Consider the story I recently heard. A large local firm was competing for a high-profile account in their market, and despite being a firm of nearly 100 people, they were the smallest firm at the table. As you can imagine with a high profile account, also along for the ride were several national and international firms.

At a follow-up meeting during the evaluation process, the CFO told the local firm that they asked the weakest questions throughout the process and had the worst proposal of any of the firms. In fact, the CFO questioned their ability to handle the work based upon their presentation of their firm during the pursuit process.  Ouch!  

The fact of the matter is – as the competition continues to increase and you are competing with larger, more sophisticated firms than you have in the past you need to amp up your sales pursuit process just to stay even.  There are several keys to the sales pursuit process that you absolutely have to master in order to succeed – These are the discovery phase of the pursuit and the proposal.  

Discovery Phase
You only have one chance to figure out what key needs and wants are truly driving your prospects. During your discovery meeting, you need to ask great questions that will uncover how you can differentiate yourself in the eyes of your prospect. Asking questions like “what do you value most in your current CPA firm relationship?” and “what are the most important criteria for your next CPA firm – and how will we be evaluated?” can often uncover significant information that will enable you to set yourself apart later on in the process.  

Additional good questions include:
•    Who, besides yourself will be making the decision, and what does the decision making process look like?
•    What role does your CPA firm play in your organization?
•    What is the most challenging part of your position right now – what keeps you up at night?

I once heard the phrase that a proposal will never win it for you, but it certainly can lose it for you. That has never been truer today. In fact, when I asked the firm in the aforementioned story what their proposals looked like, they told me that they printed the proposal on letterhead and used a financial statement cover.

While that may have been acceptable at one time in their history, it’s not adequate when proposing on one of the largest companies in the market and competing with national and international firms with substantial resources producing proposals worthy of a Tony Award!

First, your proposal has to be centered on the prospect, not on you. It is your opportunity to show the prospect that you were listening to what they said were their key needs. Do this; count the number of times you reference your firm name vs. their company name. In a new business proposal you should never mention yourself more than you mention the prospects’ name!  

Next, you need to demonstrate how you will solve their key needs. If the prospect said they were frustrated by the lack of responsiveness by their current firm, highlight the strengths your firm possesses in this area and how you will make a difference for them by being ultra-responsive to their needs.  

After that, include some brief basic information about your firm. Put this in only after you demonstrate that you were listening and how you will solve their problems. Then, on the fee page offer more than one fee arrangement. Give your prospect several choices. After all, you don’t care which option they select, as long as they select you!

Finally, your proposal document needs to be attractive and appealing. Other firms will be producing glossy magazine-like documents. Don’t show up with something that looks like a book report – or you might end up leaving without getting the business – and in my book, that is a failing grade.

Art Kuesel is a director of consulting services for PDI Global, Inc. and works exclusively with CPA, law, and financial services firms across the country meeting their most significant marketing and business development challenges. He currently works one-on one with more than 30 CPA firm partners in a coaching capacity helping them build, sustain, and enhance their personal marketing and sales pursuit efforts. He also enjoys gourmet cooking and travel with his wife, Colleen. Art can be reached at akuesel@pdiglobal.com  or 312-245-1745.