Great sales questions for professional advisers (part 2)

In last week’s blog entry I explained the dangers of adopting any form of questioning approach that suggests the adviser is on auto-pilot. I promised to outline a useful questioning structure for professional advisers such as accountants, solicitors and surveyors.

As I noted in that first post in this series, it is rarely a good idea to come across as a salesman when you are trying to promote professional services.

Obviously the ‘best’ approach in any specific situation will depend upon how the meeting came about, how much has already been discussed and the background research undertaken beforehand.

The following general questions can form part of the ‘sales’ process but alone they are insufficient. I will explain further in the next posting in this series.

How can I help you? (or What shall we talk about?)
Contrast this approach with self-centred laptop presentations, history of the company, case studies, CVs of all the key consultants, etc.

What success have you had in dealing with this problem?
Rushing to identify problems and solutions may imply you have little respect for the progress a client has already made. By taking your time with this step, you can build real rapport and trust (as opposed to superficial body-language stuff) and therefore you are more like to hear the real problems later.

If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
Take your time and allow them to think before answering. If the client comes up with a list, coach them gently to get to the root problem. Too often, we get so excited by the potential extent of the work, we gloss over this. This is where we help them clarify where the real root of the pain lies. If they do the analysis themselves, there is a much greater probability that they will accept the eventual solution which they have played a part in developing.

If between us we solved this, what difference would that make?
This is where they come up with lots of benefits, and you write them all down – in their language. Feel free to repeat the question in several ways. Ask for the benefit of the benefit. Keep going until they cannot think of anything more. These are the reasons they will buy. (You might also choose to ask them what would happen if the problem was not solved. This is useful if you suspect you might have to help them overcome later indecision – the greatest scourge of professional life!)

If I could help you with that, would you be interested?
Either they are or they aren’t. There is little point in spending time on a solution where there is no genuine interest in your service even though the prospect likes you as a person.

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Networking mistakes to avoid

I spend so much of my time focussed on helping ambitious professionals to do the ‘right’ things it’s all too easy to overlook the converse. Here are five networking mistakes that are best avoided if you want your networking efforts to be worthwhile.

Don’t play business card confetti
There is no point in giving your business card to everyone you meet. It’s unreasonable to hope or worse to expect that they will treasure the card and know when to contact you in the future. If they haven’t met you properly and you haven’t been recommended to them there is next to no chance that they will hang onto your card. The very best you can hope is that you’ll get added to their mailing list (if they have one).

Don’t go out without your business cards
You will inevitably reduce the prospect of anyone keeping in touch with you if you can’t give them your business card. So make sure you have a plentiful supply and that you can reach them easily when someone asks for one.

Don’t talk too much
We have two ears and one mouth and should use our faculties in the same proportion when networking. The more we can learn about the people we meet the more likely we will be able to identify whether or not they have need of our services.This is especially important if, like me, you have more than one service line. By listening more than you talk you will also show yourself to be a more interesting person because you are more interested in the person to whom you are in conversation.

Don’t expect instant results
You are bound to be disappointed if you attend networking events in the hope of returning with specific leads and opportunities to sell your services. Networking is a ‘long game’ especially when you are a professional adviser. Most prospective clients are only likely to engage someone whom they know, like and trust. This rarely happens immediately after a first meeting.

Don’t break your promises
If you are lucky or clever enough to identify an opportunity to send something to the people you meet at networking events, you had better ensure you fulfil your promise.

This is a classic opportunity to evidence that you can be trusted. And trust is generally a key requisite before anyone engages a professional adviser. I explained a method by which you can always offer to follow up in a recent entry on this blog.

Edit 2013: You can get my 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Just click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Great sales questions for professional advisers (part 1)

In my last blog entry I explained the difference between the traditional and a more client focussed approach to presenting you and your firm’s services. I promised to offer some effective questions that would help ambitious professionals to identify their prospects’ needs before they move into ‘sales’ mode.

Despite the title of this item however I should first stress that it is rarely a good idea to come across as a salesman when you are trying to promote professional services. The best advisers know that they must first encourage prospects to like and trust them. This involves building rapport and only when this is apparent should the adviser attempt to make it easy for prospective clients to ‘buy’ from them. Very few prospects will engage an adviser that they don’t like and trust.

We can often elicit these feelings by asking questions that, by their very nature (and assuming our reactions to the replies are genuine) will encourage prospects to choose to ‘buy’ from us. We are unlikely however to secure a ‘sale’ if we adopt a typical salesman’s patter and questioning style. We must be prepared to adapt and to reflect the prospects’ fears and concerns in our questions.This proves that we are listening and that we understand their position. If an adviser seems to be on auto-pilot at any stage the prospect is unlikely to be impressed.

So, following on from the previous item we need to move away from pre-scripted sales questions and PowerPoint slides. What is required is a more insight-based discussion of the issues that are relevant to the prospect. The focus has to be on them and their situation. The adviser must encourage the prospect to explain, to amplify and clarify. If the adviser assumes he/she understands or leaps to conclusions the prospect may become less engaged and less likely to ‘buy’. Remember that to ASSUME makes an ASS of U and ME.

So the critical questions are those that get the conversation rolling and those that focus the conversation. I will outline a useful questioning structure for professional advisers such as accountants, solicitors and surveyors in part 2 of this item next week.

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How to present your firm more persuasively

Imagine you have the opportunity to present your firm to a prospective client organisation.

Many advisers will follow the traditional approach of launching straight into what they perceive to be ‘sales’ mode. To assist them they might have a powerpoint presentation. Typically it will follow this hackneyed structure:

  • A list of (supposed) benefits of using the firm
  • A break for Q&As
  • Some ‘closing’ statements and conclusions.

This approach is so common that you would be forgiven that thinking that it was the ‘best’ approach to follow. It isn’t. It is the easiest though and that’s its appeal. But what matters most to ambitious professionals is not how easy something is but how effective it is. If you want to ‘sell’ your services or those of your firm you will be more successful if you focus on what the prospect needs rather than on what you have to ‘sell’.

How can you find out what the prospect needs? You ask them.

I’ll include some useful questions to help identify your prospects’ needs in part two of this topic tomorrow. For now let me just summarise an alternative structure for your presentation to a prospective new client. It moves the focus away from you and your firm and onto them and their needs.

  • Short introductions
  • Questions
  • How you could add value – with examples of how/where you’ve helped other clients in similar situations
  • Justification
  • Re-visit benefits
  • Q & As
  • Seeking agreement

What do you think of this structure? Could you improve on this suggested structure?

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