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).

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