Monday, July 26, 2010

What Does The Prospect Want?

We know what you want from the prospect: an engagement. But, what does the prospect want? What are they looking for? What criteria will they rely upon to choose an accountant?

The answer can be distilled down to three things they are looking for. Fail at one and you have a good chance of being passed over. Meet their expectations for each and you are in the running (and may win by default). If you excel in one or more criteria and meet the others, you will almost always be the one they select.

Number One, and the easiest to satisfy, is that the prospect must feel you are competent. I say “easiest” because consumers already believe you know how to do their work. They know you have gone to college and obtained a degree in accounting; you do accounting work for others, your card says you are an accountant and you may be a CPA. Their supposition is reasonable because a vast majority of prospects have mainstream accounting challenges you deal with on an everyday basis. So, their trust in your ability to do their work is generally not misplaced. The exception is when the prospect is seeking esoteric knowledge, e.g. international tax issues, etc.

It also means you don’t have to spend ANY time telling them how wonderful you are unless you need to demonstrate knowledge in a niche such as noted above. If you have a box of those expensive full color brochures, then by all means pass them out, but do so at the end of the meeting, e.g. “Really a pleasure meeting you Pam. I’m looking forward to our follow up next Thursday. By the way, here’s a brochure about our firm. As you can see, we’re only about a mile down the road.” And then you shake hands and walk out.

Perhaps being with a larger firm and/or having a bit of gray at the temples enhances the initial perception of capability, experience, etc., but generally speaking all accountants can meet the basic requirement for apparent competence without breaking a sweat.

Number Two is the prospect needs to feel good about you on an instinctual, gut-level basis. You must “feel” like someone they are comfortable doing business with.
This criteria is a killer if the perception is negative. My last two blog posts were about how to create a good first impression and the reason I wrote them is because this is such an important requirement. Ditto the section in the manual. They don’t have to like you or, as I joke in presentations, want to double date with you, but they do need to feel good about you on an interpersonal level.

Therefore, please follow the basic rules for creating a good first impression
even if you already know the prospect. To explain … you can know someone – perhaps you see them regularly at the gym or a local civic organization – but when you are meeting them for the purpose of discussing a professional service relationship, they have a different hat on. They won’t be looking at you as their acquaintance/friend Good Old Charlie; instead they will be reassessing you through a somewhat different prism. For that reason you go through the make-a-good-first-impression sequence because, as you’ll see when you review it, it incorporates elements that enhance the perception of competence and professionalism, not just your stellar interpersonal qualities.

Number Three is addressing and solving whatever issues they really care about that are related to accounting services. You can’t address them if you don’t know what they are, and that is why there is so much emphasis in the methodology on the how-to of identifying the key issues, problems, wants, needs, etc.
as perceived by the prospect.

These issues will be both logical and emotional. For example, a logical issue is a cash shortage and the bank line is almost maxed out. This issue is also emotional, because the prospect may fear the consequence of the cash shortage could be failure of their business. Not all issues contain both elements, e.g. flat revenue may pose no threat to the business’ health, and the prospect simply wants to continue her history of steady growth, but she doesn’t have any particular angst about it. However, if the hours she spends at the business are becoming a problem with how much time she has available to be with her children, she may be quite stressed about the situation.

The second half of Number Three is to not only isolate the key issues, problems, etc. you must then propose solutions for them (or, a means to reach a solution). In the examples above, you can propose strategies to address the various elements that affect cash flow and retention, and offer to work with them to approach the bank to obtain more generous terms, covenants, etc. on their line. You might suggest breaking down her sources of revenue, isolating the lagging areas and then doing some what-if analyses projecting how different strategies might affect revenue growth. In the last example, you might talk about how she could hire a key manager to whom she could delegate some of her present responsibilities and then offer to do a projection re how that additional expense would impact overhead, margins/profits, etc. so she’ll have a solid basis to consider the option.

If the prospect likes/feels good about you, believes you are competent to address their accounting challenges, and sees that you understand what issues/problems they are concerned about and have reasonable, workable approaches to solve them, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get the engagement. When price is discussed, I recommend you set your rates to reflect current market place standards and don’t negotiate them down.

If they press really hard for a lower price, one strategy that consistently works is to suggest that fee reductions may be available if you can receive their raw data in a form that closely comports with your internal system. You then offer to analyze and suggest how they can package the information they send to you so that it is easier to work with and offer to pass on the savings to them. Usually, this is a good win-win compromise.

If you nail these three elements you will convert a significant majority of your prospects into clients.

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