To improve your firm's selling effectiveness, it often helps to look at the entire process from the eyes of the buyer. In other words, if you reverse engineer your approach by looking at things from the prospect's point of view, you might change your approach and effectiveness. So, let’s take a look at things from the eyes of a small business owner and break this into component parts of the prospect’s buying cycle.
The customer buying cycle
While many prospects are unique, customers typically have the following process for buying products and services:
- Problem awareness: The prospect realizes they have a need for accounting or tax services and this is not something they can do in-house, or care not to. In other words, they realize their current approach is not effective and seek a better solution.
- Consideration: The prospect begins to hunt for a better solution and evaluates various options. They may use their personal network for suggestions or go onto the internet to consider who provides exactly what they need. In this process, they evaluate the price and who may be the best solution to fill their accounting or tax need. In addition to looking at the price and local providers that might be a match, they also look for assurance that they are making the best choice by reading online reviews.
- Purchase: The last stage of the buying cycle is the purchase process, which is where the prospect is now eager to buy and complete the process. In this phase, the prospect is expecting the most attention and cooperation to execute their purchase decision.
Adapting to the client's buying cycle
When a prospect is in the problem awareness phase, the goal is to frame the problem in the proper context and offer a solution that provides more value than the cost. In other words, you want to establish the reason why engaging your accounting firm will alleviate their issue and provide a benefit that exceeds the cost. For small-business owners, this typically means you need to identify with their problem, establish how you can solve the problem, and prove why your firm is uniquely positioned to address their need for a reasonable price. On a fundamental level, you may need to educate the prospect with information, so they understand why other businesses are purchasing a particular service in the fashion you recommend.
Trying to close a prospect during the problem awareness phase will be a turn-off to most buyers and push prospects away from being considered further. For example, this would be like browsing through a retail store to see what they have, and a sales person follows you around the store and attempts to sell you something too quickly. When this happens to someone who is simply browsing, it can be a turn-off and scare them away because they have not even decided if they want to buy, let alone complete the purchase process.
For accounting and tax service purchases, the problem awareness phase is more of an informational, feeling-out process. The prospect knows their problem and is trying to evaluate the options, search for a fit and determine what it typically costs in the marketplace.
The second phase, consideration, is quick for some prospects and moves like molasses for others. This is the phase that requires some multitasking on the seller’s part because the prospect is hearing conflicting messages, sifting through various options, and seeking validation that they are making the best choice. Some of the tactics used by accountants to nurture prospects in the consideration phase include adding them to the firm’s email newsletter distribution list, and periodic follow-ups via phone or email. In this phase, the seller is acting in a consultative manner to simplify the purchase process for the buyer.
The third phase, purchase, is when the prospect has decided to forge ahead, sends buying signals to the seller, and wants to move into execution mode. This is often the phase that requires quick and decisive action on the seller’s part to eliminate all snags to complete the buying cycle for the prospect.
By breaking the buying cycle into its component parts, identifying where each prospect stands in the process and responding accordingly, you will soon become more effective at closing prospects.