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.


accountants in worcester said...

For larger and well-established companies, especially in technology-related industries, the term business development often refers to setting up and managing strategic relationships and alliances with other, third-party companies.

Craig said...

I agree. It can be quite confusing because even within the same accounting firm the partners will sometimes use the term "business development" in different contexts. Some will mean it to convey "sales" or "rainmaking," while others will be talking about a more organic, client relationship approach. When in doubt, define terms.