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Revolutionizing the pipeline meeting

Tips you can take to the table

Jill Winter | September 2019 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated August 29, 2019

The pipeline meeting is not uncommon to CPA firms — and the recurring meeting with leaders within the firm can take on many variations. 

But the general purpose of the pipeline meeting is for the group — however defined — to discuss opportunities, leads and prospects for the firm. It may be called a sales meeting, a business development meeting or, perhaps, it’s incorporated with other leadership meetings. Generally, the pipeline has different stages, such as an introduction/qualification, initial meeting, proposal, delivery, won/loss, etc. The pipeline meeting may be run by a partner, marketing or a segment/industry leader.

To make some generalizations, many CPAs are not natural business developers, don’t like selling and don’t like talking about themselves. So, for anyone running a pipeline meeting, it can be challenging to get attendance, participation and, ultimately, a productive meeting. Some examples of less-than-desirable interactions during a pipeline meeting include one-word responses to questions, very brief descriptions about prospects, no accountability for follow-through, and a general dislike for the meeting or the person running the meeting.

It’s time to put this to an end. Here are tips you can implement to your pipeline meeting to make it more effective for all. 

Set an agenda

Send out an agenda with specific topics for discussion, including the pipeline. It’s OK to have a standing agenda with static items. But don’t expect to bring up new topics without first updating the agenda. Many CPAs are thought-processors and need time to think about what they are going to discuss. Sending out the agenda in advance allows for the participants to mull over the topics and properly prepare for the meeting. This will make the discussion better for the participants.

Everyone participates

Make everyone participate at the beginning of the meeting. Go around the table and ask the group to talk about any business development activities. What meetings did they have with prospects? What new clients did you win? What events did they go to? Do they have new referral sources? What blogs or articles did they write? This shows that everyone contributes to the pipeline and overall growth of the firm, even if they aren’t a strong business developer. 

Getting additional work from clients, contributing to articles or blogs on the website, or talking about the firm in any setting all helps to grow the firm. By making everyone participate, everyone sees how they are contributing to the success of the firm. Make sure everyone stays on topic and the pipeline doesn’t get hijacked with other topics like internal processes or performance reviews.

Required attendance

One of the primary reasons to have a pipeline meeting is to share opportunities, leads, prospects and new clients with the group. If attendance is not required, there could be a missed connection that would make landing the next big client more difficult than it needs to be. If there are no actual repercussions for failing to attend, still track attendance so everyone knows who was in attendance.

Have a user-friendly system

Get and use a good system. One good system is a client relationship management (CRM) system. A CRM tracks conversations, leads, prospects, clients and deals. Most CRM systems have reporting features with real-time data to track new client sales, top performers, etc. The CRM can then help the firm understand trends, sales cycles, potential work overloads and help the leaders of the firm make better decisions. Examples of common CRM systems used by firms include Salesforce, HubSpot, Zoho and Microsoft Dynamics. 

A CRM system may not work for all firms. An Excel spreadsheet is also an effective way to manage a pipeline. This may require more hands-on work to get similar information, but it is still doable. The main point of a user-friendly system for the pipeline meeting is so everyone is using the same system to track business development.

Know your metrics

It’s important to track sales against the firm’s metrics. But, more specifically, you need to track new client sales, recurring client sales, new product sales for current clients and lost clients. Additional questions to consider:
  • Does the firm rely on one or two people to bring in new clients?
  • Does the firm have a wide range of business developers?
  • Are the new clients coming from specific referral sources?

Top line growth is important to all firms. Having metrics to understand how to grow your firm is vital to the firm’s continued success.

Action plan and follow up

All effective meetings require there to be action items and follow-up. Prospects moving through the stages of the pipeline need to be cultivated through the CPA’s action items. The CPA must be accountable for the follow up with the prospect to move from a qualified prospect to client. The action steps need to be identified, written down and worked on for a successful pipeline. And, don’t forget the deadline for the action step. 

Ask for help

There isn’t any reason that one person alone needs to run the pipeline meeting. Yes, one person must be ultimately responsible for the meeting, but another participant can lead the discussion points on the agenda. Or, there can be a guest speaker who talks about a business development topic to the group like tips for improving the initial meeting, how to find leads on LinkedIn or presentation skills. Because everyone is in the meeting, take advantage of this time to share tips and tricks to become more effective business developers.

Running a great pipeline meeting

If the pipeline meeting at your firm could use a refresh, consider implementing these tips. Perhaps, consider just changing one element at a time slowly with each meeting versus revamping the whole meeting.

Either way, the pipeline meeting will be revolutionized to be more productive, effective and, perhaps, a good time.

Jill Winter is the director of marketing at Froehling Anderson. She has 15 years of marketing experience in professional services industries, and is the president of the Association of Accounting Marketing — MN Chapter. You may reach her at jwinter@fa-cpa.com or 952-979-3100.