Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don’t be afraid of Alan

Brad, a long time reader of this blog who has his practice in the outskirts of Chicago, made the decision to take the steps necessary to upgrade his book of business to include a greater percentage of larger, more profitable clients.

As a result of some low key, one-in-one marketing, he subsequently met a business owner who was just beginning the process of finding a new accounting services provider. Along with two other candidate firms, he asked Brad to make a presentation to him and his executive team.

When he heard who his competitors would be, Brad had a deer-in-the-headlights moment because he realized he’d be going up against Alan, a locally notable business development ace for another local firm. Alan is gregarious, has a big personality, seems to be involved in every local organization and knows almost everyone who is anybody by their first name. He has a busy and apparently lucrative practice and has been responsible for signing up many of his firm’s most desirable clients.

Brad emailed me and then we talked on the phone. I reminded him that he doesn’t have any evidence that Alan is, in fact, an above-average business developer. I asked him how much time the so-called “average” accountant spends networking like Alan; being involved in the business community and positioning themselves for higher visibility? He agreed that Alan was much more proactive than probably anyone else he was aware of. OK, if that’s the case, I argued, how do you know that it isn’t just a matter of numbers – that Alan is simply throwing out a much larger net than his competitors – and he isn’t actually that good when it comes right down to it?

It is axiomatic in the sales profession that (assuming you are at least reasonably competent) if you talk to more people you close more sales. So, yes, ultimately it IS a numbers game. Alan may be a great business developer, but on the other hand he may simply talk to more people which in turn results in more conversations occurring that reveal new business opportunities for Alan and his firm.

Don’t be intimidated by Alan, I counseled Brad. Instead, do those things that have been shown again and again to enhance the probability that your conversation with a prospect will ripen into an engagement. Make Alan leap over the bar YOU have set if he is going to win the business.

Brad began his campaign by first calling the prospect and asked which days had been set for the three interviews. Told it was Thursday and Friday the following week, Brad said he would be out of town/unavailable both days but could be back mid to late afternoon on Friday. Yes, it was a fib, but there is strong experiential evidence that being first or – even better – last enhances your chances of being selected. It’s basic human nature: making the last impression, freshest memory, etc. (Another application of this truism we’ve all experienced is that in marketing-savvy restaurants the dessert or special entrée your waiter wants you to select will never be mentioned in the middle. It will almost always be the last or, less frequently, the first he suggests.)

After settling the day and time of his appointment, Brad asked if he could see applicable financial data. The prospect wasn’t prepared to give him carte blanche, but did send over the most relevant bits of the 2008 corporate return.

He then spent a good hour finding out everything he could about the prospect’s company. He checked the internet (local news sources, Yahoo/Google, et al), found a Dun & Bradstreet listing, and made a few calls to local contacts who might have had some dealings or other helpful knowledge.

Sure enough, just like we preach in this blog an in the CPA Practice Builder sales manual, he found gold. The prospect had recently hired a new VP Sales and Marketing and also replaced their advertising/PR agency. Obviously, this meant he wasn’t sitting on the status quo or rounding the wagons to try and hold on to what he had. Instead, he was being proactive and planning to attack his markets.

Brad then made some preparatory assumptions: he anticipated the executive team would be interested in accounting-related expertise that would help facilitate the prospect’s aggressive plan. To that end, he prepared to discuss bank lines, cash production and retention techniques, asset acquisition options, financial & tax implications of joint venture and partnership relationships, and other strategies relevant to companies with an expansionist mind set.

On the day of the meeting he arrived on time, dressed and groomed impeccably, and went through the recommended steps to quickly build rapport with the executive team.

Brad petty much went by the numbers in terms of structuring the discussion, and he was very pleased to discover his instinct was correct: the company was in fact adopting an aggressive two year plan to begin in 2010. Accordingly, he specifically emphasized how his services could help facilitate their plans and offered a number of suggestions they hadn’t considered.

At the meeting’s conclusion, he gently inquired how they wished to proceed? The owner asked him to give them a few minutes of privacy and when recalled, Brad was told they had selected him.

This occurred in October. Two weeks ago Brad was told by the controller that his was by far the superior presentation; that Alan had essentially spent the hour talking about people the owner knew who were already being served by Alan’s firm, and the third candidate talked about their experience with similar-sized businesses, their long time presence in the community and how up-to-date their software and technology was. Fatally, neither presentation addressed the prospect’s specific issues/challenges.

The lesson: Don’t be intimidated by a competitor’s business development reputation. If you follow the model, they should be worrying about you.


Davion said...

It's a wonderful article. When considering new business opportunities, person has to think several things before getting into it. Some of them are whether the person can continue the available opportunity for long time, can he earn profit from that business or can he create a career out of that new business opportunity and so many things.

tony metcalf said...

This is so true. My business partner became involved in networking last year, adopting this approach, and he very rarely fails to pick up the client once he has a meeting.