You think a client appointed you because she respects the university you attended, the professional awards you’ve won or the decades of experience you have?
As impressive as these might be, they only played a peripheral role in your appointment. They were asterisks.
The truth is that your client probably didn’t even consider whether you’re good at your craft before appointing you. Find that hard to believe? Think about it.
Take a client looking to appoint a new firm of accountants to handle her business. She figures that all accountants can make books balance. They can do sums without calculators. Proficiency with numbers is a given. She doesn’t question it. If they were incompetent in their core competencies, they’d be out of business.
So is it your experience that gets you the business? Bzzz. Sorry, wrong answer. Experience is just not as impressive as you hope it is. A potential client figures that if you’re thirty, you’ve had a decade practicing your profession. If you’re forty, you’ve racked up maybe twenty years. And so on.
If you’re in partnership, it becomes pretty easy to boast some seriously big numbers when you tally up your collective experience.
“The senior partners have 280 years of professional experience between them.”
You might think that close to three centuries of experience looks mighty good in your credentials document. But honestly, it’s unlikely to do for prospective clients what it did for you when you did the sums. Sure, 280 years is a lot. Is it impressive? It depends. If there are 6 of you in the partnership, your client is figuring you must all be over 70. She envisages an office filled with Zimmer frames. Or maybe there are 140 partners, in which case your prospect figures none of you knows anything. About the best you could hope for by boasting this kind of cumulative experience is to reassure prospective clients that your financial experience extends some way beyond working at the supermarket checkout in school holidays.
Do your creds lack cred?
Like most people out shopping for something with a substantial price tag, a client looking to appoint new accountants will probably draw up a shortlist. All of the firms on her short list will be good at their trade.
Additionally, there’s a good chance all of the names on a client’s shortlist will be about the same size. This raises another issue. The CEO or the partner in charge of each of the businesses on that list likes to think his or her company is unique. And yet, almost without exception, what the client will see and hear are the same claims made over and over again by each company she’s considering appointing.
If the companies are big and if they have international affiliations, you can be sure there’ll be phrases like “local knowledge combined with global resources” in more than one credentials document or presentation. If the companies are smaller, the prospective client will repeatedly see phrases like “small enough to care” or “more personalised attention”.
If your company’s credentials contain phrases that bear even a passing similarity to these, then I hope there’s also something in there that demonstrates a REAL point of difference from your competitors. Why? Because very few clients will appoint you simply because you’re well-connected globally or you’re a caring mid-sized business.
In the end the appointment of a new firm of accountants will be based on one or both of two criteria. First, they’re cheaper. Second, they have a reputation of bringing things to the party above and beyond good arithmetic.
Why you win business
Do you truly know why you win business? It might seem a surprising question to ask, but many people don’t know the answer. They think they do. If a new client didn’t appoint you because you’re good at your craft, then why did you get the gig?
Let’s put aside cost of service as the reason for your appointment. (We’ll tackle this in a moment.) Let’s look instead at how you might win new business by adding value for existing clients.
One way could be a demonstrated ability to grow your clients’ businesses. Quite a number of service businesses claim that their sole responsibility is to grow their clients’ businesses. But it isn’t enough to claim it. You need to be able to prove it. There’s nothing a prospective client likes more than proof of performance. That’s especially true in a service business, where your product is largely intellectual.
A client might also appoint you because you have demonstrated an ability to grow the reputations of existing clients. Yes, this often goes hand-in-hand with a growth in business. However, a client with 90% of the market mightn’t be looking to gain the other 10%, but rather to insure against any erosion of market share. She might want to do this by becoming so well liked by consumers that they won’t want another manufacturer’s product even if it were available.
Maybe you can even demonstrate a direct correlation between your advice and an increase in your client’s share price. That’s really impressive stuff. Your senior clients spend a lot of time watching their company’s share price. That’s because they know there’s a direct link between share price and job security. Price goes down, boss is shown the door. Simple as that.
Maybe you won because a client was impressed by a proprietary research tool. Some companies seem to have a lot of these. I have sat through presentations by such companies. There are several PowerPoint slides filled with the logos of unique research programs. I have never understood what any one of them does. Nor do most clients. But it looks impressive.
Maybe you won the account because you demonstrated a deeper understanding of your client’s business or his customers. Clients love demonstrations that you know something about their business or their customers that they didn’t know.
Then again, maybe you won the business simply because you were cheaper than your competitors.
If this is why you won, then you have trouble. Yes friends, you have trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Price.
If you win on price, you’ll lose on price
The client who comes to you because you’re cheaper will leave you for the same reason. Unless you’re prepared to beat the price of your competitors, one day you’ll inevitably lose your client to another company whose directors have fewer scruples, lower overheads, fewer alimonies, less extravagant lifestyles and [insert your own burdens]. If you do manage to beat their price, you’ll probably lose your shirt. You can’t win.
So what is the real reason you win a new client?
She appoints you because she likes you, your brand, your values, what you stand for. When all other things are equal – product, price, place and a track record of adding value – people choose one company, one brand, over another because they like them.
Because they like them. Whatever rational reasons might be given, in the end it’s an emotional decision.