Synopsis: In today’s competitive environment, the author provides a useful strategy for meeting new prospects and keeping them interested. People are inundated by all kinds of sales offers and tend to close their ears before a pitch is even made. They don’t want to be sold, which causes distrust and implies a hidden agenda. This post explains how to keep prospects warm by engaging them in honest discussions that build trust and solid relationships.
When the topic of “selling” is mentioned at conference tables around the country, images of uncomfortable networking functions may emerge in professionals’ minds. An expression of fear may even be visible on many faces. Boring after-hour events full of intimidating strangers balancing cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, peering nervously around the room, rarely elicits the excitement of young accountants. Unfortunately, this is what comes to mind for many accounting professionals. Others may imagine a scene of pushing their services on unsuspecting people and being rejected and embarrassed.
Help vs. sell
When accountants are asked to give the first word that comes to mind when they hear the word “selling,” for novice sellers, responses usually range from “painful” and “pushy” to “necessary.” Some do utter the words “fun” and “liberating.” This is much better. The word I am actually looking for is helping. Selling services to clients is, in fact, helping them. So how do we get the fear-stricken masses to realize this?
Most accounting professionals that have some experience will share that a top motivator for them is helping clients. This is the primary reason that many joined the accounting industry. When partners share stories of how they helped clients, their eyes light up with passion and excitement. They become animated recounting stories of how their advice and relationships helped take their client’s business to the next level. I love to hear these stories because this is what the profession should be about, helping people. So when we talk about growing our practices, I would like to propose a paradigm shift for those in fear: stop selling and start helping.
Help your clients and spend your time wisely
Most people enjoy helping others in need. We naturally enjoy solving problems and building relationships with other people, including clients. What if we, as an industry, could reduce our fear of rejection and embarrassment and focus solely on having meaningful conversations about how we can help others? Our lives would be full of more interesting conversations and, ultimately, more interesting clients each year. The good news is that you can. You just need to commit to getting out there and having the right type of conversations.
While growing your practice would be a lot easier if referrals flooded in continuously, this is not a reality for everyone. Referrals are generally warm, qualified, and have less price resistance. This is the reason they are so wonderful. When you desire to build a client base in a new niche, in a new location, or with an unfamiliar company, you must rely on more creative ways to become known.
Attending events where there is a high likelihood of meeting potential clients generally is one good option. Because time is limited, it must be used in the most beneficial way. For example, if you are building a niche in health care, seek out the best heath care events where you are likely to come into contact with potential clients.
Change your mindset from sales-focused to helpful
At networking events, the difference in appearing “pushy or salesy” versus friendly and interested in getting to know others is simply in your approach. Ensure you display positive behavior that is honest, open and friendly, rather than sales-oriented with a possible hidden agenda. Make sure you don’t appear pushy or sales-oriented, which could turn off potential clients and referrals.
Start with your intention. Change your mindset from selling services to being interested in helping those in need. Intend to meet new friends and learn about what they are doing and what they are up against. Ask about their background; talk about their challenges; and share success stories involving others with similar challenges. This will help you to gain the trust of your client and advance the relationship to the next level. It will also provide you with valuable experience in dealing with different people and may uncover opportunities to help others. This friendly interaction is more enjoyable and rewarding than feeling like you are forcing your firm on them.
Prepare for these conversations by learning about your firm’s successes with clients in multiple engagements. Gather as many success stories as you can. Prepare a list of interesting questions to ask potential clients about their business experiences and struggles. People like to talk about their problems and are generally open to hearing solutions. Be prepared to talk about how other clients dealt with similar struggles.
While you may be tempted to demonstrate your capabilities on the spot and tell prospects how to solve their business issues, this is not advisable. It is fine to speak to them about possible solutions but you should strive to build enough interest so that you are able to set a follow-up meeting. The more you demonstrate your capabilities early on, the more salesy you sound.
Once you are in front of your new friend in a follow-up meeting, you can feel more comfortable to formulate solutions with them. At this point, you may have won an engagement. And, the best part is you were busy helping and not selling. It’s a win-win situation for both the client and your firm. Both benefit from this newly established relationship that is now based on trust and honesty.
About the author
Angie Grissom serves as the President of The Rainmaker Companies, a leading provider of alliance, consulting, and training services exclusively for the Accounting Profession. She is passionate about the current and future leadership in the accounting industry and pushes firm leaders to build firms that empower people and have strong future leaders and unmatched client service. She encourages leaders to think outside the box and have a focus on getting results.