Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summing Up And Positioning To Make Your Winning Pitch

You’ve gained the prospect’s trust and spent the last 40 minutes talking about her (let’s call her Sarah) accounting/tax issues and successfully connected these to her life priorities, goals, wants and needs. You feel you have a decent handle on both aspects and you’re down to 20 minutes left in the hour meeting.

Ultimately, of course, your goal for the meeting is to walk out with the engagement. How do you transition from the knowledge you have gained in the prior 40 minutes to the point where Sarah says she wants you to provide her future accounting services?

It begins with remembering what she said. It sounds really basic, but I strongly encourage you to take some notes during what I call the discovery phase of the meeting. It is crucial you remember and prioritize the key elements of what you learn. She will be telling you many things; numerous subjects will be touched upon, numbers will be flying around and it is easy to lose track. My recommendation is to have a clipboard or similar with a standard, lined pad affixed by the pressure clip and simply put it across you knee and take notes.

Won’t it look strange if I sit there and take notes? No, it won’t if you do it reasonably unobtrusively so it doesn’t break the flow of the conversation. At a gut level Sarah will be favorably impressed that you care enough, and are organized enough, to make sure you don’t miss any of the important facts. If she is concerned about paying for the new van she needs for her business, you can simply write: “van – how pay?” You won’t need much detail to keep it in mind until you make your summary.

What is it you want to make sure you don’t forget? Anything she perceives is an accounting-related problem is one thing, e.g. “My (former) accountant and I had communication problems regarding what data he needed from me. Then it became a last minute thing and we’d need an extension. I hate filing things late.” Another is anything that she says is important to her personal future, e.g. “I’m getting burned out; I really want to walk away from this somehow and have fun with my husband before it’s too late.”

OK, but why remember these particular things? Because in the final 10 – 15 minute you are going to blend these into your proposal to provide Sarah’s accounting services. Regarding the examples above, you might say: “Sarah, you said more accurate communication and on time filing is important. Because I’ve worked with so many smaller businesses, I think I have a good idea of how some of the most efficient companies collect and record raw financial data and bring the data into their bookkeeping system. I am confident we can find some areas where we can simplify and/or automate some of these functions for you. We can also ensure the data you collect will match what we need to work up and complete your filings. This should have the effect of lessening your overall work load and also help remove at least one of the elements that have contributed to the sense of impending burn out that you mentioned.”

In the same vein, a follow on statement might be, “You also said you want to carve out more time to be with your husband. I know from many of my clients that running a successful small business can be incredibly stressful and time consuming. It sounds like this might be a good time to set a goal to begin cutting back, or perhaps even retiring early. I believe you will have the highest probability of achieving this if you take a comprehensive and long range approach to planning your financial future. An important component of this is to begin now to align your short terms business plans and decisions with long term goals. In my experience, I believe the most effective way to do this is to establish a set of milestones annually. They should be reviewed – and possibly adjusted - at regular intervals; typically every four or six months. I help a number of clients align their financial and business goals to support longer range life plans for retirement and a host of other goals. I would be happy to provide the same service for you.”

In the two preceding paragraphs you are essentially pitching Sarah to engage you to help her modernize and streamline her internal financial processes and help her accomplish some long term financial planning for her business. You will also, obviously, mention preparation of tax returns, quarterly compliance and P&L/balance sheets.

What separates you from other accountants is that you connected these accounting service functions with what matters to her. She heard you illustrate how your accounting skills can help her achieve her personal priorities. She has an understanding of how what you’re proposing connects to her future success. She feels you are tuned into her needs.

This is so much more powerful when compared to your competitor saying something like, “Sarah, I know you want to hear about what we have to offer for accounting services. To summarize, I and the staff at Drizzle, Fogg and Snow have the capability and experience to prepare your quarterly, blah, blah, personal tax returns, blah, blah done accurately and on time. We provide similar services for many fine companies throughout the tri-counties region and believe we are among the best accounting firms in this area. In fact, this might be a good time for you to take a look at our brochure. It outlines all the client services we perform.” (he reaches down into his briefcase … she looks at wall clock)

Next post we will continue our march to the moment of truth every business development effort inexorably leads to: she either says “yes” or she says “no.” It always comes down to that moment. You either walk out to your car as a hero or you withdraw from the field of battle bloodied but hopefully unbroken. Let’s make sure it’s the former.

No comments: