As a CPA and business advisor you will always feel compelled to have all the answers when speaking with clients and prospects. However, if you want to build meaningful relationships that will help you better serve your clients and secure additional new business, you have to be able to engage in and carry on great conversations.
At the center of every great conversation is a person skilled at the art of asking thought-provoking questions. For CPAs and business advisors, thought-provoking questions are the most valuable tool for learning a client’s business and financial challenges, getting to know them better and earning their trust. When you ask thought-provoking questions about potential problems or opportunities, it expands a person’s perception of what you can do for them.
The 80-20 conversational rule of thumb – let the other person do 80 percent of the talking while you talk 20 percent of the time – is nothing new. However, the ability to ask the right kinds of questions in the right manner is a far less known and practiced skillset.
Often, after one or two needs have been uncovered, we become confident that we have the right big-picture solution, immediately offer it up and begin selling. When you go directly for the “sell,” you deprive the prospect or client of the opportunity to experience your expertise and value first-hand. Instead, stay the course and fully develop their needs by formatting your “sales” meeting as a consulting session. By doing so, you can continue to ask more focused questions around their opportunities and challenges. This allows people to “test drive” you a little further and if they like the experience, it will be easier and more mutually fulfilling to close an engagement.
Ready to give it a try? Below are 10 approaches to consider the next time you sit down with a prospect, client or business contact. Note that most are formatted as open-ended what, why, how type questions.
1) Make sure the discussion is focused on the right issues
- What prompted your interest in this meeting?
- What would be the most valuable way for us to spend our time together this morning?
- What are the two or three most pressing issues you, your team or your business are facing?
- What specifically would you like to know about me or my firm? (this will keep you focused on discussing what they are most interested in, such as a specific idea, services, industry expertise, etc., versus wasting valuable time discussing aspects of yourself or your firm that they are less interested in knowing about.)
2) Do not try to simply assess through analytical thought, try to assess emotions
- What is going on right now with your business that has you most excited, anxious, frustrated, impaired, etc.?
- How (proud, frustrated, upset, etc.) are you regarding _______?
3) Push the conversation deeper by drawing out the other person’s views
- Help me to understand exactly what you mean when you say ________?
- Why do you think that way? How do you think that is affecting ______?
- What would the ideal partnership between you and your CPA firm look like in terms of collaboration, communication, etc.?
4) Learn what drives and motivates them
- Looking ahead at the business, what are you most excited about right now?
- How about in the next year or two?
- What are your motivations behind this specific initiative?
- What keeps you fired up?
- If you had a couple of extra hours each week, what would you spend that time working on?
5) Involve and engage the other person in the solution
- What would better ________ look like?
- What options have you considered so far and which ones do you think would provide the best solution?
- With regard to overall effectiveness in terms of how you and/or your team spend your/their time, what would you like to do less of, and on which activities do you want to spend more time?
6) Determine their agenda of key priorities
- What are the major initiatives and projects you are working on today?
- What are the most important things you’ll be evaluated on this year?
- What are your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals and objectives?
- If you could only accomplish three things this year, what would they be?
7) Assess their goals and aspirations
- If we are sitting here one year from now, what does success look like? What about two years from now? Five years?
- If you had more time, money and resources, which three initiatives would top your list to invest in?
- What is the ultimate benefit to you, the company or your team if you are successful?
- In terms of goal accomplishment, where are you on track or ahead of plan, and in which areas are you behind?
- Is 10 percent high enough?
- How are you going to handle ________?
- Why do you think this will work and what happens if it doesn’t?
- How is this affecting other aspects of your business?
- How much will it cost you if you don’t address this issue?
- Are you prepared if _________ doesn’t work? What are the risks? How does this compare to other alternatives?
9) Establish credibility. Ask subject matter expert specific questions.
- Has your company created a new product or service (R&D tax credit opportunity)
- Does your company own the building and have you previously performed a cost segregation study? (Cost segregation. opportunity)
- Does the company have foreign sales (including Mexico and Canada) of generally $1M or greater? (IC-DISC opportunity)
10) Build Rapport
- How did you get your start?
- I noticed that you are active with _________ organization. How did you get started with them?
- Congrats on __________ (recent company announcement), how long was that in the works?
Do you have questions about training your staff to be more successful in securing meetings with potential clients, or other marketing challenges? Please contact Jonathan Ebenstein at (440) 449-6800 or email Jonathan.
As your firm’s senior partners get closer to retirement, who will take their place? Swimming in a fast-changing sea that is the CPA industry, is your next generation of professional staff equipped to act in ways that promote growth and prosperity? Do they have the expertise, interest and passion to generate enough new business to feed the firm? If you’re not 100% comfortable with your answer, please consider learning more about Skoda Minotti’s Business Relationship Master Class. It’s not a new business primer. Rather, it’s an in-depth guide for establishing and nurturing a completely new business development culture based on relationships—one that will establish your firm as self-perpetuating and a true leader in its market space.