Reprinted with permission from CPA Practice Management Forum
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this statement: “You know, Gale, once I get in front of a prospect I have no trouble selling them!” “Well, gee,” I want to respond but restrain myself, “that’s a real surprise!”
Sarcasm aside, what I mean is this: What’s most difficult in sales isn’t necessarily closing a pre-qualified opportunity. What’s difficult is finding buyers who have a need and have potential. Potential for a firm means they:
- meet their criteria for an ideal client,
- have an urgent need for their services,
- can pay for what they need, and
- are a decision maker.
Part of the reason CPAs find it so difficult to get close to likely prospects is the way buyers are identified. For years, creating a personal referral network by hobnobbing with lawyers and bankers was a primary source of leads. Hanging around a Rotary or Chamber of Commerce event hoping a likely prospect would drop in was another popular activity.
Acting as a “human billboard” in this way is not as reliable an approach as it used to be. We’re now in a mature market with sophisticated buyers and lots of competition. These days, we need to shift to techniques in our business development approach that will deliver in 20 months, not 20 years. Nowadays, finding a qualified buyer requires following a focused process that relies on knowing everything possible about the prospect’s needs and how he or she thinks and behaves. A strategy needs to be in place for efficiently identifying buyers in the industry or other buyer group in which you want to succeed. I use the term “ecosystem” to describe a distinct industry or buyer group.
Each ecosystem contains unique distribution channels. I recommend using these distribution channels to leverage your efforts. Distribution channels are the people, organizations and other entities you can use to find—and find out a great deal about– potential buyers.
An example of a distribution channel is a publication in a target industry, for example construction. If your target is doctors, an example of a distribution channel might be a physician practice-management firm. By getting to know the firm and what they do, you have a good chance of eventually finding buyers. The practice-management firm might sponsor events where buyers congregate. Or they might sponsor a benchmarking study which focuses on specific types of buyers. You could attend their events, or perhaps co-sponsor the benchmarking study. The possibilities are endless once you find and cultivate powerful distribution channels.
If you drill down in a good trade publication you will find a treasure trove – the issues, the players, upcoming conferences and more. You might use the magazine as an outlet for your own writing, a way to build credibility and visibility. You could also use it to identify valuable speaking opportunities.
Another way to leverage the channel is to contact leading construction-related vendors who advertise in the publication to learn who’s buying what, the needs and the obstacles to purchasing. You can also identify consultants from whom, as you develop a relationship, you can gain valuable insights into the niche.
Now you’ve really changed the channel, moving beyond lawyer lunches and banker breakfasts and immersing yourself in the ecosystem you need to be swimming in. Focused activity within a target distribution channel can be an invaluable strategy. Once you reach your likely buyers, converting them will be easier because your deep knowledge of their world will enable you to more easily link needs to solutions.
Too often I see a costly disconnect between the random “networking” so many CPAs rely on, and sales. Use distribution channels as a point of leverage – gain visibility, hone your offerings, identify buyers, and convert new and existing relationships into solid revenue.