MANY ACCOUNTANTS WILL have a small pile of business cards on their desk accumulated during a busy festive season of networking at the end of last year. Yet shaking the dust off business cards of old contacts and arranging to find out about potential referrals from colleagues can give an accountant a healthy pipeline of business development meetings well into the year.
Being referred by a colleague is the best way of securing a meeting with a potential client. You should work on your internal networking in parallel with your external networking. Identify where there is synergy with colleagues and get to know them better – their contacts, their deals and find out how you can help them. That will answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question! Plan lunch – perhaps one a month and then build on it with coffee to develop the relationship. Ask questions, get them talking, listen and learn.
When the first meeting has been secured with a referral, there are several skills that can be used to help make the most of the meeting. First of all, don’t try to sell anything except the relationship. Concentrate on getting to know the person, and find out what they are looking for before you start discussing work subjects. Get them talking – that way, you can learn what they want, they will learn what they want, and they will enjoy talking about their pet subjects and therefore remember their meeting with you.
Asking informed questions is also a way of grabbing their attention. It demonstrates your knowledge concerning the issues they face, the implications of addressing those issues and the importance of a solution for them. Along with this, it can help to put yourself in their shoes – think about what you would want if you were in their situation, and what would impress you. This could be whatever differentiates you, be it your experience, contacts, reputation or commitment to the relationship?
In any circumstance, whether it be cocktails, seminar, pitch, it is important to identify and be vocal about what differentiates you from other accountants in your field. First establish the broad areas, and then prepare a short, high-impact example for illustration. If you have this at hand, you will never be lost for a powerful answer, whatever the opportunity.
Your first encounter with a prospect will almost certainly be crucial to staying on their radar for business in the future. Remember to keep them talking, learning their likes and dislike – both professional and personal – and their challenges. The more you allow them to wax lyrical, the more they will remember their meeting with you, and this will also enable you to focus your follow-up activities on areas that are of interest to them.
Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business
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