I've heard far too many CPAs refer to business development - with denigration - as "scheduling appointments" and "walking the halls."To borrow a phrase, it often seems that business developers are from Saturn and CPAs are from Mars. Despite a shared purpose, their methods often appear dramatically divergent. Behind closed doors, CPAs candidly ask me, "What the heck are these people doing? They walk the halls, flit from meal to meal and attend social events. It doesn't look like work to me. I wish I could have that much fun. Is all of this really necessary?!"
Indeed, it is necessary and it is hard work, I assure them, grateful for the opening. Beyond their intense curiosity about how rainmakers operate lies an important need for CPAs to understand the business development process. Only then can they understand what they're observing and become informed participants in the process, helping to lead their firms in terms of resource deployment and strategic direction.
Informed partners do not resent a work day that looks and feels so different from their own. Rather, they appreciate the "divide and conquer" mentality that's essential to practice growth and stability. And in today's mature and competitive accounting profession, doing good work is often not enough to garner clients and attract quality staff.
Let's take a look at some frequently misunderstood rainmaker behaviors. You may be surprised to learn that what they're doing may be closer to your experience than you think.
* Scheduling appointments. Secretaries schedule appointments, not highly paid professionals, right? Wrong. In fact, convincing an overburdened prospect that it's worth her time to meet with a business developer is nothing less than an art. Identifying the right decision-maker, and strategic appointment-setting, requires the business developer to anticipate the motivation for a prospective client to make space on the calendar.
* Walking the halls. Talk about fractured phrases! For too many CPAs, the phrase "walking the halls" conjures the image of an aimless wanderer who randomly pokes his head into an office to see what's doing.
But in fact, they are demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of an organizational chart and the power dynamics within an organization. Hall-walking can be a high-value strategy for gauging which power player might be convinced to spend more time and eventually buy. It's no small task to determine whom a firm should and should not be seeking out. Who has the needs? How might your offering fit with those needs? What will persuade them that yours is the firm of choice? Good hall-walkers get the answers and apply them successfully.
* Bonding breakfasts and listening lunches. Eating and bonding with would-be clients has long been a mainstay of our profession. The confusion sets in, however, when CPAs mistakenly believe that every breakfast or lunch will necessarily yield an order. It's just not like that.
Breaking bread with someone is the most basic way to connect. It's a relationship development strategy aimed at cultivating channels of distribution. What's more, when a rainmaker dines with a contact, chances are good that the dining partner is not actually the buyer. Properly nurtured, these breakfast and lunch companions become our sales force, a distribution channel that leads eventually to end-user buyers.
Bonding breakfasts and listening lunches are opportunities for our rainmakers to educate these valuable contacts and acquire "share of mind." I equate the dynamic to what goes on in grocery stores - CPAs vie for mental "shelf space" just as food vendors vie for a limited amount of shelf space in supermarkets.
* Wining and dining. Stop the whining and understand what's going on here. It may look like chit-chat over an expensive cut of beef, but nothing could be further from the truth!
Every cocktail party and dinner engagement is an opportunity for rainmakers to build relationships. Engaging a prospect in a less structured environment can naturally lead to a discussion of his personal as well as professional agenda - the real and hidden needs required to motivate this individual to action. The most effective rainmakers can efficiently convert relationships into worthwhile buying experiences for the prospect.
* Golf and gab. The same thinking applies here. What fun, you might think - 18 holes instead of 18 meetings, phone calls and e-mails! But consider this - a strategic rainmaker can use four hours on the golf course to solidify a relationship well beyond what could happen in twice that time in an office setting. Sinking a putt isn't the goal - the idea is to get in sync with the client. Is she volatile? Does he thrive on competition? Often, the more time that is invested in a relaxed, off-site environment, the more knowledge is gained.
Convincing someone is a very difficult business, despite the setting. I never worked so hard in my life as when I had the Florida sales region for MCI. Unfortunately, all those beautiful days at Doral and TPC were filled with strategy, hard work and persuasive communications ... with an almost unreachable revenue growth goal. All while appearing to be having a good time working on my handicap. Beware of false appearances!
Moving from a non-relationship to the status of satisfied client must be a highly choreographed dance, one best led by professionals - your business development specialist and skilled rainmakers.
Along the way, the goal is to establish trust, identify needs, build a solid value proposition, and persuade buyers to part with (sometimes) large sums of money to experience your stellar services. Sure, it may look like socializing on steroids, but once you understand what's behind it, you'll respect it and find more ways to participate.
Bottom line - it's a whole lot more than walking the halls!
Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), and consults with CPA firms on practice growth issues and opportunities. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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