[IMGCAP(1)]Competing with the “giants” of the accounting industry is a difficult task.

There are obstacles in your way all through the selling process. However, it can be accomplished.

If you want to compete there are a few preliminaries, you must have:

• Service beyond normal expectations

• Clear professional excellence, acknowledged by the financial community

• The highest level of staff retention

Even with that degree of excellence, competing with the largest firms is challenging.

For an accounting sale to be successful, most experts suggest that you begin by identifying the decision makers and build trust and rapport. I would counsel you to take your time with this step. In order to compete with the giants, it is crucial to invest in developing meaningful relationships. Trying to move into the selling mode too early will work against you.

Even after building strong trust and a meaningful rapport, you have many additional stumbling blocks in front of you. According to most experts, the next step in the sales process is uncovering the prospect’s needs. In complex sales this process can be onerous, because you may only uncover the surface needs during your early interactions. This means you have to keep drilling down to identify the real concerns. To accomplish this, it is critical that you learn to ask probing questions that get to the core issues.

Remember not to solve problems too quickly! When you let the challenges resonate, you can create more value by demonstrating innovative solutions. This is essential when you are competing with the giants as it enables you to show significantly more value than they do.

Despite your hard work, you still have at least one enormous wall to climb. In larger, more sophisticated sales situations, you still have the biggest obstacle in front of you. . In reality, it's the elephant in the room so you need to be prepared to address it. Prospects will be concerned with the consequences they may face when choosing a smaller firm instead of a large national or internally recognized organization.

Think about it: The decision maker may be at risk when choosing to work with you rather than with a firm that has an established reputation and is a giant In the profession. When choosing you, they understand that one slip, one failure, could be serious enough for the decision maker to come under intense scrutiny or even be in danger of losing their job.

So how can you overcome this final, but important, challenge? Here is my suggestion:

Create an inventory of proof showing how others have chosen you in the past in spite of the consequences. The inventory should be made up of:

• Testimonial letters from clients that could have chosen the giants or were with them in the past (the more the better).

• Real-world war stories of how you solved complicated problems for large clients.

• Arranging a meeting between a client who left a large firm to come to your firm and has a good story to tell your prospect on how good the choice was to select your firm.

Until you have this inventory available it will be difficult for you to present a strong case.

However, if you do not have sufficient inventory at your disposal, start small and work up. In other words, ask for a slice of business that will allow you to demonstrate the quality of your firm, your integrity and the high level of technical service you will deliver.

For example, conduct a special project, perform a tax study, or get involved with a research project. In this way you can show your prospect the value your firm will deliver in a situation with fewer consequences. Then build the relationship from there. Be patient, it’s worth the effort.

Burt Bierman, CPA, is a senior consultant with the Rainmaker Consulting Group.