Herding Tigers and Other Lone Rangers
As published in CPA Leadership Report
For CPAs, winning significant opportunities is the ultimate team sport. If you or other tigers in your firm are accustomed to going it alone, you’ll find it’s next to impossible to do this consistently when the business is large and complex. The reluctance of CPAs to recognize this keeps many from conquering high-value targets.
All Together Now!
Would a quarterback ever appear alone on the field to face down a full roster of opposing players? Of course not. The same thinking applies here. The large opportunity game we’re playing is football, not golf – think Clemson Tigers, not Tiger Woods. Getting a firm’s big game hunters to work together is not always easy, but it’s nearly always effective. For many CPAs, the notion of collaboration is not a natural one; you may have to educate your team about the benefits. In order to attract big, valuable business, you need a multi-disciplinary team including specialty players brought on and off the field as needed. Some of those players get very little attention and rarely score. They diligently set up plays, ceding the spotlight to others who pass and kick to the delight of the crowd. Think about your own team – some members are best behind-the-scenes. Perhaps they know a back channel or a key contact that got you in the door in the first place. Perhaps they are the supreme strategist, but not the best in front of a prospect. Others are perfectly suited to line up with the CEO or CFO. Selecting the right combination of buyers and sellers is the high-stakes game that will get you big-time results.
Once you determine that a potential opportunity is “significant,” it’s time to spring into action. Base that determination on a pre-determined dollar amount, as well as the presence of multiple decision-makers on the buyer’s side, multiple competitors, and/or greater-than-average complexity. When any of these factors exist, it’s probably time to call in the big opportunity team.
Strategize as a group, but act individually. The tactic is sequential, with one person moving the ball down the field at any given time. Initial calls, and most subsequent calls in your call program should be made one-on-one with each buyer; a meeting with the CEO and CFO, a lunch with the audit committee chair, a call on the president, are all separate, calculated plays conducted by selected – and often different – members of your team. A key goal is to gain information and build rapport. The data and intelligence gathered are brought back to the large group where, depending on what’s uncovered, the strategy can be recalibrated. Players should “check their egos at the door,” and prepare to work together.
Selecting the Players and Positions
Each opportunity will have a slightly different set of players, aligned with different buyers. It might not be evident exactly who should be aligned with each buyer on the front end. Take your best shot, but be prepared to change mid-stream. It might be the person closest to the technical area of interest to the buyer. However, this is not always the case. Relationship development and management is a different function than technical expertise. Sometimes they reside in the same person, but often the relationship management component of the opportunity development will be handled by someone different from the technical guru. For example I recently coached a firm through closing a $100,000+ opportunity. There were 3 decision makers and an outside “friend of the firm”. We aligned the CFO with the CPA firm’s business development director. Midway through the opportunity, the president of the prospective company started calling the tax partner to clarify questions about our proposed solution, so we formalized most of our communication to the president through the tax partner. It also became apparent that the audit partner was best aligned with the audit committee chair, so he carried the ball in primary communications with the chair. Yet a fourth partner, who knew a “friend of the firm”, was instrumental in giving our friend specific instructions on what we needed her to do to enhance our position with the prospect. We got the ball over the goal line, and it was teamwork at its best.
Tools of the Trade
When the goal is a big win, you need a reliable, repeatable technique. Your efforts at teamwork will be greatly enhanced by using a pipeline – an inventory of all large opportunities (typically presented as an Excel spread sheet or CRM report) to help keep the various teams focused on the tactics to enhance our odds to win the big ones.
As in football, progress is not a steady march toward the goal, but transpires in zigs and zags of won and lost yards. There are significant gains and inevitable setbacks along the way. Certain plays you execute will have higher and lower odds of success. Sometimes the calculated risk will suggest a field goal, and sometimes a touchdown attempt makes the most sense.
Over time, you’ll get more effective and efficient at replicating the process time after time, even with a tight deadline and competitors breathing down your neck. As you become more nimble at maneuvering the process, you’ll spend less time and see ever-improving results. You and other tigers can continue to pursue small-to- medium targets on your own. But when it comes to large, complex opportunities, a coordinated team effort is the CPAs best chance for success.