Saturday, June 14, 2008

Differentiate Your Services From Your Competition

You’ve just sat down with the prospective client and don’t have any substantive information about them. Perhaps you received a bit of insight from the friend who referred you, but that’s it. They have a business. That’s self-evident. As you walked through the lobby and into the conference room, you probably formed some impressions. But, that’s not much. So, how do you proceed?

Remember, the idea is to broach the conversation so it goes down a path that leads to you understanding the prospect’s needs, wants, fears, desires, etc. If you know these things it empowers you to develop solutions that transcend the prospect’s need for basic accounting services. Proposing accounting solutions that improve the prospect’s life is what differentiates you from your competition.

Even with virtually no information, you could open the conversation with, “Al, I think everyone in town is familiar with your awning manufacturing business. Heck, I’ve been driving by your plant for so many years it feels familiar even though we’d never met until just now. Light manufacturing is a mainstream business model and your accounting issues should be reasonably straightforward. And that is a good thing because it keeps costs down. But, to help me focus in on what aspects of your circumstances have the potential to really impact your financial picture, could you give me a sense of where you are and where you are going with your business?”

That’s a pretty neutral, business-like opening statement and request, but it does have the right elements noted in the prior post. It will prompt Al to discuss what really matters to him, and an understanding of that will give you the knowledge to fashion your proposal for services in a highly effective way.

The goal in these examples is to open the door to a discussion that includes the prospect’s personal interests, values, motivations, needs & wants. If you discover the financial concern closest to his heart is how he’s going to afford sending his three early teen daughters to college, then your strategy becomes immediately apparent. In the final ten minutes of your meeting you will offer your proposal to do his accounting work NOT by saying, “Al, after looking over last year’s returns and statements, we can do your quarterly returns and annual business return, as well as a quarterly P&L and balance sheet, plus your personal joint return for approximately $7500. How does that sound?”

Al probably thinks it sounds like an accountant giving him an estimate for his accounting work. In the absence of a more enlightened proposal from someone else, he’ll sign an engagement with the firm that has a combination of low price and people he feels OK talking with.

But, you don’t want Al to make his decision based upon price and who has the brightest smile. Instead, you could say something like this: “Al, CPAs have the benefit of being involved with hundreds of people’s financial situations each year. More than just preparing tax returns and financial statements, we learn from our clients what strategies work well and those that don’t. I believe our highest and best use is to help our clients implement these strategies so they can reach their personal goals. Your desire to have the resources to send Karen, Lillie and Manda to college is a goal I believe you can reach. You have five years before the money has to be in place. What I propose is to create a series of incremental financial goals that we will shoot for. We’ll approach each year with a planning session, refine your strategies, establish intermediate goals, track those goals as the year progresses and adjust your business and investment strategies as circumstances suggest. We’ll set up a schedule to communicate and make sure everything is on track. Obviously, as part of that we’ll also do the required annual and quarterly business returns, prepare financial statements and handle your personal return. I think what we are talking about will run about $9000 or maybe $10000 annually, and my first suggestion is that we begin with a $750 per month retainer to even out the cash flow. We can adjust once we get some experience. If this is the direction you want to go, I think our first order of business is to schedule a planning session to determine an overall goal structure and discuss the strategies that will make it happen. Does this solution make sense to you?”

1 comment:

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