When given the opportunity to get in front of a prospective client, the expected and unfortunate inclination of most accountants is to try to impress the client with how great their firm is, and make every effort to convince them to engage.

You might be thinking, "What else would you do?" While on the surface this might appear to be a logical approach, in reality it makes the task of winning engagements much harder than it needs to be. That's because the very act of trying to impress or convince someone to work with us actually diminishes our value. When we seek someone's approval, we inadvertently place ourselves beneath them, increasing their power over us. The unintended result is that it's more difficult to communicate our value and win business from this place of weakness.

UNNECESSARY OBSTACLES

Unwittingly, we make the job of winning a new engagement harder than it has to be because of mistaken beliefs and misconceptions about selling. In fact, most accountants create a mound of obstacles to overcome before they speak their first word. To make it easier to win business, we must first recognize that many of the obstacles we have to overcome are actually self-created, and to then rethink our approach to sales.

Here's how it works.

A commonly held mistaken belief is that the purpose of a sales meeting is to convince the client to hire us. By entering the sales meeting with an intention to close the sale - a seemingly logical position - we unintentionally compromise the integrity of the meeting and make our task more difficult. The integrity of the meeting is compromised, because wanting to close the sale is based upon the arrogant assumption that we know exactly what the client needs and that we have the right solution for them. All that's left is to convince them of that. Not exactly the tone we want to set for an open dialogue and a trusting relationship.

To make matters worse, our intention to close the sale is actually a desire to control the behavior of the other person by getting them to say, "Yes." Since no one wants to be controlled, a natural wall of resistance comes up to protect against the perceived pressure. People feel and react to our intentions at a subtle level, no matter how well disguised they may be. Whether or not we are aware of these subtle feelings, they have a huge impact on the outcome of our decisions. Think back to the last sales meeting you attended as a buyer, and notice the protective resistance you may have felt. Notice how the resistance is in direct proportion to the degree we feel the salesperson is trying to control us.

Wanting the client to say, "Yes" - which is to say, wanting their approval - creates yet another obstacle. They can give the approval or withhold it, either of which gives them power over us. The more we try to convince them, the more power they have. Think about the last time you tried to convince a prospect of your value, and feel the frustration as you envision their skeptical faces. Wanting someone's approval gives our power away.

Interesting how the simple intention to close the sale can undermine the integrity of the meeting, create unnecessary resistance, and give the prospect control over us. If the intention to close the sale can create all these challenges, what intention could we set that would instead create a space that is fully conducive to winning an engagement?

A SIMPLER APPROACH

By setting our intention to "being there to serve and discover what's mutual," we establish a very different context for a meeting, one of harmony and trust. For this to work, it must be real. In other words, you really have to let go of wanting to close the sale.

Changing your intention is simple, but not necessarily easy. The first step is becoming aware of what your intention is. Knowing we're going into a sales meeting naturally brings up our desire to control the outcome of that meeting. Once we are aware of that intention, we can make a decision to take the higher ground, and decide that we're there to serve and discover, and that we're willing to accept any outcome.

The notion that letting go of your intention to close will help you win more business is paradoxical and challenging. It's not that we don't want to close the sale - of course we do. As you'll discover when you try this approach, people will respond very positively to the safe space that you have created, and you will win more engagements with less effort. Want absolute proof? Try it and see. There's no other way.

Discovering what is mutual simply means discovering what they're hoping to accomplish and what their issues are, and then determining if what they need is something we can competently deliver. Mutuality also includes determining if they want to work with us on a relationship level, and if we want to work with them. Mutuality is not something to be forced, but rather reveals itself with some open and honest dialogue.

When it comes to being of service, it's not about giving away our services or solving problems on the spot. That actually undermines our value. It is about engaging in conversation and asking questions that cause them to think about things they haven't thought about, to consider a different set of possibilities. Asking questions helps clients realize what they don't know, and brings clarity to issues without actually solving them, all of which provide tremendous value. Conducting such a meeting causes the prospect to see you in a very different light from other accountants.

THE RIGHT ENGAGEMENTS

Our intention to serve and discover what is mutual creates the context for honest and open dialogue where truth is welcomed and a productive win/win relationship can be formed. This approach removes pressure on both sides, and makes for a more productive conversation. Winning more engagements will be a natural, organic outcome of this dialogue, and your value will be known by how you conduct yourself, and your new engagement will be off to a great start! AT

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