No one refers work to a business card

How often do you attend networking events where someone shoves their business card in your hand without waiting to be asked for one?

I learned long ago never to be a card shover. There’s no point. I always wait to be asked if I have a card AFTER we’ve spoken for a while.

I would stress that I’m referring here to networking events. It’s quite different when you attend a business meeting and everyone exchanges business cards. That’s normally to ensure that all those present know who else is there and which company they are from.

What is the point in shoving your business card into the hand of someone who hasn’t expressed any interest in it?

At best the card will be added to a database of contacts and the person in question may be able to claim to have met their quota of new people that week or month.

At worst you’ll get added to their mailing list (and start receiving emails and/or post that you may or may not want). There is also a good chance that the impression you give is a bad one; that you struggle to build personal relationships and are simply yet another boring accountant.

There is next to NO CHANCE that the person who gets your card will refer work to you, act as your advocate or decide to engage with you. Why? Because no one refers work to a business card.

Edit: I posted a follow-up to this blog post at the end of 2012 after sorting through and throwing out hundreds and hundreds of business cards collected over a six or seven year period.

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Become a rainmaker for your practice

The term ‘rainmaker’ means different things to different people. In professional service firms it tends to be used to refer to a partner who brings in lots of fees. In some firms the rainmaker has no other repsonsibilities. This is increasingly unusual however.

In my role as the Accountants’ Business Coach I have often used the description ‘finder’ rather than ‘rainmaker’. I have distinguished 12 key business skills as falling under the headings of:

  • Finders – who go out and find the new work
  • Minders – who look after the relationship with the clients
  • Binders – who keep the team working well together
  • Grinders – who do the work [this requires technical skills rather than business skills as such]

The point being that to be a good ‘finder’ you need at least 4 of the 12 key business skills.

Finding

  • Networking – meeting new people and generating work through those you meet;
  • Speaking in public – being confident and clear whether talking to small or large gatherings;
  • Pitching – asking for work or responding to invitations to tender;
  • Closing – gaining new work on acceptable terms;

Of course there are plenty of good rainmakers who never have to make a formal presentation to large groups of people. With that exception any good rainmaker will be confident across all four of those key skills.

To complete a piece of research I have been undertaking recently I’m asking readers of this blog:

  • Is it important that someone in your practice is a good rainmaker?
  • Do you relate to that concept better than that of being a ‘finder’? and
  • Are there any other skills or talents that you feel a good rainmaker needs to possess?

Please post your comments below. If you would like to see how you fare against the full checklist of a dozen key business skills, please let me know and I’ll gladly send you a copy.

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Should you put your fee rates on your website?

I came across this question recently on a general business forum and offered my view which I have adapted below for ambitious professionals.  I’d be interested in what conclusions others have reached. In my experience very few firms have even considered the point.

I can only recall one occasion when I have seen specific reference to the fee levels of a professional adviser on a website. It  was a menu of prices for completing basic tax returns and the extras for each supplementary page (together with a caveat that additional fees would be quoted and charged if the client’s records were a mess – or words to that effect).

My view on the other forum was to suggest that the service provider indicated an entry level price – to keep out the time wasters.

Beyond that a service business has a choice:
– Commoditise each service and quote typical prices so that those that take longer than average are balanced by those that take less time than average (this is the menu approach outlined above);
– Give indicative prices or price bands but make clear that each case depends on exactly what is required in order to provide the desired outcome in individual cases (this is a variation on the menu approach outlined above).
– Not to mention any specific prices – which is by far the most common approach adopted by providers of professional services.

The advantage of the first route is you avoid spending time negotiating fees. The corollary is that you could spend additional time and effort before the work is agreed but you have no facility to reflect this hassle factor in your fee. It also denies you the facility to highlight the value side of your proposition.  Everything is just down to price.  It’s not an approach that would be adopted by many ambitious professionals I don’t think.

The second approach enables you to maximise your fees and to take account of all surrounding factors including the amount of time and effort it has taken to win the piece of work in question.

The last approach is, in some ways, akin to the expensive clothes shops that have garments in the window but do not put price tags on them. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Is that the impression you want to give?

In practice the first approach is generally preferable for low value work. The middle approach is better for high value work.

Some might say that the final approach is used by those who are unsure and don’t mind confusing their audience. However in the context of professional service firms it is the predominant approach so there’s not much chance of confusion.  But just imagine if you became the first to break the mould and to give some indication of your fees for recurring ‘compliance’ services on your website. Do you think that would increase or reduce the number of enquiries you receive and the number of good new clients you create?

There’s an obvious question that visitors to my BookMarkLee website might like to ask me in the light of my observations above.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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Client testimonials: A key mistake to avoid (part five)

I introduced this topic in four previous postings on this blog. Parts one and two introduced the subject and in part three I explained one simple way for ambitious professionals to obtain testimonials. In part four I explained how to choose which testimonials to use.

In this final posting in this series I want to highlight a classic mistake that people make when using testimonials and how you can destroy your credibility if you do the same thing.

First though let’s just remind ourselves why we want to use testimonials in our marketing materials. It is to add credibility to our sales messages and to evidence the promises we have made. Essentially we are acting as a conduit for a third party who is telling our prospective client how good we are.

So what is the key mistake that we need to avoid?Well, let me ask you a question. If you were thinking of engaging me to mentor you which of these two (fictional) testimonials would have most impact?

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
-Joe Soap, KPMG

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
– Joe Soap, Wander, Cloak and Co (6 partner firm, Hertfordshire).

The only difference is the name of the firm. The first one is recognisable. The second is not.Which is the best one to use?

It can be a big mistake to assume that the quote from someone at a large firm or big name company is automatically the best to use. Why? Well, the starting point is, as always in marketing, to go back to think about who is your audience? Am I trying to influence people in other large firms or in smaller practices? Will my prospective clients relate better to someone in a Big 4 firm or a smaller practice? Will they be more interested in the impact I can have on someone in a Big 4 firm or in a smaller practice?

These are key issues to consider. Whilst it might be nice to have testimonials from recognised names and from partners in the largest firms and high street companies, this can work against you. It can alienate your target audience who may well conclude: If he works well with people in companies like that he’s probably not right for us.

Of course if you have a range of testimonials and the ‘big name’ is just one of many, it may add some further credibility but don’t make it the first one in the list just in case it works against you.

As I’ve already said, the key thing is always to focus on your audience. The primary audience for your testimonials is likely to be prospective clients that need further evidence that you are a credible adviser and right for them.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Client testimonials: Which ones to use? (part four)

I’ve addressed this topic in three previous postings on this blog. Parts one and two introduced the subject and in part three I explained one simple way for ambitious professionals to obtain testimonials.In practice such testimonials will not always be immediately suitable to incorporate in your marketing literature.

In this fourth part of the series I will explain HOW to choose and use the testimonials that you receive. The final posting in this series will highlight a classic mistake that people make when using testimonials and how it can destroy your credibility.

Most importantly, you want testimonials that are not just positive but also that explain specifically what you did and how the client benefited from your service. Select testimonials that are brief and focused. Each one should be about a specific and measurable result, as much as possible.

So if you receive a particularly positive testimonial but it’s too generalised, thank the person concerned. Indicate how touched you are by their kind words and ask ‘a small favour’. Explain the style of testimonial you’re really after and ask if they could adapt theirs to fit that style.

When it comes to my talks I ask for and regularly receive written testimonials on the course feedback forms. I tend to choose those that say something more specific than “Great speaker” or “Liked his style”.It’s great to be able to choose from a large number of testimonials. If you are in a similar situation you might want to follow these guidelines when choosing which testimonials to use:

1. What are the key benefits of engaging you or your firm, and do you have short testimonials that support or prove those top benefits?

2. Do you have testimonials that tell about specific and measurable results you helped the client to achieve?

3. Are any of the testimonials from recognised names in your profession or from businesses that prospective clients will recognise.

And how can you USE your testimonials? Include them as appropriate in your marketing materials, on your website, in your proposals, award entries, publicity material. Just keep in mind who is your audience in each case and ensure that the testimonial speaks to that audience in an appropriate way.

I must admit I don’t use all the testimonials that I have received to best effect. At the moment there is a collection on the testimonials page of my website and also plenty on of recommendations (which are akin to testimonials) on my Linkedin profile.

In the final part of this series I will highlight a classic mistake that it’s all too easy to make when you get a really good testimonial. It’s a mistake that can really work against you and negate all of your efforts to satisfy a prospective client that you’re the right adviser for them.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Carry on bumping?

Do you recognise the following quote?

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

It’s from the opening lines of “Winnie-The-Pooh” (by A.A. Milne).

Can you think of anything that you continue to do the same way you have always done it even though a casual observer might have good cause to question that approach and to suggest there might be a better way?

If you run your own practice you may be quite happy with the rate of growth or the lack of it. You may get a raw thrill from going into your office each day and love both what you do and the way your business operates.

Alternatively,  if you are honest with yourself, you may recognise that you are effectively just bumping down the stairs, bump, bump, bump because that is the only way you know to do things.

One mistake I realised I was making recently, thanks to some very valuable feedback, was that I have made it seem that my mentoring programme is only available to people in larger firms. In fact I am happy to mentor sole-practitioners, those running their own smaller practices and also ambitious professionals who work in business or for institutions of one sort or another.  I need to revise my marketing literature to make this clearer. I can’t blame anyone else for my oversight. It was just me, bumping down the stairs. Mind you, my mentoring services are not cheap and I know that some smaller practitioners will not want to invest sufficiently in themselves to engage me.

What about you? Can you think of anything you do that you’re doing the way you’ve always done it even though it may not be the most effective or comfortable ways of doing things? Do you ever take time out, do you ever MAKE time to work ON your business rather than just keep bumping along working IN your business?

If any of this resonates it’s upto you to do something about it.

I’m always happy to have a conversation with ambitious professionals who sense there may be some value in developing a relationship and engaging me as their mentor. Such conversations are always without prejudice and will not always lead onto anything further. We have to like the idea of working with each other, for starters!

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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The value of testimonials (part one)

I don’t remember when I first learned about the power of testimonials in the context of professional services. It was probably about twenty years ago – long before it became common place.

For many years I have encouraged accountants to collect testimonials and to use them for marketing purposes. I explain to the accountants how to obtain testimonials in a professional way and how to overcome common concerns if they need to collate some to start the ball rolling.

In my case I have a page of testimonials on my website. In each case I have included the full name of the person who gave the testimonial.I must admit though that I have not made the most of them as they are all in one place and not given a context. Thus it’s not clear which testimonials refer to which of my services or talks. Proof I’m not perfect (as if further proof were required!).  I am also very proud of the kind recommendations I have been accumulating on my Linkedin profile.

Why are testimonials so valuable in the context of professional services? Quite simply because they are the next best thing to a direct referral. Many professionals claim that they get much of their work through personal recommendations and I can believe that.They often claim that advertising is not really worthwhile.They may be right.

But there is, what I call, a disconnect here. When they advertise (and I include website material as part of the advertising mix) they are communicating with people who don’t know them. Equally these prospects may not know any existing clients.But those prospects could read testimonials from existing clients if these were easily available on the website and in other marketing materials.

Without testimonials the marketing messages are mere assertions.Testimonials can bring these assertions to life. They can act as the next best thing to a personal recommendation or referral. They need to be believable. They need to be relevant and they need to be authentic.

I’ll continue this theme in future blog posts.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Websites for professional firms (part one)

I recently posted an item here entitled: How to present your firm more effectively. I’ve since noted a related discussion on Dennis Howlett’s AccMan blog concerning the importance or otherwise of your firm’s website.

Dennis seems to be of the view that the quality of a firm’s website is almost irrelevant as what distinguishes one firm from another is the quality of the people. And to an extent I agree with him.

There is another angle here however. How do prospective clients and advocates distinguish one firm from another BEFORE they meet those distinctive individuals? It doesn’t matter how great the people are if no one is meeting or talking with them to ascertain if the relationship and service offering is right for the prospective client. And what is it, these days, that a prospect will do before deciding whether or not to contact a new adviser? They will check the relevant website. This is increasingly the case even if an incredible adviser is highly recommended by a very enthusiastic client.

Does your website contain the right messages for you/your firm targeted at your key audiences? Does it present the adviser or the firm in a good light and really distinguish them from the competition or does it contain the same old ‘sales’ messages as everyone else? Does your website enhance or damage your marketing efforts and the referrals that you get?

Of course there there are probably some firms, with great people, who are getting loads of referrals despite having ordinary, boring and potentially damaging websites. No one knows how many more referrals they could be converting if only their website was more effective. Possibly no one cares. Probably no one has the time, knowledge or inclination to brief the web designers to improve things. I’ll return to this topic in subsequent blog posts.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Great sales questions for professional advisers (part 3)

In the first posting in this series I explained the dangers of adopting any form of questioning approach that suggests the adviser is on auto-pilot.

In the second posting I identified some useful questions and promised to outline a specific questioning structure for professional advisers such as accountants, solicitors and surveyors.

Whatever questioning approach you adopt, you must feel comfortable using it however well it might have been proven to help achieve the desired aim. Of course it takes time and practice to feel comfortable with any new approach, let alone to master it.

One of the most enduring structured but unscripted approaches can be recalled using the SPIN acronym which is often credited to Neil Rackham, former president and founder of Huthwaite corporation The structure is explained in Neil’s 1988 book and focuses on an acronym: S.P.I.N which helps us to recall four elements of an effective questioning approach:

  • Situation Questions – to gather background information and understand the context of the sale.
  • Problem Questions – to explore the prospect’s dissatisfactions and concerns.
  • Implication Questions – that develop and link apparently isolated problems by examining their ‘knock-on’ effect on the areas of the prospect’s business.
  • Need-payoff Questions – that invite the prospect to consider the benefits of solving his or her problems and, having done so, to express an Explicit Need for a solution (“If I can show you a proven way to find a permanent solution to this adverse situation, would you be willing to hear my brief presentation?”).

A key feature of this approach, as implied by earlier posts in this series is that it encourages the prospect to define both their problem and their desire to find a solution. Hence, the ambitious professional comes across more as a ‘consultant’ rather than as a salesperson trying to make a sale.

Situation Questions
These are intended to elicit relevant background facts about the prospect. Bear in mind that situation questions will bore the prospect so the more background information you can collate (and recall) beforehand the better.

Example questions

  • Tell me about your company?
  • To what extent do you specialise in a particular area?
  • Tell me something about your customers (this is likely to generate a focus on the key ones)
  • How’s business?

Problem Questions
These are intended to identify the prospect’s difficulties or dissatisfactions.

Example questions

  • How much time do you spend on collating information for the taxman each year?
  • What do you find frustrating about the way your legal work is handled?
  • What are the disadvantages of the way you’re handling this [process] now?
  • What concerns do you have? 

Implication Questions
These should focus the prospect’s attention on the consequences or effects of their problems. The goal of using these questions is to persuade the customer to EXPLICITLY state a need that you can solve.

Example questions

  • How much money do you lose when you lose a customer?
  • How much does it cost you to get a new customer?
  • What’s the lifetime value of your customers and how much will you make when you double it?
  • Do you get a lot of legal issues in property management?
  • How much time do you waste dealing with dissatisfied customers?

Need-Payoff Questions
These address issues such as the value, usefulness, or utility that the prospect perceives in a solution. Only ask these questions AFTER the prospect has confessed to a need. If you ask these questions too early in the process your prospect will simply deny the existence of the need which you claim to solve.

Example questions

  • How would it help if your offices were connected to a centralised database?
  • Why is it important to get all your employees accounting for their work?
  • Would it be useful if your homeowners made most of their requests without bothering anyone?
  • Is there any other way that this could help you?
  • Do you see the value in knowing which vendors do the most work?

After the prospect has admitted to some explicit need – not something vague – you can then explain how your service solves the need.

The final stage of this approach is the way that you attempt to address all of a prospect’s stated concerns, and ask them if they have any more. Traditionally you would then finish by summarising the benefits of your service and proposing the next appropriate level of commitment.In the fourth and final part of this series I will suggest an alternative and more effective approach.

[I learned recently that the SPIN acronym was originally going to be SPIP. The originator contrived to make the last letter an N at the encouragement of his young son who pointed out that SPIP was a silly word!]

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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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