Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sealing The Deal – Part 1

How Do You Ask For The Engagement?

Everything you have been doing during your meeting with the prospect has been designed to eventually convert the opportunity into an engagement.

We are at that point in then proceedings when the challenge is simply stated: How do you get them to sign on the dotted line?

Yes, we are speaking about business development to engage a prospect for the purposes of providing professional services, but, when you get down to it the underlying elements are exactly the same as every day, garden variety “sales,” The same forces are at work and the same hurdles must be overcome. In the end the goal is for them to hire you. And if that is going to happen you must a) make a winning presentation and, b) seal the deal.

All the prior posts have been about making a winning presentation, now it’s about the end game. Getting someone to formally commit to your services is a highly fluid dynamic. It is undeniable that while there may be only one destination there are many paths to choose from. What will work for you? It needs to feel right so you will actually do it, and it has to be effective.

There are no magic words. No “speech” will work all the time. Consider Joe, who’s at his favorite watering hole and spots an attractive lady who appears to be alone. He approaches her, preparing to deliver his favorite ice breaker. If Joe has successfully used a particular opening line in the past) with success (“Hi, I’m Joe. Heaven should take a quick count; obviously they’re missing an angel.”), you can bet – especially with this lame spiel – that Joe’s fortunes won’t always be so rosy. It’s not the words, it is how you go about it and, as noted above, it has to feel comfortable for you.

In a perfect world, the meeting would begin with you preparing well and arriving on time. You would do the things that help you connect with the prospect and use body language to keep them relaxed and connected throughout the hour you are together. You successfully determine their priorities and discover any accounting-related problems they are having and then provide a summary of how you will provide the desired solutions. At some point you got into price and when you did so you connected the projected fees with specific tasks the prospect places value upon. If objections were raised you addressed them effectively, recognizing they can arise from both emotional and rational bases.

When you answered their last question they say, “OK, Bill, what do we have to do to get started?” Outstanding! You obviously conducted the meeting very, very effectively. The prospect made up their mind to go with you sometime earlier in the process and has now expressed their decision.

If only it were always so easy!

More typically, you get to the meeting’s conclusion and the prospect hasn’t expressed which way they are leaning. You glance at your wristwatch and see there are just a few minutes left before the scheduled end of the meeting. What should you do? What should you say?

If neither of you say anything, the meeting will conclude with platitudes, e.g. the prospect says: “Great to meet you Bill. I appreciate your time and coming over and talking with me. I know I’ll have to do something one of these days. I’ll give you a call.” You dutifully shake her hand; offer some cheery words of departure, e.g. “You have quite an operation here, Ann. I’ve enjoyed meeting you and learning about your business. I hope we have a chance to talk again.” And then you leave, wondering silently as you walk out to your car “What the hell just happened? It seemed we were doing great! Where did it go wrong?”

Obviously, this alternative – saying nothing – isn’t the answer. So, what do you say? We’ll begin getting into that in Part 2.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Let’s first understand where objections come from. It’s typically from two places. And, because people are never simple, there is a lot of gray in between the two opposites. At one extreme the objection(s) are completely emotionally driven. It (or they) can be unrelated to anything you said and instead be entirely due to the prospect’s psychological makeup. It is common for many people to offer up one or more objections simply because they need time to think and don’t like making decisions quickly. They are looking for comfort and time to gain confidence in their decision.

At the other end of the scale are objections relying entirely upon factual bases. In this instance they are looking for an organized, point by point, factual recitation of the reasons why the right choice is to choose you.

But, how do you know which it is? Or is it a combination of the two? Unless you are sure, the best practice is to split the difference and respond in a manner that honors both.

Before you even begin responding, remember the body language lessons from earlier! You must honor Gail’s emotional side. To do this you mirror her body language so she feels as comfortable with you as possible. If you are unsure what to do, default to a relaxed posture; sit back unless she is really energized and leaning forward, and even then only sit up straight and use a few mild gestures. Let her process the information and make the decision in her own way at her own speed. The important thing is not to “chase” her … you’ll just prolong the process because she’ll continue to move away – emotionally and physically – until she is ready to decide what to do.

You’ll respond to Gail’s questions in a low key, honest, straightforward and conversational manner. Do not become defensive or annoyed. Honor Gail’s words and feelings, e.g. “That’s a good question. Let’s take a look at this chart together and I can clarify this for you.” Blend in factual responses to each objection as appropriate, but don’t make your response overly detailed. Provide enough specificity so Gail can understand the points you are making, and if she wants to drill down any further she can ask.

Objections are a very common part of business development. They are best met head on in the manner described above. Far from being entirely negative, they frequently offer insight into what the prospect is thinking and where their priorities are.

The fundamental problem that causes objections that aren’t entirely emotionally based is that we have offered one or more solutions that either don’t address a need the prospect finds sufficiently important, or the solution we proposed is perceived as falling short in terms of efficacy or value vs. cost.

Finally, many studies have shown that when a prospect tosses up multiple objections (assuming you have done a reasonably competent job identifying their priorities and offered reasonable solutions and value) that they are objecting emotionally and simply stalling for time. If you receive multiple objections I recommend you don’t allow yourself to get bogged down. Don’t let No Decision become the decision of the meeting because you ran out of time. Address the one or two that you judge to be the most important and then proceed without responding to those you have decided are minor. The odds are that if you do this Gail won’t bring the others up again; they were just to stall the process while she gathers herself up to make a decision.

In the next post we’re going to begin talking about the Moment Of Truth this has all been leading up to: How do you get the prospect to actually hire you to perform accounting services for them? In sales parlance, it’s time for The Close.