Many successful sales people
realize that there are folks who influence a particular industry or segment of
the business world, and, if you know how to approach and work with them, your
success rate will climb.
Industry influencers can be the type who merely add credibility to your company or product or service, or they can take a more positive influential role and actually recommend you to their clients. In the first group, somebody like Alan Greenspan or Paul Volcker, Former Chairman Federal Reserve ( “A global economy requires a global currency”) would add credibility to a company selling financial services.
In the second category, one group that is very important to businesses is the CPA community. Most small to mid-market companies rely on their CPA to influence their decision to purchase technology solutions, financial products, services, capital improvements, products and even corporate gift items (a/k/a “tchachkes”). Since I was a partner at one of the top 20 CPA firms and consulted for four other similar-sized firms, I believe I can offer expert advice on how to work with them, which, by the way, will apply to anybody you try to sell:
Don’t waste their time. These are busy folks, and they really don’t have time for all the chatter and fluff. Sure, if you know the CPA, start the conversation with “How’s the family?” Then get right to why you’re there. Whereas you may allocate two hours for a normal sales call, plan on 30-60 minutes with a CPA.
Don’t get nervous. Especially when they have another conversation going and when they are looking at papers on their desk. Guaranteed, they hear you, IF what you say is important to them.
Know your subject. Be prepared to answer all questions in rapid-fire succession, and with quick, to-the-point answers. And, don’t get put off when you are interrupted mid-way through your presentation, as they have heard enough. So what does that mean? Do your presentation as though you were writing an article – main topic first, with drill-down to the next level (see #8 below)
What’s in it for them?
NEVER, ever, try to offer a CPA a commission for recommending you
to their clients. It’s illegal or at least immoral. What they can do is charge
their clients a fee for advisory services, so offering the product or service
at a discount to the client is appropriate. Then the client saves money on
your offering, which is a wash, based on the fees the CPA charges. The CPA
firm does want to make money also, and is looking for ways to generate
More importantly you MUST always make them a hero. Your offering must be beneficial for all concerned – it must save time or money or both. When I was at the CPA firm, we used to issue RFPs for technology and did a lot of work ascertaining the winning bid was good. Only once in over 1,000 bids did the software vendor fail. And we paid to have another vendor complete the job ($75,000). So, reliability is critical.
“I don’t understand.” This
is a very common phrase CPAs use. They are intellectually honest, and admit
when they don’t understand what you are offering. Also, often it is a way to
garner more details, when, they lost their place in the presentation. So, be
patient and explain again. Ask what they may not understand. What you may
understand, they may find foreign, especially when it comes to technology.
I once accompanied the CEO of a successful Atlanta-based web-based software house to meet the Managing Partner of a NYC firm (who is actually a list member). As the CEO was trying to explain what his company did, and how they were expanding, the “I don’t understand” was asked frequently, which frustrated the CEO.
And, being on both sides of the fence, I could see the problems. As a technologist, he just didn't get it. The value isn’t in the technology; it’s in the services you provide. He wasn’t explaining his business plan too clearly, and actually sounded like he was taking a step backwards to enter a “new” market that was really old hat, and not appealing at all. He didn’t do his homework!
Ethnicity. Like a lot of
industries, the CPA world is quite ethnic. You will find a Muslim CPA firm who
service 5,000 Muslim restaurant owners; or Greek CPAs who service Greek
diners. A significant number of CPAs are Jewish, especially older firms, where
other professions were unavailable to them, when the firm was started. And
regions of the country or world also have their idiosyncrasies.
So, if you have a problem dealing with certain ethnic groups or regions of the world, stay away, as it will show. For example, I had a friend who owned a very successful POS software house in New York State that catered to major retail chains. My old CPA firm had a lot of prospects for them. Well Remo had a problem dealing with Jewish business people, especially those is NYC. He thought they were very rude, too abrupt and only liked to deal with their own people – a perception that many people actually have. Well, I can speak from experience that is not the case, and they are more interested in what you can do for their client than anything else. Do a good job, and a lot of business will fall your way. Screw up and you will lose a lot of business.
In another personal case, a couple of years ago, when I was in NYC, I was doing a lot of work with a Winnipeg-based firm and the staff there thought I was very rude and were actually afraid of me. The CEO told them that was not the case, rather “he comes from New York” which said it all. We want answers now!
Literature. Content rules!
If you ever look at a CPA firm’s literature, you will find every bit of the
paper has words on it. They don’t believe in white space! And if you want
pictures, read the comics. So, based on that, develop your literature and
presentations so that it will cater to them Have backgrounder information
about your company and literature that describes what you offer. If you need
to have pictures, make sure they serve a purpose. They do like to read.
Actually glossies can be held against you, especially if you are trying to attract small to mid-market companies. They will think you spend too much money on the promotion, and not enough on the product or service.
Don’t even consider a literature package that screams of glitz. Keep it simple, straight forward and to the point. I was called on to assist a major ad agency secure one of the Big 5 CPA firms, and directed them to have a targeted presentation, and a great literature package. It was so successful, that Direct Marketing magazine picked it up as a feature article. http://www.gapent.com/media/inthenews/7steps_dm.htm
How to write or present.
When you are writing or presenting to anybody, use a drill down approach. If
you read a well-written article in a newspaper or magazine, you will see it
summarizes the entire article in the first paragraph, then provides more
detail in the second and subsequent paragraphs. So, if you stop reading at any
point, you will have an understanding of the article.
That style of writing or presenting holds true in business, especially when dealing with CPAs. Start out by summarizing what you are going to say; say what you are going to say; then summarize what you just said. If they stop you along the way, they will have gotten the point.
This style is as opposed to classroom style writing or presentation whereby one builds up the case, then presents the solution.
Does this work? You betcha! I
already mentioned the large ad agency who obtained the Big 5 CPA firm using
Another example was a NYSE-listed, international technology company who found they were not competitive in the marketplace. They typically sold to smaller clients, and their sales staff was the highest paid (with the lowest quota) in the industry.
The challenge: How to re-focus the company to market and sell in this new environment.
Solution: While we changed a lot of the internal marketing, procedures and attitudes, one of our biggest success factors was to convince industry influencers that we had a solution for their clients. How did we do it? We held seminars for them in our offices, where we asked THEM TO TELL US what we could do to provide solutions to their clients. And boy did our sales team learn a lot! With each firm, we had senior partners tell us how we could operate together and the protocol we should follow. They told us:
Be honest. If we can’t do something, tell them we can’t. Another opportunity will come along that will be ideal for us.
Keep them in the loop. If we correspond or meet with the client, tell the CPA partner in charge about the meeting or copy them on the correspondence.
Notify them of meetings. When organizing a meeting with the client, let the partner know so he can decide whether it is appropriate to attend.
Be fair with fees. Don’t think we have to be cheap with their clients. Rather we need to be fair with pricing, and not rip off the client. They don’t want us to go out of business either.
What were the results? We
increased business by 200% and sales productivity by 250% in 2 years. We
tripled the sales staff's annual quota, and improved consulting productivity
300%. We became one of the top three world-wide suppliers to specific
industries - from unranked two years earlier. And we obtained a number two
rating from the leading retail consulting group’s survey of retail industry
computer users, from unranked the year before.
Not bad eh?
About the author: George Matyjewicz is Managing Partner at GAP Enterprises, Ltd., a marketing and management "solutioning" firm and C.E.O. of Global Pay Systems, LLC a global, digital payment company with customers in 190 countries worldwide. He is also moderator of "E-Tailer’s Digest," an Internet retail discussion forum which reaches 3,000 retailers worldwide plus 100,000 in print in Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine. Mr. Matyjewicz was a partner at one of the top 20 CPA firms in the U.S. He is presently completing his doctoral studies in Global Marketing.