Some buying situations take longer than others.
How do you gain the advantage when the client is taking their time – and talking to others?
It’s a fact - most CPAs are less than great at taking the sale from interview to actual closure (getting the client in a competitive situation).
And let’s be clear – most CPAs do not engage in selling, they take orders. I did the "I-Hate-Selling" program for a middle-sized firm in PA, and the managing partner was candid: "Until the recession hit, we thought we were great marketers. We had so much new work; but we were merely taking orders. The client wanted this, some of that. Then the economy died and we found out how good we really were."
When CPAs do have to compete against others, the chances are at least 75% they will fail (the average closure to a multiple selling situation based on 4 firms invited to propose). How do I know? I have consulted with over 500 CPA firms.
Perhaps the real problem is not how long the competitive sale is taking, but also, is it worth it?
Selling is the greatest skill in the business world. Just ask Mitt Romney.
In the real world (not public accounting), who’s laid off last? The accountants? No - the people who go last are the ones hardest to replace: those folks hustling up business - the really good salespeople.
Do you think when one of the Big 4 announces mass “downsizings” they are firing the people who actively bring in quality business? No…they fire the technicians who they can train and replace.
Great salespeople are never downsized. My grandfather, Bernie Fast, of blessed memory, supported his family well during the Great Depression; he managed the largest furniture store in a chain. And he could sell.
One of the biggest mistakes CPAs, and all professionals for that matter, make is pursuing people who weren't sellable in the first place, and they didn't know it. Similar to that is pursuing people who really shouldn't be a client, except the CPA never really figured that out until a lot of time was invested (and wasted) in the sales process.
That's the real value of The "I-Hate-Selling" Book: it is the only book we can find that tells you precisely when the client is sold 90% of the time...or if it is really not likely to close after all.
If you are convinced that you have a really good chance to close an important client opportunity, then we can look at some strategies to "keep it going and move it along to closure":
1. “He who has the most contact wins”
A client recently lost a top recruit because after the final interview she received personal notes, emails, calls from an assortment of her peers at the firm that was also wooing her. She felt wanted. My client just let her be from the time of the final interviews until they lost. D'Oh!
I don't care how you stay in front of the people you are wooing...
- Send an article
- Write thank you notes
- Send an email suggesting that they look at a certain website
- Link them in
You don't' want to be a nuisance, but you somehow have to show you care about them versus the enemy.
2. Get in there and infect their premises
It's always a good idea to go back to the client's premises after your final meeting to meet more of their people and get a better idea as to what is going on so you can hit the ground running when they hire you.
Your competition won't think of it and chances are you can have lunch with your contact or the decisionmaker, or both, to give them some input as to what you see.
3. Give some more thought to their hurt and your solution
Perhaps you have some further insight into your solution or an alternative way to approach their situation. That's always a good idea to get in front of them and your competition won't think of it
4. Talk to your internal coach
You should have acquired an inside friend who will be telling you what is going on inside.
Stay in close contact; they have an investment in seeing you succeed. Follow their advice and ask them for suggestions...it gives them ownership of the sale.
5. Make sure the client is making the right decision…
Perhaps you have done some research, or talked to the client or a referral source of theirs, and you have discovered some problems as it relates to a competitor.
Example: you see that a competing firm has just laid off a bunch of people...will they still have enough manpower to do the job?
6. And, of course, never leave an appointment without the next appointment.
Are they committed enough to continue to set solid dates to check up on them? No, I’m not talking about the “call me in a couple of weeks” stuff. You and the client should be talking at regularly scheduled intervals – until they make a decision.
Lastly, please remember that nobody sells everybody; give yourself a break. There was only one perfect man that walked this earth.
Allan S. Boress, CPA, FCPA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development process for CPAs. He has consulted with over 500 professional firm and trained over 200,000 professionals since 1980. His "I-Hate-Selling" methodology is available at www.ihateselling.com