Demonstrate your credibility by what you say and by how you conduct yourself.Have the courage to ask tough questions, and have fierce, honest discussions.
Seven Steps to Building a Solid Client Relationship
The start of any undertaking is the most important step. When it comes to building the confident, trusting and strong relationship between the CPA and client, the start is especially important. I’m not just talking about the immediate “bonding and rapport” part of selling, or a five minute segment of chitchat. The start I’m referring to is the entire first contact process, whether it is a phone call or a chamber meeting, or the initial meeting after a phone call. The start will often, if not always, determine the finish.
The Start: “Have-To”
The start will begin with the understanding that you have to —
1. Be prepared for each next step by completing a pre-call strategy. Know what questions you will ask to move the relationship forward. These are not questions about the technical aspects of your prospect’s current position or status. (See #5.) Anticipate the prospect’s answers to the questions you ask and be prepared with follow up dialog. Too many professionals take this step for granted because they’ve “been in the business for ‘x’ number of years.” Don’t fall into this trap.
2. Clearly identify your preferred outcome. In the book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury do a great job of explaining how defining your preferred outcome will guide you through any meeting that you have. Most CPAs define the objective of the initial call as one of establishing credibility in order to get commitment from a prospective client. During this meeting, evaluate whether this prospect qualifies to do business with you. Every CPA has or had clients, who don’t fit an ideal profile, (e.g., slow paying, too small, high maintenance).
3. Qualify suspects/prospects to do business with you rather than the other way around. Don’t go to a meeting feeling like you must audition for the business. However, make sure that the person with whom you are meeting qualifies to do business with you, and not just from a profile perspective. Qualifying is more than performing a needs analysis, having a discussion about features and benefits, getting a budget, or agreeing to a decision making process. In an effective selling system, qualifying means uncovering the following:
• Does the prospect have a compelling reason to take action quickly?
• Will the prospect invest the time, money and resources to solve an existing problem or an oncoming problem?
• Will the prospect invest that time, money or resources in a timely fashion or operate in the “seek” mode of buying?
• Will the prospect tell you “yes” or “no” when you present? In order to accomplish this, you MUST have eliminated his or her current provider. You MUST have heard the prospect’s desire to fix it, whatever “it” is. And you MUST have a solution that is appropriate for the problem.
4. Demonstrate your credibility by what you say and by how you conduct yourself. Make yourself different by the questions you ask; by your focus on the prospect and what is important to it; and by your reluctance to get into a “pitch.” Avoid doing a “datadump.” Demonstrate your knowledge of its industry through stories, analogies and metaphors that work to show you understand its business. Demonstrate your professionalism by the way you ask penetrating questions. Demonstrate your focus on your prospect’s issues by listening.
5. Have the courage to ask tough questions, and have fierce, honest discussions. You probably know the questions, but often leave an initial call having failed to ask:
• “How will you make this decision?”
• “When will you make this decision?”
• “If you don’t have a budget, how will you pay for this?”
• “If you are shopping for low price, what happens if I show up and I’m not the low price?”
• “What, specifically, will you base this decision on?”
• “When you told your current provider that you were unhappy with the current situation and you were shopping to replace them, what did they say?”
• And finally, “When I show up with my proposal, I need for you to be in a position to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ What objections do you have to that process?”
6. Leave your need for approval at the door when you leave the house in the morning. This is when the need to be liked by the prospect is greater than the need to close business, dissuading one from asking tough questions. Rewrite your record collection about how people buy. This means beliefs that may sabotage, not support, a successful outcome. An example is when the CPA secretly agrees with the prospect’s objection that service is “expensive.” Leave your personal buy cycle with your car in the parking lot. Your methodology for purchasing personally may make you sympathetic to a prospect’s similar methodology, allowing think-it-over’s. However, go out expecting people to engage you and your services.
7. Close this step and get a clear next step. Always close per your identified objective for each meeting. Then move on. If you get masterful at this step, you will have fewer meetings and your closing ratio will improve. Ask for closure. Ask for a clear next step. Ask for the business.
Master these seven steps to building a solid client relationship and you will close more business, more quickly, and at higher margins.