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Are you an accountant who asks good questions? (3 of 3)

Lets recap.

In the last 2 posts we have discussed the two hallmarks of effective communication – being simplicity and the ability to listen. We now explore the third hallmark – asking good questions.

The third hallmark of effective communication is the ability to ask good questions.

You would have heard me bang many times over the last year about one of my favorite maxims – “If you want a better answer … ask a better question … then listen”

Clients are impressed by accountants and advisors that ask questions they weren’t expecting or that they haven’t been asked before. It shows a preparedness on the part of the questioner that he/she invested time and effort in understanding the clients business and circumstances.

One of the best questions one can ask is “why?” If asked in the right way, the question of why can uncover a treasure trove of insights. There is a body of work that claims that asking “why” at least 3 times in the one meeting or conversation can uncover the root cause or motivation behind any aspect of business activity undertaken by people both internal and external to an organisation.

For example, a business owner may be asked the question, “Why are you in business?” The first response would most likely be “to make money” Further in the conversation, the business owner may then be asked “Why is it important to make money?” The next reply could be something along the lines, “so I can invest in my business” At a later point in the same meeting, the owner can then be asked, “why is investment important to you?” The answer may well be, “my core market is declining and I need to develop offering to new markets.”

By asking “why?” just 3 times the questioner has moved from making money to the business surviving. How interesting. The quality of advice that can be given based on the 3rd response rather than the initial 1st answer is chalk and cheese!

The above of course is an obtuse example but you get the idea!

Keep well,

James E.

A challenge for accounting firms everywhere!

A few weeks ago I was presenting to a group of 30+ partners from accounting firms from regional NSW & VIC. The group was a cross-section of age, gender, experience and market outlook. However, the common thread among the partners is an overwhelming concern about “selling themselves” This of course is nothing new. Be it accounting firms at the big end of town in the cities or at the small end of town in urban suburbs or in regional centres in Australia & beyond most accountants (and indeed professionals in law, engineering, management consulting and the like) seem to not like to sell.

With the above in mind, I gave an interesting challenge to one of the accounting firms who attended the presentation.

I asked the managing partner of this particular firm the following questions:

How many staff (professional & support)  are in your firm? The answer: around 40.

Do the staff know people in the community? Answer: Yes

Would your staff know at least 3 people who either own or are employed by businesses in the local area? Answer: Yes

So this managing partner has given all his staff the challenge over a period of two weeks to do the following:

Name of the person the staff member knows

The name of the business/organisation they own or are employed with

The accounting firm’s connection to the person (i.e. family member, friend, went to school/uni with, sports service club etc …)

So within 2 weeks the managing partner will have 120 names of people that he didn’t know before. Now of course there will be overlap and some doubling up of names across the firm. So let’s assume the degree of duplication is 50%. That means there are potentially 60 names of people in businesses that the firm “knows” and has some connection with. Now you’re probably thinking “so what – some of that list will already be clients of the firm since the firm in question is the biggest one in town” Fair enough. So let’s slice off another 50% of the names so now we are left with 30 names that represent “green fields.”

Two important things come out of this challenge.

1. Potential clients that are “known” to the firm.

2. The firm having a much better understanding of their connections in & around the community. For a regional firm to have this knowledge (and to act on it) is pure gold.

Down the track I’ll share with you Phase 2 of the challenge – that is once you get the 30 names what do you then do?

See you next post.

James E.

 

Are you an accountant who can sell?

It might sound harsh but most accountants that I meet are no good at selling themselves or the services they/their firm provides. Its not because they aren’t intelligent or capable – far from it. Why is this the case?

I think there are two reasons accountants aren’t proficient at selling. Firstly, they aren’t trained specifically in the areas of business development & selling. Secondly, a lot of accountants believe it is beneath them. How sad!

Earlier this week I was in a meeting with the MD of a small to medium business (annual revenue around $12m) and he specifically told me that he believes that not only accountants, but all professional services people & firms, aren’t really any good at looking beyond their immediate assignment/project. Or put another way they don’t tell clients and potential clients what else they can do for them, that is sell.

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine told me about a simple sales methodology called the Gaddie Pitch. I’m not going to pretend that I can do justice to the Gaddie Pitch by trying to summarise it. So read it for yourself at the Anthill magazine link below. I’ve been using this technique now for the last week or so and it is great and most importantly … works if you let it 🙂

http://anthillonline.com/gaddie-pitch-training-centre/

See you next post.

James E

Reese – an example of of an almost great accountant (2 of 2)

In the last post you’ll remember reading about Reese – our highly skilled accounting professional who lacked a network and needed to learn how to sell.

As a self-employed headhunter, the way I feed my family is through the network of contacts and relationships I have built and maintained over many years. In the case of Reese she has worked for the same accounting firm for most of her professional career and has only really built a network internal to the firm. If Reese aspires to be a Partner she will need to start building relationships that (sooner or later) will help her attract new businesses or more business from existing clients. So how does Reese get networking? Given the readership of this blog I will assume a few things so we can get to the heart of the matter.

1. Choose your area.You can’t be all things to all people. If your professional interest lies in say, the biotechnology field, then focus on relationships in that arena and around it.

2. Serve that area. Once you have selected the area start serving. By this I mean get involved in all the associations/forums/groups you can that make up your chosen area. Getting involved means not simply joining but doing things for and with others, e.g. give free advice, volunteer help, sit on steering groups/committees, make speeches and the like. Get to be known as someone who helps others – no strings attached.

3. Build a reputation as a “go to” person. Closely linked to the above point is the building of a profile as the person who becomes the hub for activity. Like a hub of a bicycle wheel that connects the spokes be the person that can link others together. Through a simple introduction over a coffee much kudos and creditability can be and is created. You will find that the hub becomes involved in all sorts of interesting situations and conversations that will lead to new opportunities.

4. Be genuine. If you are getting involved and helping others for the sole purpose of getting business and making sales you will fail. People can see a phony a mile away. So don’t be one!

The above points are not just useful for our young friend Reese to think about; they are a good reminder to the seasoned professional services campaigner!

All my best,

James E

Reese – an example of of an almost great accountant (1 of 2)

Recently  I met a potential job candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Reese as in Reese Witherspoon .

Reese was a lovely lady in her early 30′s. Bright, warm and friendly. After the first five minutes of our coffee meeting I felt I had known her for years.

Reese is a senior accountant with a highly technical background and a wonderful skill-set in problem solving and working on complex projects with big end of town clients. In addition, she has a passion and enthusiasm for her work that is contagious. I think it would be safe to say that there would probably be around a couple of hundred professionals with her particular skill-mix in Australia. I’m not joking … she is that good! This coupled with her engaging personality makes for a formidable combination.

At first glance she seems to have all the makings of a first rate professional. But there is something  missing – her ability to network and sell.

To date Reese has focused on honing her technical & professional skills to the detriment of her capability to build effective relationships both within and outside her accounting firm. In fact during our coffee Reese clearly stated that it was only in the last year or so that she had come to realise how vitally important “networking” is.

As I think I’ve said in past posts I hate the word networking.  The word has unfortunately come to represent the attitude and behavior of  “what can I get out of other people.” I don’t want to sound twee about it, but true networking is about meaningful relationships. In Reese’s case she has not spent the time to identify, establish and cultivate relationships in the wider community. For it is these relationships with others that will help her on her way to building new business contacts and deepen her bonds with existing clients.

Reese is not yet a Partner in her firm. If she wants to not only be a Partner, but an effective, one she needs to learn how to build relationships and sell her services. Her passion for the profession is (sadly) not enough.

So how can Reese do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James

Passion is not enough

A while back I met a potential candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Reece as in Reece Witherspoon.

Reece was a lovely lady in her early 30′s. Bright, warm and friendly. After the first five minutes of our coffee meeting I felt I had known her for years.

Reece is a senior accountant with a highly technical background and a wonderful skill-set in problem solving and working on complex projects with big end of town clients. In addition, she has a passion and enthusiasm for her work that is contagious. I think it would be safe to say that there would probably be around a couple of hundred professionals with her particular skill-mix in Australia. I’m not joking … she is that good! This coupled with her engaging personality makes for a formidable combination.

At first glance she seems to have all the makings of a first rate professional. But there is something  missing – her ability to network and sell.

To date Reece has focused on honing her technical & professional skills to the detriment of her capability to build effective relationships both within and outside her accounting firm. In fact during our coffee Reece clearly stated that it was only in the last year or so that she had come to realise how vitally important “networking” is.

As I think I’ve said in past posts I hate the word networking.  The word has unfortunately come to represent the attitude and behavior of  “what can I get out of other people.” I don’t want to sound twee about it, but true networking is about meaningful relationships. In Reece’s case she has not spent the time to identify, establish and cultivate relationships in the wider community. For it is these relationships with others that will help her on her way to building new business contacts and deepen her bonds with existing clients.

Reece is not yet a Partner in her firm. If she wants to not only be a Partner, but an effective, one she needs to learn how to build relationships and sell her services. Her passion for the profession is (sadly) not enough.

So how can Reece do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James E

All about Kate (2 of 2)

In the last post you’ll remember reading about Kate – our highly skilled accounting professional who lacked a network and needed to learn how to sell.

As a self-employed headhunter, the way I feed my family is through the network of contacts and relationships I have built and maintained over many years. In the case of Kate she has worked for the same accounting firm for most of her professional career and has only really built a network internal to the firm. If Kate aspires to be a Partner she will need to start building relationships that (sooner or later) will help her attract new businesses or more business from existing clients. So how does Kate get networking? Given the readership of this blog I will assume a few things so we can get to the heart of the matter.

1. Choose your area.You can’t be all things to all people. If your professional interest lies in say, the biotechnology field, then focus on relationships in that arena and around it.

2. Serve that area. Once you have selected the area start serving. By this I mean get involved in all the associations/forums/groups you can that make up your chosen area. Getting involved means not simply joining but doing things for and with others, e.g. give free advice, volunteer help, sit on steering groups/committees, make speeches and the like. Get to be known as someone who helps others – no strings attached.

3. Build a reputation as a “go to” person. Closely linked to the above point is the building of a profile as the person who becomes the hub for activity. Like a hub of a bicycle wheel that connects the spokes be the person that can link others together. Through a simple introduction over a coffee much kudos and creditability can be and is created. You will find that the hub becomes involved in all sorts of interesting situations and conversations that will lead to new opportunities.

4. Be genuine. If you are getting involved and helping others for the sole purpose of getting business and making sales you will fail. People can see a phony a mile away. So don’t be one!

The above points are not just useful for our young friend Kate to think about; they are a good reminder to the seasoned professional services campaigner!

All my best,

James E

All about Kate (1 of 2)

The other day I met a potential candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Kate as in Kate Winslet .

Kate was a lovely lady in her early 30′s. Bright, warm and friendly. After the first five minutes of our coffee meeting I felt I had known her for years.

Kate is a senior accountant with a highly technical background and a wonderful skill-set in problem solving and working on complex projects with big end of town clients. In addition, she has a passion and enthusiasm for her work that is contagious. I think it would be safe to say that there would probably be around a couple of hundred professionals with her particular skill-mix in Australia. I’m not joking … she is that good! This coupled with her engaging personality makes for a formidable combination.

At first glance she seems to have all the makings of a first rate professional. But there is something  missing – her ability to network and sell.

To date Kate has focused on honing her technical & professional skills to the detriment of her capability to build effective relationships both within and outside her accounting firm. In fact during our coffee Kate clearly stated that it was only in the last year or so that she had come to realise how vitally important “networking” is.

As I think I’ve said in past posts I hate the word networking.  The word has unfortunately come to represent the attitude and behavior of  “what can I get out of other people.” I don’t want to sound twee about it, but true networking is about meaningful relationships. In Kate’s case she has not spent the time to identify, establish and cultivate relationships in the wider community. For it is these relationships with others that will help her on her way to building new business contacts and deepen her bonds with existing clients.

Kate is not yet a Partner in her firm. If she wants to not only be a Partner, but an effective, one she needs to learn how to build relationships and sell her services. Her passion for the profession is (sadly) not enough.

So how can Kate do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James

The true story of two bananas

I was in a meeting with a top ten accounting firm recently.

The purpose of the meeting was for me to introduce a friend of mine who needed some specialist advice regarding an upcoming transaction.

My friend & I were on one side of the table; two partners on the other side. Lets call them B1 and B2.

B1 was engaging and attentive to my friend and the concerns of his business. He was a good listener and asked the right questions.

B2 seemed to be very interested for the first ten minutes of the meeting and then for some reason “turned off” for the remainder. In the following forty or so minutes he looked at his Blackberry about 10 times and sent at least 3 emails or txts during the meeting. He asked a few questions but gave the impression that he was too important for such a “small” client.

B2 is an absolute expert in his field and commands  high fees for his services. However, in spite of his technical prowess he didn’t get the assignment. I think my friend said it best shortly after we left the meeting… “what a w_ _ _ _ _ !”

What more can I say?

🙂

The worst question an accountant can ask (1 of 2)

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time then you’ll know that I have sweated over a book that I’ve been working on for several months titled “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” which was published by Thomson Reuters back in August.

In the book, in between the chapters of the interviews with accounting firm clients are little vignettes called “a view from the other side” which are the responses of accountants I’ve have met and known over the years. They respond to one of four questions I pose them, one of which is, “What is the best question you have ever asked a client or prospect?”

I asked the above question of three senior accountants, two of which were partners and surprisingly two came up with the same answer: they would ask their client or prospect, “What keeps you awake at night?”

At the time I thought it was a fair enough question to ask since it had been used in sales and business development contexts for many, many years. However, in the last few days I read something that completely changed my mind on the whole subject.

During the last week, I read the blog of well-known and respected management journal that blew my socks off. They claim that the worst possible question a professional could possibly ask of a client or prospective client is I fact “What’s keeping you up at night?”

So who are these people that claim that such a simple question that has been asked countless thousands of times all around the world for the last few decades is not only so completely wrong and but can and will simultaneously prevents sales while also destroying customer loyalty?

Well they must know a thing or two since they were published by no less a journal than the Harvard Business Review. Tune into the next post to find out more!

All my best,

James E