Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summing Up And Positioning To Make Your Winning Pitch – Part 3

Because it is so important to effective business development, I want to revisit the overarching strategy we’re employing here. If you have something you want to sell – accounting services in this case – the question becomes how to do so with the highest probability of success?

You are not selling a physical product, but in many ways the most effective practices to sell toothpaste, trucks, computers, etc. are the same as selling professional services. If you look at a mainstream ad on television or a billboard you will not simply see a picture of the product and off to the side the size and price. Instead, the ad will attempt to portray how your life will be enhanced if you buy the product. That’s why the ‘20s-something studly man with his big smile showcasing very white teeth is flanked by a gorgeous ‘20s-something escapee from the pages of Playboy while nearby a tube of Colgate toothpaste is prominently featured. The ad is selling boy-are-you-going-to-be-good-looking-and-attract-the-babes, it is not selling toothpaste. In other words, the product will improve your life. Madison Avenue has it right – decades of feedback from millions of ads has empirically proven the effectiveness of this approach.

This is why you don’t go into a meeting with a prospective client armed with a story about what you do, ready to explain why you are better than those other providers of your service and to defend your fees. The only way this works is if your competitors all take the same approach. And then what happens is the prospect will select the individual(s) they feel OK with that has the lowest fees. This is a terrible way to sell your services!

Instead, you want to sell your ability to help them achieve greater success in life. Rather than the (relatively ineffective) approach described at the beginning of the prior paragraph you will primarily focus upon the prospect, their financial circumstances and the connection of those circumstances to where they want to be in their life … a much more effective approach. After you acquire that knowledge, THEN you talk about your services, but framing them within the context of how those services help them get where they want to go.

I’ve suggested in prior posts that you might open the discussion up with a statement & question such as, “I’ve had the opportunity to review the financial documents you sent over and saw no surprises. You have a mainstream business with mainstream financial and tax challenges, and we/I am very experienced and comfortable with all the issues. So I can put our discussion in context, can you give me an overview of where you are with your business and where you want to be in, say, two years?”

If the person doesn’t have a business, you might say something like, “Bob, I’ve looked at your tax returns from last year and everything appears to be very straightforward. You and Rosa have about 25 years between now and when you probably will want to retire. So I can discuss how our/my services can be of the most value to you both, could you please give me an overview of where you currently are financially versus where you’d like to be and also project into the future a few years and describe where you want to be?

In both examples above you are seeking an understanding of where they are and where they want to be in their life.

As they respond, gently steer them so they stay on course. Ask questions as necessary so you obtain a fairly clear picture of what they perceive to be important (remember: perception is their reality) and what future goals have the highest priority.

Take notes. Write down their priorities and use some sort of a code to underscore those that appear to be the most important – perhaps a small star off to the side or simply an underline.

With about 10 – 15 minutes remaining in the hour you have to make your case for why the prospect should choose you. Glance at the issues you’ve written down. The one that has the highest apparent priority is the one you address first. Your initial statements incorporate this priority, e.g. “Helen, the number one thing you are trying to do is expand your hairdressing salon, and finding the funds is proving to be difficult. Naturally, our services include filing tax returns and other routine state and Federal requirements, but where I think we can really add value is helping you navigate through your current financial challenge, etc. etc.” You go on to propose some planning; some analysis of her costs to look for ways the salon can increase its margins, doing some projections with an expanded operation, etc. With each issue you have identified you weave your services with solving one of Helen’s problems or taking her where she wants to be.

As she listens, Helen will see you as someone who helps her get where she wants to go in life, not as someone to just do her tax returns, etc. When she reaches that point, you will win the engagement unless a competitor is even cleverer at this process than you are. But you’re going to get so good at this that that will never happen, right?

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