Sure, it's an old, tired adage, but in any endeavor, practice does make perfect, or at least ongoing, significant improvement. Those of us who golf appreciate what Lee Trevino once said about PGA tour pros: "Do you think these guys simply walk onto these golf courses and shoot in the 60s? Most people know that pros practice, of course, but they have no idea of the hours upon hours they spend working on their games". In our program, deals are secured with new clients as a result of a well-prepared, well-executed presentation. Regardless of whether you are an accountant doing Plan 1, a CSR, or, dare I say, an NCI trainer, one's presentation should always be something of a work in progress--something that one should always strive to improve upon. You always want your presentation to flow smoothly--no dead air, or a series of fits and starts. For most of us, this takes practice and repetition.
At NCI, we break down the appointment with a prospect into three phases: the Approach (or what I prefer to call "Setting the Stage"), the Discussion (or Information Gathering), and of course, the Presentation. Here are some suggestions for review and practice in each of these areas to help you enhance your presentation. Remember, though, just like PGA golfers, they won't work unless you invest the time outside of working hours to "improve your game."
Setting the Stage
You build rapport during this phase, but you should also lay out for your prospect the agenda of what will take place in this meeting, specifically that you will informally introduce your firm, learn about them and their business (the most important reason you are there), and then make a presentation where you'll introduce the owner(s) of your firm and the package of services they offer for small/medium sized businesses. This way, your prospect will know what to anticipate as you progress with the appointment. If you have an outline of this agenda in your head as the appointment commences, you will feel better prepared for what is to follow, and it will show. Before it goes in your head, though, put your agenda on paper and review it often until you know it cold.
Improve your listening skills so you understand why the business owner took the appointment in the first place. Not everybody has the same reasons for meeting with you. Identify what these reasons are and, during the presentation, emphasize how the package of services your firm offers addresses the needs and concerns which prompted them to meet with you in the first place.
Keep in mind that not everyone will be forthcoming with why they agreed to the appointment. You have to ask the right questions to find out. Questions like, ‘what is the most important thing to you about the accounting firm you select?’ or ‘are you having any issues with your current accountant?’ You don’t want to badmouth the competition but you can certainly let the prospect do that for you!
Also, don't take shortcuts here. Follow the sequence of questions just as it appears on the Appointment Report. Incomplete information can cause confusion for your firm, or even cost you the client later on if, for example, you have to revisit the fee issue if you skipped over certain questions which are part of the fee equation.
This is the most important phase of the appointment, and thus a critical area for review and practice.
As mentioned above, in your presentation, focus on what's most important to that prospect--home in on what they really need and want and don't discuss what doesn't apply. Why would you show a sales tax form to a prospect whose business has no sales tax ramifications? This once again stresses how critical it is to listen carefully to what your prospect tells you during the information gathering phase. Many salespeople don’t actively listen; they just wait for the next opportunity to speak and present their agenda. Don’t make this mistake. Give the prospect your full attention at all times and utilize the information you gather to make a great presentation.
If you are a CSR, you'll improve your presentation over time by growing your accounting and tax knowledge. Review all of the NCI material periodically. Pick your accountant's brain and participate in NCI's weekly webinars--they are an extension of our field training. Also make sure to tag along on client setup meetings with your accountant, especially early on, to aid in learning product knowledge and to get a good feel for the next step in the process after you sign a client up.
Be sure you really understand the benefits of all of the write-up package's features. For example, how many benefits can you identify of receiving an accurate P & L every month? There are more than just what's written on the "Benefits You Will Receive" tab in the presentation binder. How well do you know the advantages and disadvantages of operating one's business under the various entities one can elect? It's one of the most important decisions a business owner will make, and your prospect will likely look to your firm for guidance on these matters.
Your spouse, friends, co-workers and others can help you improve your presentation if they are willing to participate in role play with you. Take advantage of their willingness to do so. Even after having been involved in this program for the last 12 years, one of my goals is to make every succeeding presentation I do better than my last one. This should be one of your goals as well, so get practicing!
Pete Borrelli has been associated with NCI for the last 10 years: three as a CSR with two CPA firms in Rochester, New York, and seven as a Senior Account Executive implementing NCI's Client Acquisition Program in the field. Prior to joining NCI, Pete was in sales with Commerce Clearing House (12 years) and Paychex (2 years), where he had the opportunity to work closely with the accounting community in Rochester. Pete recently developed the Client Acquisition Program for Payroll for NCI.
Pete holds a Master's degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, and still works out of his home base in Rochester, New York.