Anyone who walks in the door willing to engage your services is not necessarily the next RIGHT client.

Conceptually, most of us agree with that statement.  However, very few of us practice this in reality - especially given the slow recovery from our recent economic downturn and the struggle many firms are experiencing retaining their clients (sometimes due to reasons outside the firm’s control).  In this week’s blog, I will explore some practical ideas that you can implement to close more “A” clients using some target account selling strategies – and now is a perfect time for many of us to be in our market generating new business for our firms!

Why Sell to Target Accounts ?

When you truly focus on target selling, you can focus scarce resources on opportunities that make a difference for your firm.   When you do so, you will find that you’ll be better equipped to:

  • Identify ideal clients and target them, which enables you to build niches or service lines more effectively
  • Land ideal clients so you can say no to the less-than-ideal clients and projects
  • Sell with intention, into your sweet spot,  so that you’re more efficient and productive with your sales time and resources

To start, consider identifying a specific, small team of people  in your firm willing to “test” or “pilot” selling to target accounts.  You don’t need very many people and ideally they’ll be in the same industry or service specialty which will save time on identifying targets.  Once you have a proven approach, you can apply it to other segments in your firm.

The ideal pilot team members will be willing to ask people they know for help, talk to people they don’t know and invite people they don’t know well to meetings, attend events and progress target relationships each month and report back. Be sure to assign a target selling owner who will guide and direct the team and report the status – including requests for help and successes – to your leadership team.

An Approach for Selling to Target Accounts

Once your team is assembled, follow these steps to develop an effective target selling approach in your firm:

  • Define your ideal target client – when asked, most firm leaders tell us that they have defined their ideal target client.  When we probe, however, we discover that it is often vague, has changed or sometimes never really was defined.   A good test to see how well you’ve defined your ideal target client is to determine whether or not you could acquire a list of names for that particular group.  Regardless of where you are, I suggest that you define or refine your ideal target client for your test segment.  Start by reviewing your current clients with whom you have experienced success and define their size, type of entity, industry or sub-industry, needs, location and any “psychographic” factors (culture, ownership make up, etc.).

Then, you’ll be able to determine where you can best find your ideal target clients.  To build a list quickly, conduct a web search using Google and LinkedIn to find a list of targets in your geography.  Other ways to reach targets include referral sources and other CPA firms, trade conference attendee lists and association members, national list brokers, such as Hoovers or Dun & Bradstreet, or “Top 25” lists (i.e. doctors, construction companies, etc.).

  • Narrow your list – after you’ve explored your potential pool of ideal target clients, narrow your list by geography and then by the degree of relationship you have with them (your warmest potentials first). Then, identify accounts that fit (or you think may fit at this point) your ideal profile so that you can create a “short list” of possible target accounts.  Send your list to your partners and managers (or entire team) to see who they know in those accounts or possible ways in through other contacts they may have in their network.  You can also use LinkedIn to see possible connections you have to target accounts within your firm or externally.

From there, you should be able to identify a list of target accounts that you can assign, prioritize and work.  And you don’t need that many!  Work to have two to five target accounts that each team member can be assigned to develop.

  •  Manage your target accounts - Assign a relationship manager who will be responsible for building strategic relationships with the key contacts of the target account.  Each relationship manager assigned to targeting accounts should:
  1. Be the primary interface for the target account at the “corporate” level
  2. Define the activities and approach to “work” the account
  3. Develop strategic relationships within the organization
  4. Keep your partners and others informed about the status of your progress
  5. Act as the “go to” person within your firm regarding any questions about the account
  • Build relationships with your target accounts – Each target account manager should learn as much as possible about their target account, including the profile of their firm, industry trends and potential impacts to their business and possible opportunities or successes you’ve had with other “like” clients.  Web research and social media sites will provide a wealth of intelligence for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be ready to introduce yourself and invite a key contact to meet - by phone first and then a face-to-face meeting when appropriate.  Position your invitation as an “investigative meeting” where you are interested in scheduling a phone call to learn more about their business and share what your firm is doing with companies like theirs. Then, when you meet, ask questions versus doing a lot of telling – the more you listen, the more you learn!
  •  Share about your firm after you get to know your contacts and understand their strategies and challenges so you can demonstrate how you can help them!  The more related you are and the more you know them and their business, the easier this will be to do.  When you identify the potential to provide services for your target account, follow your firm’s sales methodology.
  • Track and report your target account activities - Ideally, you would have one “master” target account database or spreadsheet that lives on a shared network that you each update on a regular basis with your meetings, status and activities as well as any referrals and sales opportunities you generate from this effort (that will eventually get moved to your sales pipeline).   Meet regularly with the relationship managers to review the last and next follow up dates, results and ideas for deepening the target relationships.

Use this approach to help your firm move away from opportunistically closing engagements that use resources but aren’t best for the firm or its people and instead begin to strategically close the more profitable ideal (or close to ideal) target clients that you most want to serve!  What target account strategies have you employed with success?  What commitment will you make to strategically sell to target accounts?  We’d love to hear from you!