Tips for that first call to a prospective client

Making that good first impression on a prospective client usually begins with a phone call, when in a few minutes you must identify yourself, show interest in the prospect's business and make an effort to establish rapport.

Thank the potential client for taking the call and identify yourself, briefly, telling him or her whether you are making a call through a referral or as a follow up to an introduction at a business or social event. State the purpose of the call in few sentences and make an effort to engage the potential client in a dialogue about what he or she needs from a professional accounting firm.

Giving a slightly ambiguous message that encourages the prospect to ask questions can help to get the dialogue going, said Mark Fortune, a business developer with the Framingham, MA-based Wellesley Hills Group, in an article in the Arizona Republic. As you make an effort to answer the questions, you are also building trust and rapport.

Fortune also suggests that the caller:

  • Be yourself. Avoid the canned message, especially in service-type businesses; where you are looking to build long-term relationships, you benefit by being authentic.

  • Prepare a professional message that is free of industry buzzwords, jargon and clichés.

  • Remember that the call is about what's right for the client - about learning his needs. Don't focus on the "close."

  • Always suggest some kind of follow up - another call or a meeting - before hanging up.

  • If the call goes to voicemail, be prepared to leave your name, number, and a brief message about the purpose of your call. Make sure to give your callback number at both the beginning and end of the message.

    Your questions can reveal who you are and how you think, and it is important not to seem nosy or rude in the early stages of a relationship, according to a report in thestreet.com. Questions like "What would you like to accomplish in your business?" can get a negative response in a first call. Asking a prospective client yes-or-no questions can yield information, but it does not lead to open dialogue about what the prospect is really looking for in a professional service firm.

    Be prepared to offer ideas and solutions even before the potential client has agreed to a follow-up meeting. Follow up the call by sending a book or a reprint of an article that might be of interest along with your business card and a note thanking the prospective client for his or her time.

    Make sure that you make a referral source look good in the course of the conversation. Always thank the referral provider with a call and/or a gift. Two doctoral dissertation studies have shown that 34 percent of business referrals turn into sales, according to a report in entrepreneur.com, making the referral network a leading source of new business.

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