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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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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What makes an effective business card for ambitious accountants?

Over the years I have collected thousands of business cards. Most of them are almost indistinguishable from each other, even though the people handing them to me operate in a variety of professions. Some people underestimate the value of an effective business card. It should be an effective marketing tool, a way to be remembered, to be contacted and to help you stand out from all of the other accountants that your contacts and clients meet.

Other than those accountants who run their own practice/business most accountants don’t get to choose the look or style of their business card. Equally many accontants who do make decisions about such things may lack the resources to find out what approach is most effective.

Take a random batch of. say, 64 business cards you have collected from other accountants and arrange them in an 8×8 square on your desk. Which ones stand out? I’ll bet it’s none of the plain black print on white card ones; Do you want yours to stand out? If not, why not? If yes, ‘how much’? It can be counter-productive to have a card that makes people want to avoid you. But would you like them to show your card to others – because it’s different/better?

If you are in a position to influence such things here are seven top tips for the design of business cards. Some you may think are obvious. Others less so but all are a reflection of business cards I have seen;

1 – Think about what they are for and where/when they will be used. In many cases they will be received by other professionals, bankers and hundreds of people who will have only the card as a means to remember you. Will it be sufficient to enable them to recall who you were out of the hundreds of other people they have met? My card has a photo (head shot) of me on it – as I appreciate that people might not otherwise remember who Mark Lee is;

2 – Ensure the typeface/font size of the print is readable. There is no point squeezing loads of infomation onto your business card if no one is going to be able to read it;

3 – Ensure your card is of a professional weight. That’s a minimum of 335 gms. Many are 400 gms. You know how awful it is to get a ‘wet fish’ handshake? It’s the same with flimsy business cards. Your credibility is immediately lessened;

4 – Distinguish your personal contact details from the main business details of your practice. Don’t mix them up as this only serves to confuse. Your personal contact details will include your direct dial and mobile numbers as well as your email address. Some people deliberately exclude their direct dial or mobile numbers from the face of the card and add them on manually when giving the card to ‘special’ contacts. What you say in such situations will be crucial;

5 – If you are going to use both sides of the card do ensure that you leave room for the recipient of your card to make some notes on it somewhere. And ensure that any lamination doesn’t preclude such a sensible follow up activity. I know I’m not the only person to always note the date that I met the person and where we were. If there’s room I’ll also often add a note of what we talked about or any follow up actions I have promised.

6 – Your card should reflect your image. Few accountants will be comfortable with the same style of card as would an artist or graphic designer. Some larger firms have introduced ‘modern’ cards that the older members are evidently apologetic about or embarrassed to pass out when they meet people. If ‘modern’ isn’t your style then don’t try to pretend it is. Not everyone wants a ‘modern’ accountant. But they all want someone they can trust and who isn’t trying to be someone or something they are not;

7 – If you want to stand out from the crowd ensure that your business card contains sufficient information about what you or your firm does. Are you ‘just’ “Chartered Accountants’? Do you want people to remember what you do or what qualification you have?

Do you have any other valuable ideas or suggestions? Please add them by of comments to this blog.

Yes – I have taken my own advice although I’m not in practice as an accountant. My business card reinforces my online branding. It’s a bookmark (!) and contains my photo and has the same colouring as the banner at the top of this blog. There is also room for notes. If you’d like to see one just send me an email and provide your postal address. Mark(@)BookMarkLee.(co.uk) – remove the brackets which are just there to stop spam.

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