The Long Island-based firm of Grassi & Co. has had much success over the years. But like many firms seeking to drive market share in a constrained economy, they knew that developing larger opportunities is a different game in these days of heavy competition and price wars.
This is one woman's story of changing the way she pursues larger opportunities - and winning! A Long Island native, Geri Gregor launched her career in the Big Eight, served as a corporate chief financial officer, and now leads Grassi's consulting practice.
The story begins when Grassi partner Rick Gavin, who teaches a construction-related course at Columbia University, received a request for proposal for a $500,000 billing consultation contract related to construction of a university biomedical research center. The partner group had just completed a workshop that discussed large opportunity pursuit principles. Gregor was tapped to head the pursuit team.
In the past, Gregor, like many CPAs, would have assembled a collection of partners for an introductory meeting. Her training taught her to make the initial contact with the key decision-maker on her own. Then she strategically selected and introduced partners to meet individually with client decision-makers based upon several factors, including background, potential chemistry and industry expertise.
She presented her suggestions by saying, "I have the perfect partner in mind for this aspect of the project, but after you meet them please let me know your thoughts." In this way team selection was a joint decision with the prospect.
In her first meetings, Gregor asked lots of questions, rather than trying to showcase her firm's excellence. By asking focused, data-yielding questions about the prospect, decision-maker goals, and other contextual information, Gregor positioned herself as a problem-solver with an intimate understanding of the project - someone who could offer uniquely relevant solutions.
Listening more and talking less helped Gregor establish a relationship of trust. She learned about the priorities of the university and the goals of the project. These included not being over-billed for construction services and ensuring ongoing monitoring of construction costs.
A FEW TENSE MOMENTS
All was not smooth sailing as Gregor and her team moved through the opportunity development stages. An important part of their strategy was learning who else was in the running. By asking the prospect point-blank who was competing for the work - a nontraditional move - Gregor took a calculated but important risk.
It paid off by moving the prospect beyond his comfort level into a discussion of the relative merits of the various competitors - a subject not usually broached with a firm in contention for a large piece of business.
This also had the desired effect of positioning Grassi as somehow closer than the other bidders - more intimate with the process and therefore a better choice. And it provided essential strategic intelligence about the firm's competitors.
Another bold and important step was to suggest that the short time frame for developing a proposal was insufficient. Instead of trying to bring the opportunity to quick closure, she elongated the process by persuading the prospect that it was in their best interest to meet several times. Elongating the selling process extended Grassi's opportunity window and added more time for uncovering needs, understanding context and developing compelling value propositions.
Based on their learnings, the Grassi team crafted a proposed approach that addressed the need for a proactive pre-construction approach to billing strategy and solid methods for price monitoring. The methodology was a direct reflection of the intelligence gained during interviews.
Grassi's competitive differentiation was the centerpiece of the proposal. It delivered more data-driven solutions and very few accolades about the firm. This was a muscular action plan, not a publicity vehicle. As such, it would stand apart from the competitors' proposals.
JUST ONE MORE THING ...
Soon after the Grassi group made its oral presentation, Gregor got a call from her contact. His team liked what they had seen, but now they started raising questions about the cost. Gregor had already discussed price at length with the prospect and was taken aback that it came up again. But she remembered that being asked late in the cycle about price was usually a good sign that the firm was being seriously considered.
In her response, Gregor emphatically reminded the prospect about all the value elements they'd discussed. And she verbalized that there was too much value at stake to get into a price war.
Grassi won the work.
And Gregor and her partners gained expertise in a focused approach to landing big fish built on a few powerful principles:
* Divide and conquer, carefully matching specific partners to decision-makers in initial one-on-one meetings.
* Talk less and listen more, building trust and comfort.
* Uncover hidden personal and professional needs, which are the basis of value propositions and competitive strategy.
* Remember that it's not about you, it's about them.
Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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