[IMGCAP(1)]There are certain topics that when brought up in conversations will usually elicit strong opinions supporting one side or the other.

Politics and religion are two that come to mind that can easily increase the blood pressure while creating a nice shade of red around the neck and face.

One topic in the accounting world that can create a similar split reaction would be those dirty 11 letters and one space that spell out cold calling. As I’m in marketing and business development, you know where my vote goes. Plus being from Chicago, I might just slip in another vote or two supporting cold calling, in keeping with a longstanding Chicago political practice of stuffing the ballot box.

In my jaded world of marketing, there is convertible value in cold calling for non-individual business. In other words, going out on your own or doing a tag-team approach with someone from your firm targeting corporate office buildings, medical buildings, buildings with a company name plastered on them, and industrial parks. Look for these targets in your backyard, or better yet, expand the reach of your comfort level and go into a new area or market five to 10 miles away from your office. What do you do next?

1. Bring your business cards, and if you have a coffee mug or other logoed item, bring it along too and leave it behind with your prospect.  Everyone loves free stuff.

2. Don’t plan to bust into someone’s day without an appointment. Would you want someone to do that to you?

3. Leave your PowerPoint presentation about your firm at your shop. The mission is to get names only.

4. Go to the reception desk or window, tell the person your name and firm, and say you would like to drop off this with their CFO or president. You pick. As the person reaches to take your card and goodies, ask if they have a card. If not, ask them to write it down on an envelope, letterhead, or something else with the company information on it. The next key move is to ask for the name of the person with whom you are speaking. They can be an ally when you follow up.  I’m a big fan of incorporating humor, even self-deprecating humor, to create the start of a connection with that person. With a little luck, they will follow up on your line, which you have to return-serve to them. Remember, you are gathering in the surroundings and using your findings and observations for when you make your callback. When this love-fest finally ends, write down some notes on the card or letterhead on what you gathered between you and your new best friend.

5. Then repeat the process as you move on to your next unassuming victim….I mean office or building. 

6. Do this for three to four hours. You could easily end up with 20, 30 or more names of prospects that you did not have at the start of the day.

7. When you return to your office, scrub the names. See if you already have them on your system as a client, prospect or former client. Go to the company’s Web site to review. Once you go through that cycle, send an email to your colleagues asking if they know of the company, know someone at the company, or at least have heard anything good or bad about the company. They can be part of the process if they do. When you have that information back is when you start the process of introducing your firm to those companies. Sooner than later.

This is not glamorous or cutting edge, but it does work.

Could you buy a list, get the same names, and do the same internal scrubbing? Yep. But what you won’t get from a list is the firsthand experience and the takeaway you experienced from your encounter, albeit brief, with the company. I have purchased lists in the past, and they do have a place at the table of business development.

How you do the follow-up will be up to you. Do you call them on the phone? Send an introduction letter? Send an email? Your comfort level, your call.

Some of the 30 names you acquired will fall off as you make inroads with the company. Don’t cast them off completely. Keep them on your mailing list. Contact them in six months to see if there is an opportunity to begin talks at that point.

You want to prove your value to them. Don’t try to sell them. Educate them on how you and your firm can assist them in their business. Bring value to them.

Let’s go back to September 2008 when most would say the world started to see the results of the USA’s souring economy and the troubled financial markets. The accounting industry may not have the most patience when it comes to converting prospects into clients. Relationships take time to develop and to be trusted. Just because the industry uses a series of specific steps to create a financial report for a client, that doesn’t mean that by using the same theory of a processed approach, a prospect will automatically convert into a client. There is always a wildcard. It’s up to the prospects. They move on their time-frame, not the accountant’s. It’s like a marriage. How many people do you know who have gotten married before their first date ended? Why should a prospect be any different?

From September 2008 to today, referrals from bankers and attorneys are probably down. A firm’s own book may be down given how many clients are going out of business, reducing their size, or being bought up. Add to that the slower rate of pay even from good clients.

It is one thing to have a new business referral walk through the front door to you. It’s another thing when you have to go out your own door to bring back in new business. Cold calling can warm up needed revenues over time. But it doesn’t happen overnight.

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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