Saturday, July 19, 2008

Summing Up And Positioning To Make Your Winning Pitch – Part 2

The summarization process I talked about in the last post doesn’t sound all that difficult or complicated as you read the words, but the first few times you try to translate that into action while you are having a real time, face-to-face discussion with a prospective client will prove surprisingly difficult for most people.

Here’s what almost invariably happens when you are trying to learn these techniques: You will do your research on the prospect; possibly receive and analyze some basic P&L and balance sheet information, and make preliminary decisions about lines of inquiry and discussion for the upcoming meeting.

You show up well prepared and on time. You remember to do a couple of the proven behaviors that will help the prospect relax and open up. Once they are settled you ask the “tell me about your business and where you want to go with it” question and sit back. You’re poised with your pen to record key elements of the prospect’s succinct and on-point answer.

They respond: “Well, the business is doing OK, I guess. It’s summer, so Elke is there working the office and because she’s in college she’s becoming more independent and I’m starting to get the evil eye from Kay. Ann says its only for three months, and just work with it. I mean, Kay’s been around for years and I’ve talked with her. She knows its only temporary, but I think that’s why I had trouble with Bob and that kind of led to you being here. So the bottom line is that it’s OK and who knows what the future will bring, but I’m optimistic. I just don’t want Elke to be the only one who makes out, so a lot of what I care about is making sure Anna has the same opportunity.”

To say the least, this was not what you expected to hear. And, because you are new to the process your brain has suddenly switched to overload; eyes have glazed over, and you don’t have a clue what to write down or, now that you think about it, a clue to what they just said (I promise you that with some experience this isn’t a problem). You don’t want to interrupt, but you don’t want their rambling stream-of-consciousness to continue. You make a few tentative attempts to focus in on what you want to discuss, but the prospect keeps straying off the reservation. Time seems to be passing more quickly than possible, more and more it feels like you are out of control and so at some point you toss out the entire plan and instead revert to whatever it is you’ve always done because it at least feels natural and comes easily to mind.

The disconnect between intellectual understanding and doing can be wide and deep. You can have a complete, sophisticated understanding of aerodynamics and how the controls of an airplane work, but hopping in and being able to fly competently is quite another thing. If you read a book on skiing or ice skating would that adequately prepare you to go to the ski slope or ice rink and instantly excel? It is the same thing with business development. Like skiing, you are going to have to fall down a few times before becoming competent (actually, the client will never find fault because if you can effectively employ even one of the techniques we’ve covered to this point you will be that much ahead of the majority of other accountants he’s ever dealt with). Don’t expect to be a whiz at interviewing prospective clients until you have skinned your knees a few times. Learning new behaviors is difficult for everyone.

A novice skier would start out on the bunny hill, and so I suggest you do the same. In other words, you might set a goal on your first attempt to use these techniques to a) prepare properly for the meeting, b) remember to do at least two of the four recommended behaviors calculated to put the prospect at ease and help them feel that you are someone they could work with and, c) discover at least one primary reason they want to switch accountants or one thing they consider important in their life that is related to their finances.

Then, in subsequent client engagement opportunities you work up to remembering all four behaviors and at least two important things. Keep gradually raising the bar. After six, eight or ten prospect meetings your awkwardness will morph into confidence and you will enjoy an uncommonly high closing rate.

Next week we’ll assume you have been successful capturing at least one important thing during the meeting and I’m going to walk through summation strategies in some detail as you position yourself for the moment when you ask for the engagement.

No comments: