Saturday, April 26, 2008

Who's on first

Last Saturday I talked about how the client begins with the assumption you are a competent accountant and will do their work correctly. For that reason it is rare that you are well served by spending anything but the most cursory effort talking about you and your firm’s professional qualifications. (An obvious caveat is where there are complex or unusual issues, e.g. “We’re looking for someone who understands the ins and outs of international sales and EU VAT.”). Instead, the meeting should be about them and their needs.

Even though they think you can do their work, they still want to hire someone they a) like or at least feel good about and, b) who has their act together.

We’ll address the first half in a later post. Today’s blog is about satisfying the second concern, i.e. creating the impression you are organized and on top of the client's issues.

Before any meaningful communication with the prospect you should run a Google/Yahoo search on the person or people you’ll be meeting with and also check out their company. You ask for relevant financials, review them and take notes. You also ask in advance (so you can do any necessary research) if they have any specific issues that are on the front burner or otherwise important to them. When you arrive at the meeting you will have assembled a folder containing all relevant materials and be prepared to discuss their circumstances in detail.

Accountants are smart people and can be intellectually aggressive. (I know, I know. The second half of that sentence comes as a complete shock to you.) You walk into the meeting wanting to lock up the engagement and are eager to demonstrate your personal competence and knowledge. This mind set is fraught with danger for two reasons. The first is it can lead to spending too much time making the meeting about you.

The second is in those circumstances when you take one or more colleagues with you to the meeting. Your careful pre-meeting organizational efforts will rapidly decrease in value if your team sits down with the prospect and immediately begins talking over, interrupting and even contradicting each other.

The best practice is to have a meeting plan in effect.

For example, if Susan is the "owner" of the prospect, she might say something like the following in a pre-meeting strategy session with her team: "I'll be the moderator/leader. When we arrive I'll make the introductions. During the meeting we will always sit back against the back of our chairs unless one of us is talking, and that person will lean forward. (This makes is very easy for the prospect to know who to pay attention to.) I'll play traffic cop for our team. When it is appropriate, I will invite each of you to speak. (“Bob, you deal with that issue frequently. Please give Ralph an overview of how the IRS typically interprets that aspect of the valuation.”) When Bob is done, he will lean back in his seat, signaling to me he is done. I'll pick up from there. If any of you want to contribute something, do so politely during a break in the conversation (“Susan, if I may interject? Yes, that’s an area where the depreciation time line isn’t really settled. We have some loose guidance, but there is no hard number that has become the norm.”). When we leave, I'll be the last one out the door and will be the last one to shake the prospect’s hand. I will invite the prospect to call me directly if there are any questions and I will personally follow up with the prospect a few days after the meeting."

It doesn’t have to be done exactly like I’ve written, but you get the idea.

The bottom line is stolen from the old Abbott & Costello comedy routine: Who's on first? The prospect wants to feel comfortable they are assessing you and your firm accurately. Any lack of organization, poor communication and general appearance of not having your act together will make it difficult for them to reach a positive conclusion. When their confusion begins to parallel Lou Costello’s, the odds of you obtaining the engagement will slip accordingly. [If you've never seen it, You Tube has the entire "Who's on first" comedy routine. It really is funny.]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

They Don't Care About Your Brochure

When you meet with a prospective client and it is a typical small corporate compliance, tax and owner's personal return engagement, what should you talk about?
Obviously, you will spend some time talking about them and their company and some time talking about you and your firm.
OK, but how much of each?
The answer is probably 95% them and 5% you/your firm. Why? Because the prospect(s) already assume you can do the back room work. You don't have to convince them. They already believe you can do their work because you've been to school, graduated, passed the test, have the license on the wall of your office, and have "CPA" on your business card.
Unless directly asked to do so, NEVER begin by pulling out your brochure and saying, "Let's begin by me telling you about me and my firm." ALWAYS begin by talking and asking questions about them and their company. In a perfect world, you'll take out a brochure as you both stand up at the end of your meeting and say, "Susan, here's our brochure. It has some more information about us if you want to check it out."
Remember, it's always about them, not you.

Not Too Many Accountants Are Salespeople

The license arrived and I put it up on the wall of my new office. That was 1979. OK, now what do I do? It is interesting that there wasn't a single class that ever addressed the challenge of finding clients.

And, let's face it, how many accountants, lawyers or engineers go into their field because they want to be salespeople? One percent? No percent? I'll bet you agree with me that the basic make up of the vast majority of accountants causes them a degree of discomfort at the thought of self-promotion. And the reality is that there isn't much help available.

It is exceptionally difficult for the firm's big rainmaker to teach an associate how to land engagements. It will only work if their overall styles, values, egos, etc. are relatively similar, and even then differences in age, experience, gender, connections, professional status, etc. often make it virtually impossible for the junior person to adopt the same modus operandi.

Nevertheless, if you aspire to have your own book of business, at some point you have to step into the world of self-promotion. That can be really, really scary for most accountants. Unfortunately, many never really figure it out.

My name is Craig Weeks and for the past ten+ years I've been teaching accountants how to a) find more work and/or, b) upgrade their practices so they can get more revenue for each hour of billable time. I've found you can't effectively teach these skills to large groups, so I almost always work with individuals or small groups within client firms. I'm proud to say that my methodology works, but I know there are a lot of accountants out there who will never hear about these techniques that can help them achieve their revenue, margin, income and lifestyle goals.

I'm at a point in my life where I'm beginning to feel I want to give something back, so the purpose of this blog is to periodically write about what I've learned. Mostly about what has been empirically proven to work and also that which is ineffective.

If you are interested in the insights I've gained, my plan is to talk about them on this blog in a direct, practical and hopefully helpful manner.