Saturday, January 31, 2009

Business Development Case Study #2 - Part 2

In Part 1 we identified Fiona’s Flowers as a prospective client. Using a very direct approach to the owner, Fiona, was illustrated first. By “direct” I mean that you clearly stated to her what you had in mind – a desire to provide Fiona’s accounting services in the future – and then waited to see what her response would be.

I emphasized that while your approach was direct, it was also polite, respectful, complimentary of her and her business and broached when it didn’t interfere with something she needed to get done right that second. You didn’t demand she do anything, only that she be aware you wished to compete for her business.

There’s a lot to be said about a really direct approach that is done in this manner. It gets right to the point. Fiona knows exactly what the deal is and the decision she is being asked to consider. You will know immediately what her reaction is and if it is a firm “no,” you can get onto thinking about other prospects and not wasting time wondering about how you’re doing with Fiona. You’ll also know right away if it is, “Yes, I’d like to talk with you about that.” or “Maybe after year end. Let’s talk then.” or “Probably not, but I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe I should.”

Everything considered, I recommend the direct approach if you can find a way to be comfortable with the relative brashness of it. It is a lot like crossing the ballroom and asking that stranger to dance. Or approaching that person you see periodically and asking if they would be interested in getting a cup of coffee/tea/ adult beverage and getting to know each other a bit better.

An indirect approach has the downside that it may not be enough to get the discussion away from – in this instance – a storekeeper & customer relationship and instead into the potential of an accountant & client relationship. In other words, you can be so indirect that you don’t ever get there. The analogy is that while you’re considering asking them to dance somebody beats you to it. For the rest of the evening you watch them dance and then they leave together. Shoot, I hate it when that happens.

So I offered a subterfuge as one way to be indirect and also get the subject matter in the right place. “Subterfuge” may be too soft a word for what some may regard as an outright prevarication, but I’ll leave that debate up to the eye of the beholder.

The point of all the foregoing is to set the foundation for a) ensuring the prospect finds you to be pleasant and agreeable to be with and, b) establishing your credentials as a proactive and uncommonly capable accounting professional.

Where you want to be at the end of the first phase … I’ll call it the Introductory Phase, is to have a casual and pleasant relationship with the prospect and they are aware you are a local accountant. When you see them they wave, take a minute to say hello and pleasantries are exchanged.

So now we move to b) above, that of ”establishing your credentials as a proactive and uncommonly capable accounting professional.” How are you going to do this? You will accomplish it by doing one or more apparently spur-of-the-moment things for the prospect. It may take some time on line or pouring through CCH materials, but you’ll find it. A benefit of accounting is that the controlling Federal, State and local laws, statutes, regs and various court decisions are a gold mine for the sort of thing I’m talking about.

In Fiona’s case it could be something like this: You stop in to buy some flowers for the receptionist’s birthday. You hang around until Fiona has a moment. You say, “Hi Fiona. I just have a second and you look busy too, but take a look at this summary of a tax court decision affecting how you have to account for spoilage to support it as a business expense. It may lead to some new regulations in that area and could affect you. Just a heads up so you’ll be on top of it. Great seeing you. I’ve got to get back to the office with these flowers.” Don’t make a fuss about it. Just be pleasant and matter of fact. Don’t stand there and wait for her to react except to acknowledge it and (probably) say thanks. Then say a pleasant goodbye. Or change the subject to asking why your African violets keep dying, or? The point is you don’t want her to get the idea you are expecting something back in exchange for your initiative.

She stands there and watches you walk out. No accountant has ever done anything like that for her before. She glances at the copy you’ve given her and places it carefully in her pocket. She briefly wonders if Barry, her present accountant over at Snow & Slush, knows anything about this. And, of course he doesn’t because, after all, why would he? You deliberately ferreted this out for Fiona and made sure it was fresh, topical and relevant to her. About every four to six months you can pull something like this off.

What if she saw you in the store sometime in the future and asked you straight out why you had brought this information to her? In this instance you really can’t be indirect. She’s putting it to you and you have to step up. You might say, “Well, I’ve always been impressed with your shop, Fiona. And I confess I would very much like to work with you (or, I’d still like to compete for your business). It must be in my mind because when I come across something that appears to have a potential impact on the financial circumstances surrounding your operation it has just sort of jumped out at me. Just like it does with my clients.”

A client of mine on the golf course once overheard an acquaintance he slightly knew in the foursome say that he was getting ready to sign a new lease for his wholesale distribution business. My client said, “Oh, are you locating to the new Enterprise Zone?” The guy didn’t know what he was talking about, but listened with great interest to the explanation. The guy’s accountant hadn’t said a word about that option and the potential advantages it offered, so it was never considered. The guy phoned my client the next day with a request he calculate some projections comparing the two. One thing led to another. The guy didn’t sign the lease; he moved instead into the Enterprise Zone and switched over to my client for future accounting services.

Once the prospect is acquainted with you and has formed the opinion that you are a pleasant, bright and professional person, then it is up to you to come up with some initiatives like the foregoing to set yourself apart from your competition. None of them do this stuff. You’ll stand out more than you realize.

None of this takes much time. We’re talking about maybe a half hour a month on average per prospect. You can have ten of these going at any one time. I promise you a fair percentage will ripen into client relationships. At least a third if not more. Be persistent. Stick with it. It works.

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