The process of pursuing new business is like dating. Once introduced to a potential client, you have to engage with them as you would someone you are dating and exploring the possibility of a long-term relationship with. There is the sharing of mutual information, the deciding when and when not to disclose sensitive data, looking for interests that you have in common, identifying people that you both know who could vouch for you, seeing if that person could potentially service your needs and you theirs, and finally determining if you trust and actually like this person and vice versa.
So what tools do I use to engage, service, and retain clients?
I start first by listening. While this may seem like a relatively simple act, the art of listening is a key factor when engaging with the diverse culture of business professionals that make up my firm's current and potential client base.
As the leaders of companies express their vision and present challenges and collective aspirations, it takes the ability to “listen them” to truly understand the issues beyond what is being communicated. The ability to practice the art of listening inherently creates a platform for joint collaborative sessions of discovery between myself and the leaders of the company. The result of this scoping process will produce a business narrative that identifies the bottlenecks which minimize organizational throughput and identifies the environmental factors, dynamic and static, that affect that company’s performance, quality, and profitability.
Listening to someone requires that you hear what they say to you and are able to repeat it back to them—if not exactly, then in a format that provides a clear understanding of what they said.
"Listening someone" goes much deeper than that. It involves using all of your senses when engaging with others. It includes the ability to read and interpret body language accurately, taking someone in and feeling them internally. It requires being extremely present to that person and the environment that they have created around themselves, which includes the culture and makeup of themselves and their business. Finally, it requires taking all of the information amassed from these processes, internalizing them and assessing and interpreting them in a way that causes you to be able to truly read that person so that you can create the relationship that you desire with them.
Listening someone is broken up into the following components:
Listening someone begins with initial research on the company and its leaders. For example, when looking to engage with a potential client, I start first with getting as much background information on the company as possible. I visit their website. I Google them. I speak with other people that I trust that may know of the company and their leadership. I look at such factors as profitability, integrity, history of success or failure, culture, how they compare with their competition, and any legal matters they may be involved in, all of which are areas of information that is important to me and serves as the foundation for any business relationship I go into.
My objective is to commence the formulation of who this company and its leaders are, to determine if I want to have a relationship with them, and if my firm is a good fit for them.
While researching the parties you will be engaging with is a good first step, you need to “listen” your research. That entails listening between the words that you are reading for personality traits that can provide insights as to how the individuals formulate their thought processes. For example, content that is heavy in statistics indicates the importance of including metrics and statistical information in your communications. Content that is not detailed may indicate that the parties value form over substance. Content that is vague may signal an integrity issue.
As we discussed, your background search should include discussions with people that have some knowledge of the subjects. However, in your inquiry, you need to listen how people react to your questions. Is their response a long pause, laughter, a heavy sigh, a smile, a confused look, a discontinuance of eye contact when a particular question is asked? As you focus more on the reactions to your questions, you will find that your questions will become more pointed and will become catalysts for retroactively sharpening the person that you are speaking with's listening of the subject. They will take a deeper look at the subject and they will be able to provide deeper responses and provide you with a deeper understanding of your subject from their subconscious as opposed to their conscious minds.
As you perform your research, look to identify potential intimacy areas. These are areas that you feel may not play a huge role in the success or failure of their venture, but may be a part of their company that touches them personally. These could include issues such as diversity, operating in a paperless environment, flexible schedules for working parents, a favorite charity the company supports, the company softball team, or the company providing childcare as a fringe benefit.
Richard Levychin, CPA is a partner with the CPA and advisory firm KBL, LLP, where he focuses on serving the unique needs of emerging businesses.