Leveraging busy season discussions to nurture relationships

By: Terri M. Sommella, President, Sommella Market Strategies

This time of year, accountants spend many hours a day talking to clients, prospects and referral sources. Did you know that busy season discussions can be leveraged to enhance your effectiveness as an advisor and nurture existing relationships? By incorporating a few open-ended questions into busy season conversations, you can elevate the value of the dialog.

Open-ended questions usually begin with newspaper reporter's questions: Who, what, when, where, and why. Unless the discussions are consciously influenced, however, most of us will speak conversationally, asking closed-ended questions, those that elicit a "yes," or "no" answer, without thinking about it. The problem with closed-ended questions is that you may get an answer that you don't like. The answer "no," becomes a "position" which the contact will then have to defend. A closed-ended question is also more likely to elicit a dishonest response. Open-ended questions allow you to draw out the contact and identify key issues.

For example, if you are in a Tax specialty and are introduced to a new contact, the natural inclination is to think, "Does this person need my Tax work?" Instead, purposefully influence the discussion to identify the contact's goal. What problems are affecting the contact now? What has been tried before? What obstacles must be overcome? What is the desired outcome? Who would be the best person to help? Studies show that the best negotiators only talk 40% of the time. Also, don't be afraid to use a 10-second Silence as a tool in your investigative discussions.

As the client or referral source begins to discuss the issues, you are likely to find that the problem requires someone else's services. That's fine. After all, to reach your financial goal, you only need to win two or three engagements a year of the targeted size. You don't need to "sell" every contact you meet.

Rather, influence the value of the discussions by helping the client, prospect or referral source to open up. In this way you can leverage your heightened visibility during busy season to position yourself as a trusted adviser and the source for every solution.

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