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Sales conversations for bookkeepers

Apr 05, 2019

The discovery session checklist

I thought it would be helpful for me to create a checklist of things to ask when I was in sales conversations, or discovery meetings, with potential clients. I carefully created a list of things that I wanted to make sure that I didn't forget, and went along to a meeting duly prepared.

I was wrong. It wasn't helpful at all. What I found was that it was such a distraction, that I promptly discarded it and never went back to it again.

Having a checklist as a focus point didn't lead to a well-flowing conversation and I didn't feel that I was actively listening, nor engaging, with the other person. 

Instead, I like to mind map, a tool that I learned years ago and which I find allows me to capture the information that I need whilst still engaging with the conversation.

The way my mind works is that questions invariably come up as we converse. I approach any conversation from a place of curiosity and, particularly with sales calls, I'm curious to find out all about their business, and about how they currently do things.

Conversations are a bit like completing a jigsaw puzzle. As a conversation progresses, pieces of the puzzle fit into place. When it’s clear to me that there are pieces missing I ask questions about those gaps so that I can gain clarity and fill in the pieces.

Some things to consider

The intention of an initial conversation with a prospective client is to get a clear understanding of what the business does and how it operates, and to determine whether or not what you offer is a good fit for you both.

To help you with this, here is a non-exhaustive list of some things to consider when you're having that initial meeting.

  • What the business does:
    • What are they selling?
    • Where does their revenue come from?
    • Who do they sell to?
    • What does their profitability look like?
  • How the business operates:
    • What are its systems?
    • Who currently does what tasks?
    • What does the current accounts process look like?
    • How long does it currently take?
    • Details such as GST basis etc.
    • Who are the key staff and / or divisions of the business?
  • What are the pain points
    • What would they like to change?
    • Why are they talking to you?

Focus on clarity and understanding

Focusing on clarity and understanding will help you to establish rapport because it means that you are listening to them, and everyone wants to feel listened to and understood. It will be important to them that you get the uniqueness of their business.

It also means that you will ask great questions as you seek to understand. The nature of your questions will go a long way to determining your credibility in their eyes.

This approach of seeking first to understand is crucial.

How's the fit?

With this focus you will be able to see where your bookkeeping business can fit in with their business - how you can best help them. There might be a 2 or 3 options that you give them to consider.

I would suggest that you always offer what you truly think is in their best interests in terms of how you help them, even if another option might be more profitable for you.

Bookkeepers: trusted advisers

Your position as bookkeeper should be one of trusted adviser, so start as you mean to continue. Give good advice and be on their side. It won't go unnoticed.

You could, at this point, give them a couple of off-the-cuff examples of how you work with your clients. Talk about the difference that you’ve made for specific clients, what bringing you on board has meant for them (i.e. no missed IRD deadlines, a feeling of peace of mind, information when they need it, time with family etc.).

Then how you see it working with them – “So I would suggest that we do x y z on a __ basis, and that will free you to …

Leave the client feeling optimistic

I would usually leave the conversation thanking them for the information, and letting them know that I will get back to them within, say, 24 hours, to reiterate how we can proceed, along with an estimate or quote of cost, or a proposal.

If you have set packages, and feel confident with your ability to price well, then by all means let them know what the cost will be while they are there with you. You can then say something like, "so how does that sound?"

They should leave your conversation feeling heard and understood. They should also be feeling optimistic and hopeful, and confident in your ability to make their problems go away, to relieve their burden.

Follow up, Follow up, Follow up.

If the prospective client doesn't get back to you in, say, a few days, then you must absolutely follow up with them. By phone. Don't assume anything. Don't make up reasons for them. Don't feel embarrassed. Don't apply meaning to their non-contact.

There are so many reasons why they may not have got back to you. The only way you will find out is by talking or emailing with them. It's expected that you will.

If you don't they may think that you don't really want their business. If you can't "be bothered" to take the time to follow up with them, then what kind of service could they expect from you if they accepted your proposal.

This is the way their thinking could easily go.

A good majority of these follow-ups will result in business, but even if they don't, the feedback from those calls is invaluable. Make them a crucial part of your sales process.



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