The only constant is change, according to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that Heraclitus knew what he was talking about. So much about what we do in our day-to-day lives is different than it was three months ago. Some of us are still sheltering in place. Some of us are getting ready to, or are in the process of transitioning back to our offices. Some of us are wondering how secure our jobs are. Some of us are trying to project what all the changes mean for our finances. Some of us are thinking about what “normal” will look like when it finally arrives.
When humans think about change, we often think about it in the context of what has been lost. In times of change we lose our sense of comfort. We lose our ability to accurately predict an outcome. It can be easy to focus on what has been taken away.
For those of us responsible for developing new business for our firms, there are new questions about how we do our jobs. We know that our ability to find opportunities is reliant on developing and nurturing relationships—whether with existing clients, prospects or referral sources. Our first inclination may be to focus on the fact that we are interacting in-person less. We’ve lost the ability to meet for lunch or coffee. There are no opportunities for in-person networking. At the same time, there is pressure to continue to meet revenue goals and help the firm meet its cash flow needs—so we can’t wait for things to go back to normal (who knows when that will be, or even what it will be?) to resume our growth activity.
Relationships are Not on Hold
Many things may be on hold, but relationship development doesn’t have to be. Even with current restrictions there are ways to build relationship and find new business. What’s important is to think about what you can do versus what you can’t.
Here are five areas to pay attention to:
- Lean into client relationships. Your firm will count on relationships with its best clients to bring stability to the practice. In addition, your firm’s best clients need your firm now more than ever. Business developers can play a key role in championing client check-in meetings using Zoom. Decide who is checking in with which clients, how often, what questions are being asked, and what opportunities may be uncovered as a result. Practitioners aren’t always comfortable with client meetings not connected to a specific project or engagement, so if needed, coach them on how it should go. Offer to sit in on meetings with clients where this may be a new kind of conversation. Be sure there is a process to track what you are learning and circle back to offer to help however you can.
- Do check-in meetings with your key prospects and referral sources. Just like clients, schedule check-in meetings with your key prospects and referral sources. These meeting aren’t necessarily to discuss specific pre-pandemic opportunities. They’re about nurturing your relationships by demonstrating that you care about the other person’s well-being. Ask about their family’s health. Ask how they are doing sheltering in place. Ask how they are getting along with homeschooling or working at home with their shelter mates. Ask how they are feeling about returning to an office. Be prepared for them to vent. If they are feeling isolated, worried or even depressed about their circumstances you may find you become an outlet for them to express those things. Listen and empathize. Make plans to check in regularly. You may even consider organizing a virtual “networking” event with some of your key contacts. Have an activity, like trivia, ready to get people to engage. You can even do a virtual lunch!
- Keep moving forward with business. Tread lightly here, and be aware of how your contacts seem to be reacting in your check-in conversations. If your key prospects and referral sources seem to be doing well emotionally, it’s ok to ask them about their plans related to the opportunities you have been discussing. Don’t wait for business as usual to ask about working together or assume they don’t want to talk about it. Discuss any adjustments that may need to be made to previous opportunities based on current circumstances. Emphasize your firm’s ability to deliver remotely. In addition, the CARES Act, PPP and current economic environment have created many short-term needs. If their current accounting provider has not been attentive or proactive in communicating, there may be a window for you.
- Use technology. People have become much more comfortable with video conference technology like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Go-To-Meeting. And with limited-to-no opportunities to interact in-person these tools are a critical part of communication. Many CPA firms that were hesitant about hosting webinars are finding them to be a valuable tool in sharing information with prospects, clients and referral sources in an efficient and effective manner. Effectiveness of email marketing has also improved as it has become a primary way to share important information, quickly. Work with your marketing team and make sure your key prospects and referral sources are on your firm’s email distribution lists. Follow up as those emails go out, and schedule Zoom calls with interested parties to discuss key ideas.
- Sell strategically. This is a great opportunity to examine your definition of a key prospect. With many firms tightening their belts, it’s more important than ever to direct your sales efforts toward finding profitable opportunities. Revisit your firm’s definition of an “A” client. Make a list of 10 prospects that match the profile. Get to work researching those companies. Who are the decision makers? What does their supply chain look like? Who do they bank with? You can find this information on their website, using LinkedIn, by asking people in your professional network if they know anyone on the list, asking partners in your firm if they know anyone, etc. Gather as much information as you can for each one. As you begin to get a clear picture of each prospect, start connecting on LinkedIn with those prospects (making sure you have a compelling “here’s why we should connect, message”) and begin the relationship development process. Work with your marketing team to deliver relevant content to each prospect regularly.
Refocus, Reimagine, and Reciprocate
While much has changed, one thing has not. Relationships matter. Just because you can’t meet in-person doesn’t mean you can’t nurture your most important professional relationships. Use this time to refocus your efforts on the right opportunities and keep the process moving. Reimagine networking by creating your own virtual events. Be intentional about reciprocating and what you are giving in the relationship, even if that means simply listening. You may even find that taking care of your professional relationships is good for your own mindset and wellbeing, too.
About Carrie Steffen
Carrie is a founding shareholder and President of The Whetstone Group, Inc. Since 2000, Whetstone has provided growth consulting services to hundreds of CPA firms, professional service firms, and companies in business-to-business markets nationwide. She has over 20 years of professional services marketing experience.
Carrie helps clients:
• Determine how to best organize for growth and build a sustainable growth culture.
• Develop comprehensive growth plans, providing ongoing support and consultation.
• Establish accountability for business development and meet their revenue goals.
• Implement follow-up strategies to help manage the sales process with prospective clients and maximize their ROI on marketing.
She is also a skilled trainer and provides group sales training as well as one-on-one coaching that enables attendees to better understand the sales cycle and develop the personal skills necessary to close sales. Firm leaders, practitioners and marketing professionals benefit from her knowledge and dynamic approach.
Before joining Whetstone, Carrie was an in-house marketing director in the national marketing office of RSM McGladrey, Inc.