This post is a continuation of a previous blog post, How to Ask the Right Questions. To read it, click here.
So you have done your research on a potential client, felt them out, and you have decided that they represent an ideal client for you, and that you represent a great fit for their needs. The next step is creating the intimacy necessary to cause a relationship to occur.
I am a partner at KBL, a CPA and advisory firm that services publicly and privately held companies, Fortune 500 companies, not-for-profit organizations, financial service firms, governmental agencies, and high net work individuals. Our engagements with our clients expose us to information that is confidential and quite personal. Accordingly, our clients have a very high level of trust that within our service offerings we will provide advice and counsel that is both accurate and strategically sound, and that any information exchanged within the process will remain confidential.
3. Intimacy: A Business Relationship Is like a Marriage
Because of the intimacy involved, the CPA/client relationship has been described as being like a marriage. I agree with that assessment. For one, I have been involved with hundreds of conversations in my career with incoming clients that have chosen to terminate their prior CPA relationship. Those conversations were similar to watching someone engage in the process of breaking up with a long term relationship with a friend or a lover, or in some instances, a spouse. It is not an easy process and I have seen it become quite an emotional experience for the parties involved. Accordingly, being able to create intimacy when engaging new business relationships is a very important skill for me to have and continue to enhance if I want to attract and maintain new client relationships.
Creating and maintaining intimacy is very important to creating and maintaining my business relationships. The creation of intimacy when engaging a new potential relationship requires asking questions and “listening” the answers. You need to avoid the typical canned intimacy that exists in many business relationships. Look for common areas that you both share that you both can speak intimately and in detail about that are attached to the business. You don't need a lot of areas, just a few.
How to Ask Intimate Questions
“Listening” someone is a form of intimacy, and intimacy is a factor in relationship creation, whether you're creating a new customer relationship, a new love relationship, or a new friend relationship. Many people try to do intimacy with questions like, "So where do you live?" or "Are you married?" or "Where did you go to school?" All of these can come across as canned questions. And, quite frankly, you could care less about the answers. This is not the type of intimacy I am talking about.
For example, if I was communicating with a software development company, I may ask them what the process is by which they determine technological feasibility for their products. If they don't know what I'm talking about, that speaks to their lack of understanding about their business, which is an opportunity for me to be very helpful. If they do, their response may reveal an area that they are weak in, where I could demonstrate in my presentation how we can be helpful. Also, by asking industry specific questions, you communicate to the company that you are an expert in their industry, which makes them comfortable and contributes to the creation of intimate feelings.
How you ask the question is also important. So for example, if I know going into a meeting with a potential client that the company is looking for additional equity capital and needs to clean up its accounting records before they go out and identify capital, I don't ask them if they are looking for capital. I tell them about the client of mine that I helped clean up their books and how I was able to do it quickly, and despite the fact that things were frustrating I was able to work with the client to get it done, and how this resulted in the client raising capital. I guarantee you that the leaders will pause, look at each other, and say to you, "That's interesting, we have the same issue."
One of the things you should consider is giving up some intimate knowledge about yourself, your firm, or a client you worked on that was similar to them. In situations like this, you should share the personal challenges you faced and how difficult it was for you, and how you pushed through and were able to get things done, and how the client was happy, and how now things are so much easier. They will want to know how you can replicate that experience with them, that feeling of relief. When they ask you the name of the client, tell them you can't reveal that because of client confidentiality. Your trust factor will go through the roof with that response.
Tell Them (the Right) Things about Yourself
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.