Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Most Important Business Development Skill

The business development model described and explained in the manual and also written about in this blog isn’t a simple, silver bullet solution. It isn’t daunting to anyone who has the capability to obtain an accounting degree, but nevertheless does require study and practice if your goal is to become a superior rainmaker.

But, we each learn in different ways and rarely become simultaneously adept at all the phases of any process. This means that you will get up to speed more quickly on some aspects of the method than others. And, to put it bluntly, you may simply not like certain a segment here or there and will skim over the related material. It’s human nature.

With that said, when you actually begin employing the method I doubt if you will be surprised if you find that for whatever reason(s) you are more comfortable and/or capable with some areas than others.

Now we get to the crux of this post. I’ll frame it with a question: Do you have to master every element of the method to be a superior business developer? The answer is “no.”

There is one portion of the method that is more important than the others, and if that is one of your strengths – or even your only strength – you will still obtain good results.

To explain: The process begins with identifying a prospect and obtaining a meeting. This is obviously a vital element, and in some instances may take a bit of social boldness, but it really isn’t especially difficult. It is more a matter of will. Then you do your research about the prospect, which is something every accountant can do well. Perhaps your investigation may be somewhat superficial, but if you are experienced you can probably overcome this because you’ve been there and done that so many times.

When the meeting does occur it is important to make a good first impression, but even then, if you are knowledgeable and eventually develop a good rapport with the prospect that won’t prove fatal.

Let’s skip ahead for a moment and look at the closing phase of the meeting. You have to say something to get the business, right? The method incorporates several variations of a “close” strategy, and in the manual and in this blog I’ve made the point many times that you need to have resolution … either they engage you, or they don’t or, if a decision isn’t made right then, you obtain an advance so that a decision will be made in the near term.

Surely the close is the most important phase, yes? Nope. Because if you really nail the most important element you often won’t even need a close because the prospect will begin making all the signs of wanting to be your client before the meeting is even over.

Just this one additional bit of set up and then I’ll reveal the answer. Your prospect has both an emotional and logical perception of their financial and tax situation. They want to work with an accountant who has the skills to handle their various reports, filings, etc., and also understands their needs, wants, priorities and motivations. The latter is the key.

Remember that the vast majority of clients already believe all accountants are technically competent to handle their needs (with obvious exceptions for specialized areas). Therefore, it is rare that you need to “sell” your accounting skills to a prospect because the logical side of their brain is already comfortable with your presumed capability.

You can omit segments and even make outright mistakes during the meeting and still win the client If you demonstrate you understand and can relate the services you propose to the prospect’s emotional needs.

Mastering this skill begins with asking for an overview from the client. You say, e.g. “Susan, I’ve had a chance to review some of your financials and have an initial understanding of your physical therapy practice, but it will help me focus our discussion today if you would provide me an overview of where you are and where you want to go with your business.”

Her response will initially center upon her practice, but if you listen carefully (and perhaps provide a small prod or two) she will make clear her emotional concerns. For example, if at some point she says, “Ben, who shares the practice with me, is starting to talk about retirement. I’m not to sure what that means for the future,” this is a clear indicator that she has emotional concerns and also raises other, more straightforward financial issues, e.g. can she afford to buy Ben out, does it make sense for her to stay in that facility if she practices alone, etc.

To ensure you understand Susan’s emotional anxiety you can next ask her something like, “How would you like the situation to come out … what’s the future you’d like to see?”

With her answer in mind, you will propose solutions that allow her to see the real probability of achieving the future she desires with you as her accounting professional.

When what you propose resonates with her on both practical/logical AND emotional levels, 90+ times out of a 100 you will get the engagement unless (and it’s unlikely) someone else is similarly adept at recognizing and addressing the issue(s).

Asking a well-framed “overview” question, really hearing the prospect’s answer, and then proposing solutions that exactly address their needs and concerns is the skill that will more than any other factor positively influence the prospect’s buying decision. Every other part of the business development process is secondary.

See “Obtain An Overview From The Prospect” and the following two chapters in your manual for a much more detailed exploration of this topic.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Four Elements For Business Development Success

After I’d racked up some experience training industrial salesmen back in the ‘70s, a number of truths became apparent.

The most important one I learned is that sales success required the presence of four elements.

Alan’s experience illustrates this statement. He took to the training program like a champ. He read the materials, accurately completed the exercises, listened to the tapes and did well in the role-playing. Once he was in the field he attacked his assigned territory with vigor. He visited the existing accounts and met with those who made the buying decisions. He reviewed everyone’s stock position, updated inventory, actively worked his to-do list, created schedules for follow up and generally invested a lot of energy revitalizing the customer base.

Because it is a process, not an event, it takes time for a business development campaign to bear fruit. (This is true for your efforts, too.) In his first six weeks, Alan produced a nice revenue spike within his existing customer base. This jump in revenue was the result in Alan systematically calling upon them after the prior salesperson’s relative neglect. However, a problem was becoming apparent.

In our sales management system, we would meet each week and talk about various performance metrics. One metric was the number of new accounts each salesperson brought in. Historically, a new hire would begin to generate these in the third or fourth week after being turned loose.

Alan didn’t have any. Realizing we had a developing problem, I brought him in for a day and we reviewed how things were going. When we focused in on his results, I brought his attention to the zeros in the “new customers” column. He had a lot of reasons and excuses for his lack of success, and we spent the balance of the day talking about various things he could do to turn things around. We parted with Alan vowing to improve, and the next morning he gave me a plan detailing exactly what he was going to do to succeed.

He didn’t improve (in fact he never brought even one new customer), and Alan left the company a month later. All the pieces were in place … good technique, good attitude, a territory rich in potential … but Alan failed. So, what went wrong?

There is an answer to this, and it is an answer that applies to all of us who wish to build or improve our practices. The bottom line is that as simple as it may sound, you have to actually do it to succeed! Nike has it right: Just Do It.

A proven, effective business development technique is readily available to you in the form of the manual most of you own. And, as you’ve read numerous times in this blog, you can employ these techniques in your own interpersonal style that is both more effective and gentle on your psyche. Technique isn’t the barrier, for Alan or for you.

Alan’s real limitation was that he wanted everything to be right … no mistakes, no awkward tongue-tied moments, nobody saying no and no negativity. The “perfect” circumstances he desired never arrived. The effect was that he couldn’t take the necessary steps to develop new customers.

In contrast, he felt safe with the existing clients, all of whom were pleased to see him. But he was terrified of talking to someone who might not respond positively to him. The result was that talked to none. Zero results.

Yes, business development can be messy. It involves people. It is unpredictable and, depending upon how far you want to extend yourself, can even be psychologically uncomfortable every now and then.

How does this affect you? I’m going to assume you are reading this because you want your practice to have more revenue, more margin/profit, better clients, more clients or some combination thereof. This is the first element. You have to want it. Like you, Alan had desire … he wanted a six-figure life style.

The second element is patience. You shouldn’t expect to go from zero to 60 in 2 seconds. Nobody can do that. It is going to be a few months before you see real results. Alan had this, too. He was patient … he knew it would take some time to succeed.

The third is that you have to do it. This is what killed Alan. You have to put your toe in the water, even if you step on a pebble or two, and then wade in more deeply as you gain confidence. There is absolutely no substitute for taking action.

To overcome the “Alan” barrier, I suggest you begin by talking with your existing clients about doing more work for them. In both the manual and in this blog we’ve explored several ways of going about this that are very, very easy on your internal “I-don’t-want-to-sell-used-cars-for-a-living” meter.

Once you are comfortable with the techniques related to obtaining additive revenue from your present book of business, then it is a relatively small step to wade in a bit further and begin converting prospects who are more or less strangers.

Desire, technique, patience and Just Do It. It works every time, all the time.