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Vikram Rajan

The Importance of In-Take Forms

How not asking for the correct information can hinder company growth.

August 15, 2011
by Vikram Rajan

Do you insist on a standard in-take form, making it mandatory for anyone entering your office to fill them out? If you answered “Yes”, then skip the second paragraph. If you answered, “No,” then perhaps you’re onto something.

When visitors walk through your door they may not be clients yet, and many may not want to be presumed as clients or even prospects. By simply omitting the word client on your in-take form, you can avoid this entanglement altogether.

Visitors may just have a question or may be embroiled in an urgent crisis that needs your immediate attention, for which they can’t spare a minute with your pesky forms! Alternately, a visitor can just be a peer, a colleague or a referral source. Perhaps the person visiting is someone you respect highly or already know them … in such cases, is it necessary to have them fill an in-take form? Skipping the form by excusing your receptionist, assistant or yourself are mere justifications of poor habits like, “I had to run for the train this morning, so it’s OK for me to eat this donut.”

Benefits of In-Take Forms

Skipping the in-take form can hurt your marketing in the short term and in the long run. Why? Because it is a vital step for gathering data in an efficient way that may take hours of conversation to elicit. It also shows how organized your firm is and what you value.

If you value one-on-one time, you may want to make your in-take form interactive, by getting rid off the clipboard altogether. When visitors/clients visit, take the time to explain how and why you have made your in-take form part of your practice. Divulge how disorganized and incomplete your practice was without a standard in-take process. Reveal how clients (and colleagues) benefit: The insight you gain leads to productive conversation and advice.

Use an iPad (or another tablet) and capture the data electronically. This helps to sync all the information that you gather directly into your customer relationship management (CRM) database. Keep such a form on your website (instead of a PDF) also works wonders. You can easily tailor different in-take forms for each type of visitor (type of client, colleague, etc.) as this shows the precision of your practice.

While your in-take form may be gathering the basic information, such as contact info, Social Security numbers/Employer Identification numbers, spouse/partner info, they may be in need of updating. Are you missing any modern vitals? I still come across practices that fail to ask for e-mail addresses and cell numbers. Ask your visitors their preferred method of contact and how often they would like to be contacted. Inquire whether they want to receive reminders (about relevant dates) and updates (on taxes and relevant subjects). Would they like to interact through any social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Remember to also ask if they visited your website and read your articles as well as who recommended them to you (referral source).

Other Queries for Your In-Take Form

Does your in-take form ask about the other professionals with whom your visitors work, such as their bookkeeper, financial planner, attorneys and other (past/current) accountants? You can also ask questions about their accounting software (QuickBooks, Peachtree, ACCPACC, Quicken or have them list others not listed on your form), banking information and income. All these questions can be asked on a form or done interactively on a tablet.

Your in-take form should also list all of your areas of practice. Make sure to ask them whether they have any questions in those areas. When was the last time they addressed each of the areas in which you practice. Don’t just ask if they want your help or other yes/no questions. If it’s not urgent, we tend not to seek advice. Ask if they if they know anybody who may have questions or troubles in your areas of practice as these may be potential referrals.

Finally, your comprehensive in-take form should inquire into their character traits, values, and hobbies:

  • How organized and detail-oriented do you rate yourself?
  • Do you sit on the Boards of any organizations?
  • Do you volunteer your time?

Depending on your passions, what are their favorite pastimes, sports teams, golf courses, restaurants, wines, etc. This builds immediate rapport, and comes in handy during birthdays and holidays.

Conclusion

This is not an exhaustive checklist, rather a memory jogger and a brainstorming tool. The In-Take Form is the one of first ways you distinguish your firm. Its data are the ingredients to fruitful relationships and referrals.

Such a comprehensive in-take form can take some time for your visitors to fill out. While, it is their choice in what to answer, bottom line is this: if you don’t ask, you won’t get an answer! After all, your initial conversation is one big in-take interview. You can choose to document it on a standard form or in some other organized way. Ideally, using an iPad or a tablet not only brings novelty to a dry process, but also helps computerize data often lost in a filing cabinet.

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Vikram Rajan is the founder of phoneBlogger.net, which ghostwrites your blog articles, LinkedIn and newsletters for you, through a series of phone interviews. His PracticeMarketingBlog.com receives over 100 hits a day. He taught webinars for AICPA and has been published by the Journal of Accountancy.

© 2011