly frequently. Of course we always do everything in our power to avoid that, no one wants to have to deal with that and we don’t want it to happen to our clients but it’s the reality of the situation. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with our readers and good luck to you and Victor with keeping your lead and winning the CSR Sales race!
Chris Clark is the oldest son of New Clients Inc. founder and CEO Bruce Clark. He has worked as a Senior Account Executive at NCI for the past four years. During that time he has presented at the Practice Development Seminar on Internet and E-mail marketing and he also plays the prospective client during the seminar role play sessions. Chris also edits and contributes to the NCI newsletter, New Client News.