Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More about Alan

In the previous blog posting I attempted to make the point that if the basic model is followed the probability of you securing an engagement from your prospect is excellent even if you are going up against a competitor (“Alan”) with a strong history of business development success.

In the example I wrote about it turned out that Alan did NOT in fact possess an effective technique beyond his determined and widespread networking skills. In essence, he positioned himself in the front of the collective mind of the local business people and became, for many of them, the default accountant, i.e. the first one they thought of. Not a bad way to go about finding clients, but much, much more effective when combined with good technique.

Subsequently, I received some great feedback from readers, and it illuminates how varied the challenge can be when a prospect is up for grabs.

John in Salt Lake City described a remarkably similar situation as last week where it turned out “Alan” wasn’t even a “competent” (John’s word, not mine) accountant. Instead, he maintained client contact while others did the work. His time was spent attending seemingly every meeting in town and smoozing desirable prospects with golf, dinner, drinks, etc. John easily won the particular engagement he sought by focusing in upon the prospect’s needs and demonstrating his expertise and experience in those areas.

Anita, from Wisconsin, found herself in competition with the biggest business development player in her market area and augmented her effort with a unique psychological approach. She followed the model, especially as it related to isolating the prospect’s priorities and issues, and then took a bit of a risk to gain an advantage. During the meeting she found an opportunity to comment about her competitors.

I wasn’t there, so these aren’t the real words, but as Anita described it to me, her approach went something like this: “I really appreciate being given the opportunity to compete for your accounting business. And, I’m flattered that you have considered me to be in the same league with (name #1, her main competitor) and (name #2). As you know, #1 serves many of the biggest clients in town, such as (names), and I’m glad to see they are now seeking business from other prospects. And #2 is renown throughout the mid-state area as the go-to firm for green and not for profit entities.”

Needless to say, the prospect was neither very big nor connected to the green movement.

Anita talked about the advantages of personal service, how the prospect would – if Anita was engaged – be one of several key clients she served, and her specific expertise with the prospect’s issues. In the end, they chose Anita because they wanted to be with a firm which considered their business to be important and, because they were neither, they didn’t really relate to the other firm’s emphasis upon green and NFP clients.

So, in effect, she poisoned the well. Hey, as the saying goes, “all’s fair in love and war and winning the business from desirable prospects.” Well, maybe it doesn’t go exactly like that, but you get the idea.

Bill, from Seattle, was on the other end of some game playing. He was one of four competitors for an account and was third on the interview list. With a few minutes to go he completed his agenda and began a gentle close by asking what the next step was in the selection process.

To his surprise, one of the two interviewers (the owner and his CFO) asked if he was going to stay in the Seattle area after he retired. Bill, who is in his mid-50s, recovered from his surprise and asked what prompted the question. He was told someone from one of the prior two firms mentioned he would be retiring shortly. Bill said he responded emotionally by blurting, “Wow, he must really need your business. I’m not retiring for at least another ten years!” The prospects, who now understood they’d been gamed, started laughing and when the moment passed Bill realized he’d not only sunk the competitor’s ship, he had also experienced a solid bonding moment with the prospects.

Bill didn’t get the account because of his relative inexperience with the specific industry, but the owner told him he wanted Bill to take over accounting services for a development start up where the owner was the general partner. This was right up Bill’s alley, and a perfect outcome.

So, again, follow the model. You can’t go wrong in that regard. If you need more prospects, find ways to talk to more people. Maybe not to the extent Alan does, but nevertheless more. Finally, as Anita and Bill’s stories demonstrate, games will be played every now and then. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, a five figure addition to the revenue column can be plenty of motivation to generate some bumping between competitors in the race to the checkered flag.

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