Most accountants don’t consider themselves to be natural born sellers. In fact, closing client engagements and asking for business might strike fear in your heart. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if we look at closing business through a new lens?
In this article, I’ll share a six-part strategic closing approach that suits professional services like accountants because it optimizes your odds of earning high-value business while also best serving your prospect or client. We have delved into these through our fictional case study of Klein, Rowe & Co., as well.
First, let’s define closing. There are so many misconceptions about closing business. It’s actually not the end of the process. Rather, closing business is a series of gaining commitments throughout the business development process. These commitments are a give and take that can be created in most any interaction.
Providing resources (including internal)
Collaborating on a solution
Solving concerns and overcoming obstacles
Asking for the business
Think of each of these as an opportunity to earn trust, launch a long-term relationship, inspire confidence, and establish yourself as a leader – because you’re helping your client or prospect successfully navigate through their business challenge.
Here are the six strategies for gaining commitments.
1. Map Your Commitments
This step is a strategic viewpoint of what’s needed to win the business.
Mapping can be performed for any opportunity, but it’s especially important for complex ones with more decision makers and longer timelines. This sets you up to overcome the status quo—the dreaded non decisions.
2. Separate Selling, Negotiating and Closing
While many people lump them together, selling, negotiating, and closing are actually three distinct actions in the process. And it’s best to treat them as such.
Selling is when you learn the client’s business and create solution ideas for them. Think discovery meetings and proposals.
Next, negotiation is when you address any concerns in the proposal and adjust terms. (Pro tip: Never adjust your fees without adjusting your terms.)
Finally, closing is the action to finalize an agreement and begin implementation.
3. Know the Decision Makers and the Decision-Making Process
Are you sure you’ve got all the right people at the table? In this step, you gain clarity on who’s involved, what the client’s internal process is, and any nuances that might be expected along the way.
Here are some questions you can ask to help get the answers you need:
Can you walk me through your decision-making process?
Who is involved, in addition to you?
What is your decision timeline?
What are your most important decision-making criteria?
4. Sell with Confidence and Clarity
Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
For every client and prospect call or meeting, whether it’s with one person or 10, you’ve got prepare. Preparation breeds confidence! Remember, you’re selling confidence, as much as you’re selling the solution. The client or prospect needs to feel like they are making a great decision by choosing you.
Be sure to practice the most important pieces of the business development process. Pinpoint the highest priority pieces, and put emphasis on practicing them.
And don’t forget, part of practicing is asking for specific feedback from someone like a coach, advisor, peer, or mentor.
5. Anticipate What’s Next
Wherever you are in the business development process, you need to anticipate what’s next. What kinds of questions and concerns might the client or prospect have? Also… what questions do you have for them?
If they throw you a curveball, take time to process and respond. And finally, if the indicators are there that they want to move forward, be ready to ask for the business.
6. Ask for the Business!
Part of the leadership role I discussed earlier is leading the client or prospect through the decision-making process. One way you can do that is simply knowing what to say when it’s time to ask for the business.
For example, you can say:
What makes the most sense for next steps? (Then take a pause, and let them answer.) Or…
I’d recommend we start here. Are you ready to move forward on next steps? (This is a more direct option.)
If they say yes, congratulations! Articulate the next steps with clarity. And be sure to move quickly. Don’t draw out the contractual process more than necessary. The longer you wait, the more you risk introducing doubt or losing momentum.
Bonus Step: A Time for Reflection
Do you invest time to learn from your wins and losses?
Ask the client or prospect what you can do better the next time. Be specific. For example, “What are one or two things that tilted the decision criteria for you?” That will give you data to sharpen your offerings and sales skills the next time.
Depending on the answers you can bring in outside help if needed, or simply amplify what went well in your wins!