Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Being TOO Nice Can Be A Business Development Mistake

You’ve read many times in this blog that a cornerstone of establishing rapport with your prospect is to create an environment where they quickly conclude you’re a likable person. This is important because nobody – not you, nor your prospect – wants to do business with someone they don’t have a good interpersonal feeling about.

The positive first impression you seek will be formed in 30 seconds or less at the prospect’s gut level. In other words, they’ll “feel” that you’re an OK person. Your body language, appearance, voice tone, eye contact, handshake, etc. are the building blocks forming this initial opinion.

Then, as the meeting progresses and they hear what you have to say, they will form their secondary, reason and logic-based impression. When the prospect blends these impressions together, the result becomes what they think about you and your professional competence.

Some readers have difficulty balancing these two factors and conclude the best strategy is to make darn sure they are “nice” so the prospect will like them.

But, this is NOT what the prospect wants. Think about it from their standpoint: they’re looking for two things. The first is they want a professional service provider who is pleasant to be with (or at least easy to work with). That’s the reason for the “make a positive first impression” strategy you follow when you first meet them … you want them to feel comfortable with you.

The second thing they want is an accountant who is “competent,” and I believe they define the term differently than you might. They think competent means a) you have the appropriate technical knowledge AND, b) you know how to apply it to their circumstances.

If you fulfill these two requirements (or, if there is a competition, you fulfill them better than your competitors), they’ll almost always engage you.

OK, let’s recap where we are. You’ve made a positive first impression and you are now meeting with the prospect. How do you demonstrate competence to them?

Step one is to know your stuff. You’ve talked on the phone and at least superficially discussed their situation, you’ve asked for some financials, and you’ve hit the internet and also accessed local sources to do some research about the prospect. The point is, you know what you have to know about, so you have taken the necessary steps to be appropriately informed, thereby fulfilling a) three paragraphs above. Only b) is left.

Now we arrive at the point of this blog. It is solving b) that separates the adults from the kids. You generally only have about 25 – 30 minutes in a typical one-hour meeting to figure out the prospect’s issues, needs and wants. That’s not a lot of time! Once you learn what they are, you need another 10 – 15 minutes to demonstrate you can provide the solutions.

To accomplish this, you have to stick to business. You must focus the discussion upon bringing to light what matters to the prospect and how you can scratch that itch. Here’s the danger: the prospect begins talking about their emotionally driven concerns. They’ll stray from the point, veering into irrelevancies that are important to them, but not germane to what you need to find out about.

For example, you ask about provisions for the children’s college expenses and the prospect launches into a diatribe about the one child with bad grades who doesn’t seem interested in anything but video games. You nod sympathetically. But they go on. And on. And on. You glance at your watch and the minutes are evaporating right before your eyes. Should you say something? Well, the last thing you want to do is be rude, right? You want to be nice because, after all, if you don’t exhibit compassion and understanding the meeting may turn sour. So you sit and listen, uncomfortable with the dawning realization you’ve lost control of the meeting.

Before you know it, the time is up and your prospect has another meeting they must attend. They shake your hand warmly and tell you they really enjoyed meeting with you. Two weeks later, you find out they selected someone else to do their accounting work. This shouldn’t be a surprise, because you never really satisfied b).
To demonstrate you are the right choice to provide the prospect’s accounting services, you simply MUST focus the meeting upon discovering their issues and how you can successfully address them. Easily said, but how do you do that? Of many choices, I offer two alternatives.

The first is to manage the prospect’s expectations. When you are sitting down and the initial pleasantries are behind you, you can say something like, “Julie, based upon our telephone conversation (and the financials you provided) I’ve done some preliminary analysis and we really have quite a lot to talk about in a fairly short period of time. May I have your permission to drive the agenda of our discussion today so we don’t miss anything that’s important?” She will almost always graciously say “yes.” In effect, she has given you permission to control the discussion. If it strays, you have her advance consent to make eye contact, smile, and tap your watch. 95% of the time she’ll also smile, nod and get back to the point.

The second technique is where you don’t say anything in advance, but is a variation of the first. If you get part way into the meeting and Julie goes too far down an immaterial path, you politely interrupt and convey the same message, e.g. “I apologize, but I want to make sure we have time to cover all the issues, so could we, etc., etc.”

The primary competitive differentiation you’ll enjoy at the end of every business development meeting is when you propose solutions that really meet the prospect’s needs and wants. You MUST have the time to discover what they are and that means you have to control the meeting and stay on point. Don’t let a misreading of what the prospect really wants lead you into the trap of being too “nice.”

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