Monday, January 19, 2009

Business Development Case Study #2- part 1

The Case Study in December was about approaching a consultant whom you briefly met when the two of you attended a seminar. When you realized you both worked out at the same gym we went through a business development sequence that would have a high probability of eventually leading to him signing up as a client.

One of the cornerstones of using a relational approach to adding new clients is the opportunity to see the prospect on a regular basis. I may only once a month, but it needs to be pretty consistent because you need a fair number of “touches” with the prospect to achieve the first prerequisite for enticing someone to become your client, which is that they come to view you as a pleasant person with whom they feel comfortable. You also need a degree of frequency of contact so the person doesn’t simply put you out of mind. Then, once that is achieved, you are going to address the challenge of positioning yourself apart from other accountants, so that you are perceived to be a cut above them because of your knowledge, professionalism, concern for your clients and the like.

In this post we will do the same things, but in a different context when compared to December’s Case Study. There, the prospect was a service provider and a member of your gym. Here, let’s make them a retailer.

Fiona owns a florist’s shop. It’s a busy place, and Fiona’s Flowers are well known for fresh flowers, interesting gifts and excellent customer service. In fact, while you don’t really know Fiona, you purchase flowers there periodically for birthdays, gifts and similar occasions. You’ve decided you want some more small business clients. Fiona and her shop crossed your mind and you are going to give it a go.

You can always take the direct approach. How might it feel to go into her shop, browse for a few minutes until she was free and get right to it. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with the following scenario: You introduce yourself, mention how nice her shop is and that you’ve been a customer for several years (she’ll remember) and say something like, “You’re busy, so if I may I’ll be blunt and only take a moment of your time.”

(Pause and make eye contact; make sure there are at least three feet between you and don’t directly face her; instead position your body so it is facing an imaginary spot about six inches away from either of her two shoulders. This, in effect, ameliorates any sense of pressure she may feel because you are giving her a psychological escape route.)

Continue: “You have a great operation here and a marvelous reputation. I’m a CPA and I handle the business and personal tax returns for dozens of businesses in town, but I’m sorry to say I don’t work with you. I’d be honored to have an opportunity to compete for your business.” And then you remain silent until she responds.

She may say she works with your competitors Snow & Slush. Or, she may say she uses TurboTax or similar and does it herself. She may say anything. If she doesn’t specifically respond to your last sentence, then you can ask, e.g. “My real point is that I’d like to have a chance to earn your business; to compete for it. Is that possible?”

This is very direct, but it isn’t a bridge-burning tactic. You’ve been very polite. You’ve complimented her. You’ve made it clear you value her and her business. And, you have been very clear about what you want. Now it’s up to her.

If she says, “Oh, thanks. But, I’ve been with Barry over at Snow & Slush for several years and they seem to be doing a good job. I don’t really have any reason to change,” you have to be ready with a polite response and be prepared to withdraw from the field of battle with your head held high. And you most assuredly haven’t given up the chase. You’re on her map now. She knows what you do and has no reason to think poorly of your after your conversation.

Because you shop at Fiona’s periodically you will continue to have occasion to see her. In fact, you make a point of seeing her. When you do you say hello and are polite, upbeat and friendly. You haven’t pitched her since the first time. She’s feeling no pressure. She likes you and always lights up when the two of you say hello.

But what if this direct approach isn’t you? What if you simply don’t want to do it that way? You’d prefer something less, well, blunt.

If you just make a point of saying hello and having a brief “it’s a nice day” chat each time you shop there she will place you along with a few hundred others in her “nice customer” memory box. The relationship has, if anything, been solidified into the narrow definition of customer and shopkeeper and is now difficult for you to take to a professional place unless you do something proactive to break the mold, so to speak. So, what can you do?

Here’s an example of an indirect alternative. I’ll leave it to your sensibilities if you would find this objectionable, but a good salesperson, when faced with the same circumstances, could come up with something like this (first being sure to wait until Fiona wasn’t buried with customers or otherwise distracted): “Hi Fiona. Do you have time for a quick question? (she nods yes) I’m a CPA and I have a client with a relatively new business that deals with perishables – not flowers – like yours does, and they’re having real problems with excess spoilage. I don’t think their system for buying and rotating their stock is very effective in keeping the fresh items front and center and identifying the older stock that needs to be marked down and moved out right away. As you know, I’ve shopped here for years and always admired how you present your stock. You must have a really effective system and if you have a few minutes I’d like to hear about how you do it. The information could be very helpful to my client.”

All smoke and mirrors, of course. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to come up with something better. However, you’ve flattered her by asking her advice, you’ve made certain she knows you are a CPA, and she’s learned you care about your clients and that you respect your client’s privacy by not mentioning their name. And, she knows you’ve been in her “nice customer” box for several years, so that’s another plus. All very good stuff.

With both methods you are ready to take steps to differentiate and distinguish yourself from Barry over at Snow & Slush. We’ll look at that next week.

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