Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sealing The Deal – Part 5

You Asked For The Engagement And They Didn’t Say Yes
Now What Do You Do?

In the last post we looked at what happens when you’ve done a good job preparing for, and delivering your message during your meeting with the prospect but they didn’t say “yes.”

But, what if you become aware during the meeting that it isn’t going as well as you had hoped and, sure enough, they say “no.”

It won’t be helpful to follow the template presented in the last post because you and the prospect aren’t in a place where it will be effective.

Let’s look at what might have gone wrong. First of all, you may have simply not connected with the prospect on a personal level. I recall with great clarity a pitch for consulting services I made to a younger woman at an engineering firm and we just didn’t connect. It was evident she felt it too and no matter how I tried to somehow bridge the invisible wall that separates all strangers and move on to a place where we could begin developing some rapport, it just didn’t work. I tried every means I could think of and it wasn’t happening. It should come as no surprise that I didn’t get the engagement and in retrospect I shouldn’t have. Why would she want to contract and work with someone with whom she felt no connection?

The other primary possibility is that the solution(s) you offered – which you felt were the right ones at the time – simply didn’t resonate with what the prospect considered to be their primary drivers. Did you really unearth what the prospect needs and wants?

There can be other reasons, of course, but they tend to be far more unlikely. For example, you may remind them strongly of someone they dislike (“Paul, I can’t tell you how much you look like my ex-husband.”), or you have a mannerism that really bugs them, or they’re only seeing you to give window dressing to the appearance of having a competition for their accounting work. Or a hundred other reasons. I’d ignore these and assume it is one of the two biggies.

Looking at the first scenario, what can you do now to help you connect with the prospect? I’ll offer a couple of possibilities. First of all, you want to live to fight another day, so don’t burn your bridges. Don’t, for example, acknowledge the disconnect, e.g. “Julie, you probably feel the same thing I am. We seem to have a communication disconnect. You will probably be best served by finding some other accountant.”

Instead, I suggest you, in effect, make a preemptive strike and reject them. You might say, e.g. “Julie, as we’ve talked and gone over your financial circumstances, I think what I have to offer is overkill for your situation. At this stage of your (personal or business) finances I think you would be best served to find an accountant who will provide more basic and cost-effective services.” What you’ve done is give her a reason to want to connect with you; if not now then in the future. We all want to deal with the best. Obviously, you have exemplary skills and are an honest person. That’s a good basis for her wanting to have a relationship with you. She may change course and actively want to engage you. If not, the plan is to reconnect with her every now and then and perhaps someday you will have another bite at the apple.

If you feel the lack of “yes” is because you didn’t either a) unearth her motivations, wants and needs or, b) you understand them but offered one or more solutions she didn’t like, the recommend response is different.

The idea is that while you can’t unwind what has already occurred, you can add new material that might be more persuasive. Go back in your mind to what you believe is the most important need or want the prospect has. Apply your accounting knowledge to that issue and come up with something esoteric that you typically wouldn’t know right off the top of your head, e.g. “Julie, I’m uncomfortable with the circumstances surrounding your net operating loss carry forward problem because the rules are quite detailed and really in flux right now. I’d like to do a bit of research and get back with you so you can have an up-to-the-minute understanding of your options before you make any decisions. Would you have a half hour available on Thursday or Friday?”

Assuming she says “yes,” you will naturally be prepared to discuss the subject when you get back together. When you sit down, you can begin with asking questions about the NOL situation that will hopefully get you in the correct ballpark to provide the solution(s) she finds valuable. To make sure you are where you want to be, you can always ask, “While we’re together, let’s not lose the opportunity to revisit your most important concerns. Since we were together two days ago and you’ve had a chance to think about things, have your priorities changed? Is the NOL still the most important issue you face?”

The point is that by introducing the “I’ll research it and get back with you” gambit you have another chance to get it right. You have also demonstrated that a) you care enough about her to do some extra work on her behalf, b) you are proactive and reliable and, c) you are a knowledgeable professional.

When you’ve covered the NOL issue and explored if there are any other issues she wants to discuss again or in greater detail, it is time to make your pitch for the engagement (see prior Sealing The Deal posts).

Sealing The Deal – Part 4

You Asked For The Engagement And They Didn’t Say Yes

Now What Do You Do?

In the last post I suggested a proven end-of-business-development-meeting strategy to convert your prospect into a client. You did it, but it didn’t work. Now what? Let’s frame the problem with a scenario. We’ll assume you made the following call to action: “Joan, I think we’ve covered all the issues and I’m confident I can deliver the services you want. If you wish me to perform these tasks for you, I need to get all the raw data we discussed. What’s the best way to do that?”

Joan pauses for a moment and says, “Well, Bob, I’m still torn about how to do this. Or even if I should. Roger has been doing my taxes for many years and I just don’t feel comfortable taking it away from him even though he said he’s retiring next year. I’d like to think about this some more.”

Or, she might say, “Bob, I have no doubt you can do the work, but Roger has been my accountant for many years and he’s a bit less expensive than the estimate you’ve given me. I feel like I should stick with Roger until he retires next year and then rethink my options.”

Or, “I appreciate your presentation Bob, but I’ve also interviewed another accounting firm and I need to think about which I will choose.”

Ouch! Not what you wanted to hear. How do you respond?

First of all, as you go through the meeting you must continually assess how it seems to be going. Have you followed the process? Are they listening? Asking questions? Engaged? Have you balanced the technical and human factors so you have both unearthed the clients needs and wants and then connected your solutions with what’s really important to them? Plus, just as importantly, have you connected with the prospect on a human level?

Let’s begin with the assumption you’ve done well to this point but she didn’t say yes. In the first two examples above the prospect uses the word “feel” in her response to your question. The third is simply a stall. Recall I talked in an earlier post about how some people just don’t make up their minds quickly. They are conservative. They don’t feel comfortable with change. They need awhile to come around to something new. I also talked about the psychological underpinnings related to this; the conscious vs. unconscious brain and how they need to be in sync before people can be comfortable with taking a new direction. Therefore, your best shot to turn the “no” or “maybe” into yes is to address the emotional side of the equation.

Your immediate challenge is to determine what really drives your prospect ... as you have gone through the meeting, what was the one issue Joan appeared to be the most emotionally invested in? What did she care about the most? While a person may have several emotional triggers, you’ll need to pick one because you don’t have time to explore all the options.

Quickly reviewing the meeting in your mind, you decide Joan’s real hot button is that she is stressed because her business is only marginally profitable and she is very anxious that if it slides any further she’ll be in a difficult cash position with limited resources to draw from. From that you conclude she needs to feel good about a prospective change because she is frightened of doing anything that will make things worse.

So, in her first response, she doesn’t want to change from Robert to you. There may be a loyalty element there, but you can bet there is a larger “I’m afraid to rock the boat” imperative. Her second response has the same loyalty flavor, but also speaks to lower costs and preserving the status quo. I would interpret the third response as simply a ploy to avoid making a decision.

Considering either of her responses, what would be the effect if you said the following? “Joan, please understand I admire and appreciate your loyalty and that I am not being critical of Roger, but the reality of your situation is that right now you need more than a financial scorekeeper. Accountants have a great advantage in that as we work with our client companies we see repetitive patterns of what works and what doesn’t. My greatest value to you is for me to help you adopt those financial practices that the great majority of successful companies seem to share. That’s the quickest path to your success. Let me give you some examples. We can project ahead to determine cash requirements and then talk about the best way to make sure it’s available when needed. We can look at your cost structure, margin and profitability data and compare it to similarly situated companies. Having hard data like this allows us to make a workable plan to get your company back on solid footing with greater profitability and growth. We can ensure your internal financial operations are accurate and efficient. I know a couple of really talented marketers who would be happy to talk with you perhaps provide some fresh ideas for added revenue. The bottom line is I want my clients to be successful and I believe working together we can achieve your goals and alleviate your fears for your business’ success. (3 second pause) What do you think?”

While Joan may not blurt out, “When do we start?” I’ll bet you have an excellent chance of obtaining her as a new client because you have provided a reasonable solution (logical) for lessening her anxiety and fear (emotional). Notice I didn’t even address the cost? That’s because I don’t think it is really an issue. Her fear of change is the issue.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sealing The Deal – Part 3

How Do You Ask For The Engagement?

Let’s assume your meeting with the prospect has included the elements we know have a positive impact upon the eventual moment when they have to decide whether or not to engage you. We’ll further assume you have arrived at the last ten or so minutes of the meeting and there are no overt signs the prospect has eliminated you from consideration. In other words, there are no apparent reasons to delay any further your attempt to sign them up as a client.

You’ve made your points, you’ve answered the questions and there’s really nothing left to say except to – somehow – ask for their business. OMG! as the kids would text; what do you actually say? The good news is that you’re not breaking a new trail here; there is a proven approach you can use.

I’ve alluded in the past to the very extensive business development/sales methodology study done on behalf of Xerox and IBM in the ‘80s. And, if you are thinking this only applies to hardware. I.e. copiers and computers, I want to emphasize that both companies sell consulting services and the results are 100% applicable to the challenge you now face. In that study, two successful behaviors rose to the top in this phase of the business development process. The first is that you make a “call to action.” The second is you obtain an “advance.” If the “call to action” is successful you won’t need the “advance.” Let’s look at these in turn.

In its most basic form, a “Call to action” in this instance means that you propose a course of action that requires the prospect to do something. The psychological rationale behind this is that if they take an affirmative action that reasonably leads them in the direction of becoming your client, there is a high probability they will eventually complete the journey.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. If you have a strong, confident interpersonal style you might simply say, “Before I can begin to work up and prepare your tax filing I’ll need you to sign an engagement letter. It defines all the terms and conditions that relate to our relationship as accountant and client. When is a good time for you next week so we can get that done?” And then you simply wait for them to respond. If they agree to your proposed course of action, you have just obtained a new client.

If that feels a bit more direct than you are comfortable with, you might instead say, e.g. “I think I’ve answered all your questions. If your decision is that you would like me to prepare your company’s returns our state’s accounting oversight department requires me to give you an engagement letter. Would you like me to go through that with you?”

Or, perhaps something a bit softer yet: “I hope I’ve answered your questions. I see we are coming up on the hour. How would you like to proceed from here?”

You’ll notice all three of these are questions that require the prospect to respond with something beside yes or no. They are essentially forced to make a decision … even if it is preliminary to actually formalizing the engagement. And it might be that they say “no” (we’ll deal with that in a future post), but at least you have a stake in the ground and you know what you are dealing with.

The point here is that you don’t want the result to be the client shaking your hand and saying, “I appreciate your coming over Glenda. Let me think about this and I’ll get back to you.” And then you say thanks, smile and walk out. Driving away, you wonder why they didn’t say yes and if they’ll ever get back to you.

The reason this is bad is because they have done nothing that gives you any confidence your efforts will pay off; nor is there any agreed upon follow up. This last scenario leads to the second of the two things you want to have happen. If you don’t get a “yes,” then you go for an “advance.”

Obtaining an advance means that the meeting ends with some agreement to take further action with the probability of moving the business development process along to a favorable conclusion. It just won’t happen now. For example, you are pitching a company that has a Controller or Senior Bookkeeper. You have a meeting with them and jump the appropriate hurdles, whereupon they say, “Well, I’m satisfied. I need to set up an appointment with the owner so the two of you can talk.”

Or, they might say, “Let me send you my paperwork for that botched exchange. Take a look and then give me your reaction. If it looks like we can re-file and the cost benefit ratio is reasonable, I’d like to do it.”

I want you to think about how you can broach the closing process. The approach should be comfortable for you personally. Don’t make it so aggressive or direct that it doesn’t feel like it fits with how you like to deal with people. Remember to include these two elements: Asking the prospect to take an affirmative step that if taken leads in the direction of forming a client – accountant relationship or, if that doesn’t happen, being prepared to obtain an advance that keeps you in the game.

As the Xerox – IBM study so forcefully made clear, if you can get neither, the odds of obtaining the engagement are very low.

Sealing The Deal – Part 2

How Do You Ask For The Engagement?

Skilled sales people and empirical research are in complete agreement: at the conclusion of your presentation or discussion you must take proactive steps to ensure the prospect becomes a client or customer. It will almost never happen by magic (“Alice, you don’t need to say another word … where do I sign up?”)

Why is this the case? If the prospect listens to you, agrees with what you are saying and believes the benefit – to – value ratio is acceptable, why don’t they just say “yes”?

Because that isn’t how people, including you and me, make decisions. If I am going to agree with you to do something it takes my two decisional elements to concur. Psychologists refer to these elements in different terms (e.g. conscious and unconscious, logic and feeling, etc.), but the essence is that you have a thinking, rational, factually based side to your decision making process AND you have a reactive, instinctive, knee-jerk, flight or fight side.

This latter mechanism is what kept us alive tens of thousands of years ago when we were as much prey as hunter. No time to think about it, just react! Analysis can come later, after your instincts saved you from the saber tooth tiger’s lunge.

When your prospect’s unconscious and conscious elements aren’t in agreement you will hear, “Hmmm, I’d like to think about what you’ve said and get back to you.” When they both agree that your solution is the best choice you will have a new client.

OK, so what is the real effect of this decisional duality? Most importantly, it is the reason people are so conservative when it comes to change. People don’t like change because (listening now to the inner unconscious voice) “up to this point we’ve done OK and if we change it may not work out; by changing we lose this present option, and I’m starting to feel anxious about this new thing you’re contemplating.” This is literally a vestigial survival instinct coming to the fore. In an earlier age the suggestion might have been to take a new path down to the river and your instinct kicked in and immediately saw the danger of this different behavior: you thought, “We could be ambushed, we don’t know what’s there, any number of dangers might lurk ahead … we just don’t know and should stick to what we have done before because we know about that. I think the idea of a new route is really scary.” Feelings are the driving element of this reactive, let’s-keep-the-status-quo side of the decision making process.

If they listen to the solutions you offer for their accounting related issues and their rational/conscious side likes what it hears they may just ignore any negative stirrings in their unconscious mind and go ahead and sign up. Great, you’ve just gotten a new client! Well, maybe.

You’ve heard of buyer’s remorse. Ever felt it yourself? I think we probably all have at some point. Buyer’s remorse occurs when your logical side says yes and the reactive/feeling/instinctual side says no and the difference hasn’t been reconciled. Logically the deal makes sense but it just doesn’t feel right. We all know that it isn’t uncommon for buyer’s remorse to be so strong that the purchased item is returned. Or, if it is an action, the action may be undone (“I can’t believe I agreed to go out with Karl to see a movie. He’s a perfectly nice guy, but I just don’t want to. I’ll come up with some excuse and cancel.”) Clearly, emotions are overriding what seemed logical and reasonable at the time.

By the time you reach the end of your meeting you want the prospect to become a new client. That means they need to be in a place where both their logical and emotional/feelings elements are in agreement. This isn’t an all or nothing thing; there’s a lot of gray between the extremes.

Your presentation/discussion with the prospect needs to incorporate elements that address both decision making elements. Not only must the prospect agree logically that your solution(s) are good, they must also feel OK about making the change signing up with you represents.

The meeting process I have discussed in prior posts – from beginning to end – incorporates these “unconscious” elements. My purpose for including this discussion of how your prospect will make the decision to either engage you or not is to emphasize how important ALL the meeting elements are. You are an accountant; you excel at using process, logic, rules, etc. to do your job. For many of you it may be very difficult to not make these factual elements the centerpiece of your effort to persuade your prospect to engage you.

But, if you aspire to a high closing rate you can’t do this! For you to obtain the engagement the prospect must FEEL good about committing to you, and to ensure they do you are best served to put equal effort into both considerations.

To accomplish this, the prior posts discussed the first few minutes of the meeting when first impressions are formed and the meeting’s tone is set; being aware of your body language during the meeting, and remembering that the solutions you propose must be connected to one or more positive impacts upon the prospect’s life – not just the raw dollars and cents impact.

The lesson from all this is that the closing techniques we will explore in the next posts are predicated upon the assumption that you have put effort into satisfying both of your prospect’s decisional requirements. If you haven’t done so, your chances of obtaining the engagement are slim, no matter HOW polished your closing technique is.