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Articles written by Lenann McGookey Gardner are available for print and online publication. To request usage permission, contact 505.828.1788 or email Lenann@YouCanSell.com


The Two Biggest Obstacles to Business Development Success, and Five Actions You Can Take Now to Grow

(This article was written for accountants, but you may find it applies equally well to your business.)

Most Marketing Directors face two big obstacles in putting together an effective program for bringing in more clients and increasing revenue from existing clients: ATTITUDE and TIME.

Attitude is all about the image (usually that of a bad used car salesman) that runs through many professionals' minds when they think about selling. Even in situations in which one is doing work for an existing client, but suspect that client could benefit from other services the firm provides, some professionals say, "If they need us, they'll ask."

Of course, that's seldom the case. Accountants, for example, often lose business they could have had to people who simply asked if they could be helpful in cutting their taxes, valuing their business for sale, or handling some problematic aspect of their computer systems. And, when asked why they didn't ask their CPA for help, clients usually say that it wasn't that they didn't like the CPA — they just didn't know that the CPA could do the work! (And yes, of course, it probably said that the CPA did tax work, or valuation work, or offered assistance with computers, on the CPA's website. You didn't think people read and remembered all that, did you?)

Often CPAs say that they're not at all like used car salesmen — and that's why they can't do business development. But the facts are that no prospect wants to deal with that sort of hard-sell approach! In fact most of us run kicking and screaming from anyone who tries to control or manipulate us. So the media image of what salespeople do couldn't be further from the reality of what professionals do to build business in CPA firms. But bad attitudes persist, and people who have them find lots of ways to be so busy that they never have time for the business development activity they find repugnant!

In fact, time usually is the tougher obstacle standing between your firm and a strong new business development effort. "I just don't have the time to get to the business development stuff", they say, and you can see that they're busy as beavers. How to deal with that?

Do so rationally. On some level, most professionals will acknowledge that, if we don't get new clients coming in, we'll be unlikely to meet our firm's growth goals. And even if your firm doesn't set formal growth goals, it's only logical that, over time, clients will drop away — close up shop, retire, be lured away by other CPA firms, conduct a competitive bid to retain the "cheapest auditor" — you have to do enough business development to replace that revenue at an absolute minimum, or your firm begins to decline. So business development is necessary.

Who's going to do it? Some firms have tried hiring a "sales guy" — and many such people have failed, because they don't really understand what they're selling. (Understanding selling, and understanding the services that your firm can provide, how you provide them, and the value they hold for the client, are quite different things.) Besides, prospects know that, when they hire a CPA firm, they're hiring human beings to come into their firm and work with them — when they buy, they would like to know which human beings will be arriving, and whether they like them and want them around! So the best people to sell your firm's services are the Partners and Managers who will be providing those services, or overseeing those business relationships. And those people are busy!

I've learned that most professionals realize that they should be doing at least some new business development activity — again, with new prospects, or just with existing clients who have additional revenue potential. But they have no structure for thinking about that.

Give them the structure!

Ask them, "What percentage of your normal business month do you think you should be spending on business development?"

I'm betting they don't say "Zero".

In fact, they usually say, "Should be? Probably 20%." Or 40%. Or 60%. Or "I'm a Partner, I should probably be heavily involved in driving new revenue. Probably 80% of my time, if I'm a good delegator."

For years now I've been measuring actual time spent by accountants in doing something that we know from sales research correlates directly with success in new business development: spending time face-to-face or phone-to-phone with people who are in a position to spend money with their firm. We call that "F2F and P2P time". And most accountants are spending well under 10% of their working hours in this crucial activity. Drive F2F and P2P time, and your firm's revenue will increase!

Get your associates thinking in terms of spending at least some time every month face-to-face or phone-to-phone with prospects. I've learned that if partners spend even 5% (two hours a week, assuming a 40-hour work week) F2F or P2P, revenue usually rises dramatically!

Sounds simple. Why doesn't it happen? Usually there are two reasons: "off loading" and lack of skill set. Let's look at those individually:

Does your firm have a "rainmaker" or two? Those are precious people who actually go out and get new business for the firm, so everyone else can ignore the business development process(!). Many Partners "off load" responsibility for business development onto these people. Ever wonder what would happen if your rainmaker got sick? Many firms' rainmakers have gotten distracted working on a few very large potential clients — and when those people didn't sign up, there was no new revenue. Also, usually the rainmakers have their own "book of business" -- clients they personally support -- and when they get busy with those clients, their rainmaking time decreases.

The safest course is to spread the business development task out among all or at least most of the Partners, Managers, and even those in the field working for clients day-to-day, who are often the best people to identify additional pain the client is having that we might offer to alleviate.

But that won't happen if no one understands the business development process! The average person with a job title of Manager or lower on the totem pole, and sometimes some Partners too, will be concentrating on completing the task at hand — the business that's already been sold — with no eye for the additional revenue potential in the account.

That's where skill set comes in. Many accountants and consultants think that, if they take the time to learn how to successfully develop new clients, then they'll be expected to be selling a lot of the time. They prefer to work for existing clients — not to develop new business — and they'd like to be left alone to do that work. But, again, the most successful firms spread the business development task out, and people need a skill set to be able to do business development well, so their time investment is relatively small, but their results are strong!

You can identify talented people who know how to teach your associates to do business development well — in a way that's up-to-date and quite different from the image of the pushy sales guy. Once professionals know what to do and are challenged and coached on finding the time to do it, the new business rolls in. And at that point, it's self-reinforcing. People say, in effect, "Oh, THAT'S what I have to do, and THAT'S how much time I have to spend doing it. Well, I can do THAT!"

As Marketing Director, how can you support improved business development efforts?

  1. Find an excellent person to impart the selling skills, and then coach members of your firm for a limited time, to turn the use of those skills into new revenue.

  2. Be sure your firm has a powerful, provocative message — its Positioning (see my article in the May/June 2005 issue of MarkeTrends).

  3. Have a Prospect List for your firm — a list of human beings with whom you'd like to be doing business.

  4. Help your partners to create their own individual "Ten Most Wanted Lists" — lists of ten people with whom they would like to be doing business (research says that if they'll simply write down the individuals with whom they'd like to be working, and look at the list regularly, the odds that they'll actually get work with those people grow exponentially).

  5. Think in terms of return-on-investment in all marketing- and business development-related activities, and propose expenditures that will generate the highest ROI, a language all your associates are sure to understand!


Lenann McGookey Gardner has provided State-of-the-Art New Business Development skills and coaching to accounting firms worldwide since 1992. Visit her at www.YouCanSell.com.