CPA Growth Trends, Marketing

Business Development: Selling as an Act of Service: Using CX Principles to Drive BD

Author: Alyson Fieldman, RockIt Results

Generating new business and expanding existing client accounts can often be stressful. In most firms, only a small subset of partners are typically interested in selling. Many partners find that selling is too highly competitive, only done on a golf course or just too overwhelming to add to an already busy schedule of client work. Selling can be, let’s admit it, a little daunting.

After all, most accountants like to work independently and have never been trained or coached on how to develop new business. In fact, have you ever asked a room full of accountants why they got into accounting originally? A few will say that their fathers/uncles/cousins were accountants. But the prevailing majority will say that they like numbers and they want to help people. This profession is all about connecting business owners with financial success — the very epitome of helping.

When you frame selling as an act of service, which is genuinely what it is — matching an unmet need with a qualified and trustworthy service provider — the narrative shifts. The best salespeople know this. They understand that their job is to help the customer and they work hard to accomplish that.

At its core, the business development process is more successful and pleasant when we approach it through the lens of client experience, transforming revenue generation into an act of serving versus an act of selling. Once you understand that selling is an act of service, these four client experience principles can help you elevate your ability to drive new business development.

1. Get comfortable being emotional

In buying decisions, emotions trump logic every single day. Several studies conclude that up to 90 percent of the decisions we make are based on emotion. We use logic to justify our actions to ourselves and to others, but we use emotion as the basis for those decisions. Accountants who prioritize and leverage humanity, warmth, humor and values are way ahead.

Sales-related messaging that focuses on features is nice, but it’s not going to win any business. Instead of features and functionality, focus instead on empathy, deep understanding, shared goals and emotional connection. People don’t just buy products or services — they buy experiences, feelings, and identities. Uncovering the emotional drivers for a prospective client is paramount.

A few key reminders to help connect to a prospect with empathy:

  • Instead of speaking to demonstrate knowledge, ask and listen.
  • Instead of selling, ask, “How can I help?”
  • Instead of leading with features and functionality, tell more stories.

2. Build authentic, deep relationships

People tend to do business with people they like and trust. This is why it’s critical to develop and maintain authentic relationships with your network. You never know when a former colleague, contact, or friend will refer you work or become a client themselves.

Even if you are looking to your current clients to expand their business, you cannot pitch new services until you’ve invested the time required to fully understand and appreciate your clients’ needs, goals, and challenges. This requires much more than technical expertise and great work product deliverables; it requires empathy, genuineness and humility to play a central role in client interactions.

Remember, we are only human after all. If we fail to show the side of us that makes us more than our occupation, we are missing a huge opportunity to connect with clients and forge more meaningful partnerships with them. Ask your clients about their family. Share your upcoming vacation plans. Find areas of mutual interest, even if it’s just the fact that you and your client are both trying to survive your kids’ teenage years. This builds more relationship capital than you might imagine.

Once you understand your clients on a deeper level, you can confidently offer them something that brings new value and positively impacts their careers, businesses, and lives. This approach makes selling new services easier on you, and the decision to buy easier for your clients because you are offering something that has their best interests at heart.

3. Use regular touchpoints to add value, demonstrate gratitude, and build trust

In fundraising, the Rule of Seven indicates that a nonprofit needs to have seven touchpoints with a donor before any successful solicitation. The same holds true for our industry: we should have at least seven touchpoints with our prospects and clients before we ask for new business. These touchpoints are over and above any contracted work or work-related deliverables.

These value-added touchpoints can be as simple as forwarding a relevant article or extending an invitation to have coffee together. Once you understand a prospect as a complete human, however, there are opportunities to also make introductions to others who might be able to help, even or especially outside of the context of the business relationship. These are sometimes referred to as the three “ins” to any relationship: invitations, introductions and insights.

The last, and perhaps most important, component to adding value is demonstrating appreciation. The goal is to make your prospects and clients feel understood and valued. In talking to a prospect who is not yet a client, we can say things like, “Thank you for considering us as your partner.” Service providers who show appreciation regularly are able to strengthen their relationships, resulting in increased client loyalty and referrals.

These ongoing touchpoints demonstrate consistent care and a long-term investment in a current or future relationship. They help your prospects preview what it will be like to work with you, so it’s important during the sales cycle to communicate clearly to manage expectations and demonstrate care. Ultimately, through ongoing, sustained efforts, your prospects will see you as a partner rather than someone just trying to close a sale.

4. Seek out feedback

Feedback has been called the grease that keeps the wheels of business rolling. Soliciting feedback regularly is a way to demonstrate a commitment to client service and continuous improvement. It also provides us with insight to understand what is working well and what isn’t.

Soliciting feedback doesn’t always have to be done formally. While firm-wide client feedback surveys can be valuable, often small and informal requests for feedback provide a more immediate and impactful result. Reaching out by phone after a major deliverable to ask, “How did that land at your recent board meeting?” or to simply ask, “How are we doing?” are quick and easy ways to glean timely and valuable insights from your clients at any point in the relationship.

During the sales process, this might mean previewing proposals in “draft format” before the final deadline. It might mean pausing to ask how a presentation went from a prospect’s viewpoint, or asking if the prospect feels that the process is going according to their expectations and needs. Opening up lines of communication for feedback during the sales cycle allows for a more meaningful exchange of information and greater success in the BD process.

In conclusion, no one wants to be sold professional services the same way they are sold cars. We are in the people business, and we must pay attention to the human elements that influence and impact our business development success. When we simulate the client experience during the sales process, develop authentic relationships, sell to others’ emotions and intuitions and demonstrate patience and sustained efforts during the sales process, we create a positive experience that paves the way for new business.

Alyson Fieldman is a seasoned marketing professional with over 20 years in professional services marketing. She works as a consultant with high-growth professional services firms to achieve their strategic, marketing, business development, and client/employee experience goals. Feel free to contact Alyson Fieldman via her website, www.rockit-results.com

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