When you target a prospect, before making any approaches you need to find out who would make the decision for the business to leave their present firm and move to a new one.
Unless you know who this person is and can get through to them to influence their decision, your prospecting will amount to very little.
There are usually three levels of decision-maker in a company:
- Top tier decision makers
At this level, decisions are usually made by one of the chairmen of the board, managing director or owner. These are the busiest, most respected people in the company. As they will probably hold a great deal of power, they will probably be difficult to reach.
People at these levels are also attached to their routines and are not going to be over enthusiastic in assisting you to disrupt them. However, people at the top tier are usually more open to options that are better, quicker, or cheaper for the company.
Very often the top tier decision maker’s background is in sales or production rather than finance. He or she may not understand anything about accounting – and may not want to. If he does not want to make the decision he will refer you to someone on a lower tier who will have the authority, and therefore the openness of mind to hear you out. However, if you approach a lower-tier person first and he does not have the authority to engage a new firm, he will rarely refer you to a higher tier.
Trying to help you does nothing for him; in fact, it only causes him greater worries. If he works well with the current accountant, why should he assist you in displacing him? Even if he does not care for the accountant, he has no power to change things, so why approach him? Besides, in his eyes, you are just a salesperson and he has probably been trained to screen you rather than refer you to higher levels.
If a top tier person is happy with his accountant, there is no point in approaching people on the secondary or tertiary tiers. The only exception would be when you have a personal knowledge of a succession to the company’s first tier by a second tier person. In this case, you should initiate a long-term relationship with the designated successor with a view to proposing a change when he or she assumes power.
- Second tier decision makers
If you do not know who the top tier decision maker is, or the top tier decision maker refers you to the second tier, you will usually speak to the company accountant, finance director or head of accounts department.
An unsophisticated owner will often refer decisions to his financial right-hand man. This can be difficult if, as often happens, that person is unaccustomed to making decisions and is reticent about changing firms. Again, it is much easier emotionally for this person to remain with the present accountant.
Another potential problem arises if the financial person is an alumnus of the current accounting firm. However, if the owner refers the decision to the accounting department you will stand a greater chance of making an impact because you should be able to put a solid case without worrying about using too many technical terms and although financial staff can be conservative, some company accountants can actually be more keen to change firms than the top tier decision maker might be.
- Third-tier decision makers
People on the first two tiers make the final decision to hire and fire accountants in 90% of cases. General managers, bookkeepers, office managers, secretaries or spouses of the primary decision makers rarely have much influence on that decision.
The only time you should contact any of these people is when they are the only route you have to the actual decision makers.
If you have to pass through lower tier employees, remember they are probably trained to screen accountants. Because they generally have little or no familiarity with accounting they will tend to react to you on an emotional rather than professional level.
This means that if they get along with you they will help you to progress to a higher level, but if you rub them up the wrong way, you will have little chance of getting through. Many practitioners shoot themselves in the foot by not feeding the egos of these third-tier people.