By Alexandra DeFelice
Developing an emotional connection with prospects is at the heart of convincing them to leave their existing accountant, more so than price or any other logical rationale.
This tactic was the focus of an August 7 webinar by The Advisory Board, in which Martin Bissett, founder of UK-based The Upward Spiral Partnership Ltd, offered advice on how firms can grow and create a business development culture.
Once marketing secures a meeting with a prospect, the first thing professional business developers must do is put themselves in the shoes of the prospect and prevent the prospect from canceling. That's because the prospect essentially may feel as though he or she is cheating on a spouse if the prospect already has a long-term relationship with an existing accountant, Bissett explained.
"Create a level of rapport and empathy. Don't assume they'll tell you all their troubles to fix and write a blank check", Bissett said. "You have to earn that level of connection."
Bissett acknowledged that many accountants are uncomfortable with the idea of "selling" and explained the difference between marketing and business development. According to Bissett, marketing involves activities that allow for opportunities. Business development/selling is the closure of that opportunity, which results in a client. Marketing comes first and creates a level of desire. Selling is the ability to control that process to convert prospects into clients.
"There is a large learning curve to selling professionally that doesn't include strong-arm tactics, cajoling, or persuasion", Bissett said.
Following are some tips he provided for accountants who want to become better business developers:
1. Hone questioning skills. Be relaxed and informal to put the potential buyer at ease. Break the ice with simple conversations about the business, press articles about the company, or an office remodel.
"Everyone's favorite subject is themselves. Get them talking about themselves in a nonthreatening way", Bissett said. This could be about trophies won, family photos hung on the wall, etc. "Ask questions you genuinely want to know the answers to."
2. Be aware of silent influencers. Silent influencers are those company employees without high-level job titles, but who are trusted and valued, such as personal assistants to the CEO.
"The way we treat everyone in the business is important. Don't save all your efforts for the person giving you the money", Bissett said. "The more we can demonstrate sincerity that we're for real, the more we differentiate ourselves. We never need to disparage or criticize the competition. We simply let our own performance speak for itself."
3. Focus proposals on results. Clearly demonstrate the firm understands what the prospect is going through and ensure the proposal lists outcomes, not services. What are the clients trying to achieve? Twenty percent net growth? Updated systems? If your firm gets all these things into place for that prospect, what would that mean? Could the client take a vacation? Send his or her child to college?
"Appeal to the emotional and logical aspects of change", Bissett said. "What do I [the prospect] get as a result of going through this painful divorce with my current accountant? What are you incentivizing me with – and it better not be price."
4. Know your objectives. What do you want to achieve at the end of the first and subsequent meetings? Do you want another meeting, a chance to meet the rest of the board? No matter what the answer is, don't feel you have to close the business that first day. Schedule next steps. You may have to take three steps, you may have to take 103.
"You need the win, the when is negotiable", Bissett said. "If you leave the meeting without a date, time, and action, you've failed."
The most professionally executed example of the "close" is a natural end to the discussion, so that by the time the meeting ends, the seller answered all the prospect's questions and demonstrated the seller could solve the prospect's problems, and it makes sense to progress to the next stage.
"If we appealed to only the logical argument, prospects will hesitate to break the relationship with their existing accountant, Bissett said. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at [email protected].