What strategies and tactics do you apply to business development? In any business process, it’s easy to get mechanical. It’s time to get out of that rut and think about growing your business with client experience (CX)-focused development opportunities. Efforts can fail when we lack authenticity, ignore the emotional reasons behind a client acquisition, or fall back on the routine. Our recent AAM High Webinar, led by Jennifer Carro and Alyson Fieldman of Marcum LLP, was all about approaching business development through the client experience lens, and how approaching revenue generation as an act of service, instead of an act of selling, can help transform the sales process. (Members can click here to access the recording. Learn more about AAM High! webinars.)
Identify the pivotal role emotion plays in everyday buying decisions
We all like to think of ourselves as rational human beings, but in fact, we buy based on emotion and then use logic to justify it. While our emotional influence is often subconscious, which is why we wouldn’t recognize it in the moment, it helps our conscious mind make decisions.
Neuromarketing follows this same idea. The practice captures the true emotional responses of the audience, which may run counter to what they say in an interview. Neuromarketing is striving to capture the emotional resonance in an ad to deliver more effective messaging and creative to target markets.
Why is this practice important? Brands that engage emotions effectively also tap into basic human needs. One example is Apple – they instill the idea that we are all connected to a big, special, and important brand. Another example is Proctor & Gamble’s “Thank You Mom” ad campaign. Even if you don’t have sophisticated research teams at your disposal, you can think about what you can do to connect with your clients and prospects on an emotional level to move beyond surface-level, solely service-based relationships.
Apply storytelling in meaningful ways to make connections
In an environment where technical expertise is just the price of entry, storytelling can go that next step to forge stronger connections. The stories you tell must be authentic. While you can ask the normal questions of your clients and prospects – “How are you?” “What’s new?” – these can only get you so far. The answers are usually light and not terribly thoughtful. Even if you open with these questions, don’t stop there.
Here’s a sample scenario: You can answer the routine “How are you?” back by saying, “Oh, I’m doing great. It’s the first snowstorm of the year and I love it. We got to build a snowman with the kids.” Other questions come to mind from there – Where do you live? How many kids do you have? What does the house look like? How about the backyard? People may hear something about that small story and think, “Me, too!” We can’t help but share common ground. Never underestimate the power of effective storytelling.
In addition to creating connections, storytelling can infuse confidence by triggering curiosity. If you can share with a prospect that a client recently went public, that prospect might start thinking about what you can do for them to achieve a success metric like that.
Ask strategic questions and actively listen to uncover needs and opportunities
Before you offer a solution to a prospect, seek to understand the nature of their needs. It’s so easy to jump to a solution or to the next question you want to ask, but it’s important to be present and listen intently. The more you let the prospect or client talk, the more they will reveal about what they need. Jot down notes in the meantime.
Here are a few focused questions through the client experience lens you could ask to dig deeper into your prospect’s needs:
- “Tell me your back story. How did you get to your current position?”
- “What are your top priorities for the coming year?”
- “Describe the best experience you’ve had working with accountants and advisors.”
- “What are some of the most pressing issues facing your business?”
Create value-added moments that develop trust and confidence
To foster a culture focused through a client experience lens, you need to develop relationships that are authentic, vulnerable, and honest. When you share a bit about your own experience, the person you’re engaging with will be willing to share their experience in turn.
Don’t just think about what’s best for your immediate bottom line. We can offer referrals to clients, for example, that don’t directly benefit us, but that service is still important. Creating trust is personal. It shows that you have legitimate interest for your clients’ long-term well-being.
Sometimes we focus too much on the rationality of the business process. There’s a perception that we should focus on business value, something that appeals to our logic and reason, to uphold our brand promise and generate positive results for the business. However, on the other side of the coin is personal value. You must ask great probing questions, so you know exactly what your clients want to achieve. What drives them? What are they passionate about outside of work? That’s just as important as helping them achieve their business goals.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to ensure you are delivering personal value:
- Are we making our clients look good to others?
- Are we making valuable connections for our clients to like-minded and influential people?
- Are we helping support their passions through thoughtful offering?
Align expectations around pricing, outcomes, and more to avoid negative surprises
No one wants to talk about money, but it’s an inevitable conversation. Be transparent and flexible around the different fee arrangements available to clients. Avoid jargon and make sure they understand what they’re signing up for when they work with you. Ask them if it aligns with their expectations. If it takes them a moment to collect their thoughts, you may be out of alignment.
As you become more sophisticated, you can really think about advanced pricing methodologies, such as offering low, medium, and high pricing options for service packages. When planning the pricing, remember one thing – most people will tend to pick the middle option.
Successfully onboard clients in a way that offers reassurance and dependability
Once your new client comes on board, or your current client adds that big new project, don’t abandon them. Use onboarding as a chance to offer reassurance, align expectations, minimize friction, and strengthen trust to formalize a rich, successful relationship.
The onboarding process should include a formal welcome meeting or kick-off call, plus a new client questionnaire that can help uncover pet peeves, goals, and preferences. You should also take time for proper team introductions and deliver a “welcome to the firm” packet. Marketing automation can help you streamline most steps of this process.
To make sure you’re all on the same page, ask questions such as:
- What is your preferred mode of communication?
- How frequently would you like to receive status updates?
- Are there key events at your company that we should be aware of?
- Do you have personal pet peeves when it comes to working with accounting firms? If so, what are they?
With these tips, you’ll create long-term, strong relationships through the client experience lens in no time. To hear more from our presenters, members can access the archived webinar, which is also available for purchase for non-members, on the AAM store.
About Christina Camara
Christina Camara is the managing editor of INSIDE Public Accounting, which publishes two award-winning publications: the IPA newsletter and the annual IPA National Benchmarking Report, along with in-depth reports focused on IT, HR, and firm administration.