Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Business Development Case Study #1- part 2

Last week we took up the challenge of wooing Larry, a self employed consultant married to a high school teacher, to become a client of your accounting practice. At this point, you don’t know if he has an accountant or simply uses H&R Block, TurboTax or similar software. And, actually, you don’t care. It turns out you both work out at the same gym and that will afford you an initial means to make contact with him.

The first leg of the journey is to ripen the situation to the point where Larry wants to talk with you to explore whether he’ll become a client. With that in mind, all you are doing now – with apology in advance for the lame fishing metaphor – is trying to set the hook. Later, we’ll work out how you are going to – another apology – net him and pull him into the boat.

Specifically, building upon last week’s post, the challenge is to 1) get Larry to like, or at least feel comfortable with, you and 2) somehow differentiate yourself from other accountants and plant the seed that you are a cut above the rest.

You’ve made the first foray to reintroduce yourself to Larry, and what I suggest is that you make a point of saying hello and chatting briefly each time you see him at the gym. At some point, when it feels comfortable, ask him about his consulting practice. You need to find out what he does. What is his area of expertise? Who are his clients? Is his practice local or wider in scope? Keep this very casual. Just two business people talking … nothing too probing or specific.

If what he does could be of value to any of your clients, casually mention this and ask if he’s accepting referrals. Keep this very low key because it could sound contrived if you don’t. If he asks what you do tell him you are an accountant or CPA, but don’t elaborate. He’ll ask if he wants to know more. The main thing here is you do not want to become a blip on his “I’m being hustled” radar. Again, this is just two guys talking. You’re inquiring about him because you are interested; not because you are trolling (I did it again! What’s with the fishing!?!) for business.

If you’ve seen him a few times and he actively engages himself when the two of you spend a few moments talking, you can probably safely assume he at least views you as reasonably pleasant to talk with. For now, keep it simple. Don’t invite him to lunch or in any other way up the ante. It’s too early.

Once you’ve had the “so what do you do?” conversation, you can start thinking about how you are going to the next stage of this process.

By now you know what his consulting practice consists of and you have a sense of the type of people that make up his client base. Remember, the idea is to differentiate yourself from other accountants. So, how might you do that? One proven methodology is to access CCH or other accounting-specific data and information sources and look for something cutting edge (e.g. proposed rule, reg change, court ruling, IRS opinion, etc.) that relates to Larry’s practice and/or his client base.

You may have to get fairly clever here, but I’m willing to bet there will be some bit of esoterica you’ll unearth. Now suitably armed, we’ll jump ahead to your next encounter with Larry at the gym.

What you want to accomplish in the next couple of minutes you spend with Larry is straightforward. You want to impress him with your knowledge and initiative, you want to stand out, you want him to feel special and, if I may be very direct, you want to lessen his opinion of his current accountant, if any.

It might go something like this, “Hey, Larry. Hello. We were doing some research for a client’s problem yesterday and what we found for them may be of interest to you. The bottom line is that the United States Tax Court just made a ruling that may possibly impact some of your client base. Here’s the deal in a nutshell … (this is where you explain what it is in 30 seconds or less). You may already have heard about this, but I thought I’d play it safe and let you know. I wrote down the page address (or citation) for you so you can check it out on the web.” You hand him the piece of paper with the address. “Sorry to bring business to the gym. Have a good workout.” And you head on over to the Stairmaster. You can wait for him to say thank you if it happens in a few seconds, but get away from him quickly because you don’t want it to look like you’re seeking approval or some sort of recognition.

How does this look from Larry’s perspective? Up to this point you’ve been a guy he says hello to at the gym. You are also a professional and you seem focused, pleasant and matter of fact; you do your routine and don’t take up a lot of time talking. He knows you’re an accountant, but he doesn’t know exactly what you do. Businesses? Audits? Non-profits? He doesn’t know. But now, out of the blue, you drop this on him. Yes, from what you said, it may impact some of his clients. Or, maybe not. But, it’s worth checking out. You seem to have clients, and knowledge, that overlap with his business. You obviously are staying current with developments and in fact are ahead of the curve because this just came out and Larry’s accountant certainly didn’t call and say anything about it. In fact, you haven’t talked with him in three months or more. You also remembered something of what he said concerning his practice and you made the connection when this information surfaced with another client and took the time to do something thoughtful. At no time have you hustled him for business.

Over the next few weeks or months you continue saying hello to Larry. If he warms up, maybe it’s time for a lunch. In any event, if that case is appealed, watch for the ruling and tell Larry the result immediately. No one else has ever given him this level of attention and service and he’s not even a client! The odds are very strong Larry will be your client within a year and it has only taken a few words at the gym and an hour or so with CCH. Plus, it is highly probable Larry has, or will, tell others about your initiative and that will broaden your referral base.

The foregoing can play out at any setting where you see someone regularly. Rotary, Toastmasters, volunteer work, church, neighborhood condo association, the list is endless. The key is to not rush the process. You can have several of these going at any one time and the total time investment is still minimal.

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