This weekend I heard Steve Martin’s and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ catchy new song, Yellow-Backed Fly. It’s all about a fly fisherman who is in search of a big fish in Carolina named Old Jim. All of his plotting and casting reminded this new fly fishing enthusiast of the many practitioners who are looking to reel in their own catch in the form of new clients. According to the recently released 2011 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey acquiring new clients ranked as a concern for firms of all sizes.
Business development is much like the fly fishing amateur of the profession. The big question is this:
Will you embrace it with the same passion and commitment that anglers do as you search for more of the work you love or will it be a necessary means of restocking your practice’s pond?
Love it or loathe it, there are many tips and techniques that you can glean from fellow fishing enthusiasts as you look to fill your creel with more new business. No matter what size fish you are seeking, here are seven baits to get you started:
- Consider the Fish’s Perspective. If you want a bigger catch, you need to help the fish you’re after to get what it wants. It’s actually quite basic. Potential clients want solutions to their problems, an easier life, success and a better future. On the flip side, they don’t want to be sold to and they don’t really care about you or your services.
- Fish Sense Danger. Prospects, like fish, can sense danger ahead. If they get the impression that all you and your firm care about is making the sale, they will send out distress signals and retreat. As you explore new territory with them, you must learn to recognize the hidden forces that may be at work behind the scenes. Four that you should be on the lookout for are fear, blame, shock and denial. Instead of hearing what you have to say, they will be concerned with such questions as:
The outward signs of these thoughts can include negative, non-verbal cues such as crossed arms, leaning backward, poor eye contact and a tense or uninterested tone of voice. The bottom line is this. Relax. Help the fish trust you with your words and actions.
- Can I trust you?
- Do you really understand how to help me?
- Will you make me look bad about my decision to hire you?
- Will you deliver what you promise?
- Reading the Water. Before you throw your hook into an unfamiliar pond — STOP! Read the water. If you look closely it will give you clues about what type of cast to throw, where to throw it and what type of flies to use. Use these questions to help you get started.
- What’s the current environment?
- Is it a positive growing organization or one that is struggling to survive?
- Have they had recent organizational changes, such as, new leadership, merger and acquisition or new facility?
- What are their top priorities?
- What problems do they want to solve?
- Have you helped clients with similar problems?
- Do they have immediate needs?
- Choose the Right Fly. Fly selection is important. Potential clients, like fish, are finicky about what and when they bite. Hinge Marketing’s (Hinge) research on how buyers buy professional services, provides good insight into how practitioners can improve their marketing. Consider the following carefully before your next fishing expedition:
- 19.9 percent — understand my situation
- 13.5 percent — no high-pressure sales calls
- 12.2 percent — share relevant case studies
- 10.9 percent — present detailed solutions
- 9.0 percent — meet with me personally
- 6.4 percent — show you want my business
- Tell Fish Tales. Instead of talking about the big one that got away, tell success stories. Help prospects understand what it will be like to work with you and how you can help them solve their problems. Use examples (no names revealed of course) that will allow them to step inside your world. Put your experience into narratives that will give them a glimpse of the solutions that are available. Provide hope for a brighter future.
Stories are also a great way for you to overcome buyers’ objections. Give examples of satisfied clients who had similar concerns. Tell potential clients how you worked through the concerns and how their situations changed for the better as a result of retaining you.
- Set the Hook. Once you have a fish on the line, you must set the hook before you can reel him in. Scrap those hokey, contrived old techniques. According to the 2010 CCH Accounting Firm Client Survey, the key drivers in firm selection include 37 percent overall firm expertise; 14 percent firm reputation; 12 percent partner expertise; 11 percent offered best value; five percent referral; and five percent partner reputation. As clients move toward a decision, Hinge points out that the tipping points are price; availability/flexibility; senior level commitment/consistency; and disappointment with alternatives. If your firm has not differentiated itself, you will be forced to compete on price. A misstep can cause a quick tug by Old Jim and then he will be upstream once again.
- Catch or Release. Upon your return from a sales call, gather the team to determine if you want to continue to “fish or cut bait.” Many practitioners waste valuable time and energy chasing prospects that don’t fit their ideal profile or pursing those they don’t stand a chance of landing. Consider these questions as you determine whether or not you will continue to win the prospect:
- Do you want the business?
- Does it fit into your “ideal client” category?
- Do you have time to pursue it properly?
- Do you have what it takes to serve them?
- Do you stand a chance of getting the work?
Whether you are out to catch Old Jim or Moby Dick put these proven strategies to work and watch your creel fill with more new business. If not, you may be going back again next year in search of the big catch that got away!
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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international groups to do more of the work they love. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com. If you are looking for more practical tips to help build your practice, visit her new blog.