The initial meeting with a potential client is where you want to make the right impact, but it’s also what you do before and after the meeting that can win their business.
By Gayle Bryant
It’s said that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and when this initial meeting could win a new client to your business, you need to ensure that your presentation counts.
Some preparation and forethought will ensure you are ready when the person walks in the door, give you confidence and provide them with a clear sense of your professionalism and interest in their concerns.
1. Ensure your social media profiles are up to date
Potential clients are likely to form an impression even before they meet you by researching your social media profile, so it is important that all your profiles portray a professional image. Personal branding expert Sue Currie, founder of Shine Academy, says it is crucial to ensure your social media remain current. This is particularly the case with LinkedIn, because it is aimed at business professionals.
“Have a professional head and shoulders photo taken, wear business clothes and keep your profile information updated,” she says.
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Building rapport can happen well before any face-to-face meeting, so Currie adds that you should respond to any email and phone inquiries in a timely manner.
Knight Partners senior principal Peter Knight FCPA agrees standard professional practice is important.
“Be on time whether you’re meeting at your office or in a coffee shop,” he says. “And be well presented, courteous and polite.”
That might sound obvious but Knight says these basic courtesies are often missing “but are so important.”
2. Create the right office environment
When a prospective client walks into your office, what do they see? Colin Dunn, director of accounting software firm Panalitix, works with accountants around the world and says most of them could do more to improve their presentation to clients.
“They could very easily create a better impression by doing things other firms aren’t.”
Dunn says the accountancy firm he uses looks and feels “progressive”.
“Everything is in its place, it has stylish glassware, leading-edge technology and the receptionist comes around from the desk to greet clients,” he says.
“Creating a different environment is something that is very easy to do and gives a great first and lasting impression.”
3. Let your existing clients do the talking
You can tell a prospective client how much you can do for them, but they are more likely to believe another client of your firm.
Instead of using the initial meeting to discuss how good you would be, Dunn suggests presenting case histories of how you have helped clients in a similar position.
“We tell potential clients that we focus on three things: growing revenue, improving cash flow and improving profitability. Then we ask them which of these is the most important to them right now,” he says.
“If the client says it’s cash flow then you can bring in a case study of a client who had a similar issue. This approach captures the client’s interest and you’re in the right conversation to win their business.”
Knight adds that it’s important to ask open-ended questions.
“Don’t ask yes or no questions and seek to genuinely listen to what they’re saying rather than be waiting for them to finish speaking so you can jump in,” he says.
“People will drop clues and hints in what they say. It’s not a regular occurrence to go out and change accountants so when they do they are usually unsure about what to ask.”
Knight says because of this they might ask questions such as “how much will it cost?” or “how much will you save me?” but that might not be what’s really on the person’s mind. This is where an accountant’s listening skills will serve them well.
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4. Articulate your point of difference – in dollar terms
Prospective clients have an expectation of what accountants can do, but Matthew Snelleksz FCPA, founder of Snelleksz & Co, says you need to articulate how you stand out from the crowd.
This point of difference, he says, is how you will make or save money for the client.
“At the end of the day it’s great to say that you’ve been in business for 20 years and have the best staff, but clients want to know what’s in it for them in dollar terms,” he says.
People who find it difficult to sell that value should remember that a potential client is coming to them “because they have pain”.
“They’re either paying too much tax, or not growing, or feeling there is no cash flow,” says Snelleksz.
“The client wants to hear what you will bring to the table and how it can save them money and help grow their business.”
Knight adds accountants should also ask what the client is looking to achieve with their business or what they want their business to provide for them. “These are questions they don’t often get asked and whatever the answer is then becomes an opportunity for the accountant to articulate how they can help.”
5. Offer a no-obligation financial check-up
Sometimes a client cannot articulate their pain but feels the service they have is lacking. When Snelleksz meets a potential client he offers to review their financial records and produce a free, no-obligation report that shows how finances could be structured more effectively.
“They want to see a bit of your knowledge, so we give them a brief report and take them a step further by showing them how much we could have saved them if we had done their tax.”
Knight says people don’t change accountants lightly so it’s important to find out what their frustrations are and why they’re considering moving on.
6. Follow up quickly
What happens after the person thanks you and leaves?
Dunn warns that opportunities can go cold if you rely on the client to get back to you.
“What you should do is immediately send them an email saying how good it was to meet them,” he says.
“And in the meeting it’s always a good idea to promise to send the client something you discussed, like a white paper on cash-flow management. This way you have a reason to follow up quickly and to show you’ve been listening and responding to their needs.”
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