Many accountants are reluctant to have business development conversations because they see them as sales pitches. But not being able to have those conversations can be damaging for both parties; clients aren’t offered the services they want, and accountants are unable to help their practices grow.
Try to meet as equals – two experts coming together to discuss what they know
So, how do you structure a business development conversation where you can generate more business in a low-pressure way so that clients ask to work with you?
Meet as equals
Sales people in all industries have a tendency to put the client on a pedestal. They see the client as the prize to be secured so future income is guaranteed. Accountants are no different.
The problem is that it indicates that they have more authority in the relationship than you and makes it difficult for you to lead or take control.
That said, neither should you be above them. They are an expert in what they do and should be respected as such. Instead of a master-servant relationship, try to meet as equals – two experts coming together to discuss what they know.
Rapport is easy
Rapport is one of the easiest things to establish in any business development conversation. If you invite a client to a meeting to discuss business and they turn up, you have rapport. You are both at the one location with the agreed intent to discuss one thing.
We connect with each other through the questions we ask, not by the things we say
What trips up many accountants is the desire to establish some form of social connection with the client. They think they need to know about the client’s family or what they did on the weekend. But both parties are there for business, not socialising.
Ask, don’t tell
We connect with each other through the questions we ask, not by the things we say. So ask your client about their business. Be curious. Ask them about the problems they are facing, and their future business plans. Get them to go into detail of the good, the bad and the ugly.
When you’ve asked enough questions, ask them what they want to know about you
This has two outcomes that are of value to both parties. The first is relevant connection. Most business owners don’t have anyone to talk to about their problems. They can’t discuss how they’ve made so much money that their tax bill is going to be sky-high, or that their cashflow is so tight they don’t know how they will pay wages next week.
But these things can be discussed with accountants.
The second is that it gets into what will motivate them to take action. You can find out what is keeping them awake at night. When you know what problems they want to solve, you can suggest a solution.
When you’ve asked enough questions, ask them what they want to know about you. You do this with a line similar to: ‘Well that’s given me a good overview of you and where you’re at. What questions do you have of me?’
Their response will tell you what they are thinking. If they say something like, ‘do you help businesses like mine?’ you know they are interested in looking more closely at what you offer. If they say something else, you will know how close they are to wanting to engage your services.
One of the hardest things to do in sales is to close. Asking for the order can be high risk. If they say ‘yes’, it’s happy days. But if they say no, it feels awkward. For this reason many professional sales people avoid asking for the order.
So go for a cool close – one that is low pressure and not really closing at all.
The best cool close to use comes sometime after you’ve answered the questions they have about you, and goes something like this: ‘So where do you think we should go from here?’
The beauty of this question is that there is no pressure. It appears to give control of the conversation to the client. If they come back with an objection, you can answer that without looking like someone who is begging for business. If they say they want to know what is involved in getting started, you can take them through your onboarding procedure.
The cool close can also be asked several times in a conversation. It’s not boxing anyone into a corner that feels like a trap. It’s clean, it’s clear and it is low pressure. Everyone likes that.