How to differentiate your firm and win the engagement in the first 60 seconds


With some thoughtful preparation, you can differentiate your firm and win the engagement in the first 60 seconds.

In less than one minute, the prospective client is determining how trustworthy you are, and whether or not they want to work with you. Buying decisions are emotional and are controlled by the limbic system of the brain. While logic will clearly play an important role as the conversation unfolds in either confirming or negating this initial experience, the emotional decision whether to engage or not happens very early on.

The prospective client is generally unaware of this automatic evaluation process yet, we all experience it in our own lives when making important buying decisions. Think of the times when you’re a customer somewhere, whether it’s hiring someone for services or buying a product. Notice how quickly your initial impressions are being formed. Almost immediately you’re deciding whether or not you feel comfortable, whether or not you trust this person and if you are open to working with them or not.

Unfortunately, most accountants are not aware of the importance of the first 60 seconds, and even if they are, they are not fully prepared to use them to their best advantage.

Here are seven things you must do during those first 60 seconds:

Here are seven things you must do during those first 60 seconds:


1. Be Prepared

Be prepared with what you’ll say and how you’ll say it. It’s fine to engage in casual social conversation when you first meet the person, if that feels appropriate. But when it’s time to get down to business, the ball is in your court. From the client’s perspective, a well-constructed opening statement differentiates your firm and sets the tone for a productive conversation.

2. Create an awareness of difference

Most business owners have preconceived ideas about accountants. From their view, we pretty much all do the same things. You must establish your difference up front by declaring that “We have a different focus from other firms”. This immediately establishes a sense of curiosity on their part, wondering what makes you so different. You’ll be giving them a sense of what makes you different in just a few seconds, but for now, we want them looking for that difference.

3. Remove selling pressure

People naturally put up barriers whenever they are in a selling situation because they don’t want to be “sold”. Sales resistance is normal. You can remove it by simply giving the prospective client permission to say “no”. You do that by letting the client know that because you have a different approach, there is not always a fit. While making it easy for them to say “no” might seem counterintuitive, the reality is puts the client at ease, and makes you more trustworthy.


4. Describe your difference

You have stated that your approach is different and there’s not always a fit. You must now tell them what that difference is. State your difference in terms of benefits, the results they should expect if they work with you. Keep it broad, meaningful and compelling. As an example, you could tell them that your focus is on increasing profits and enhancing the quality of life for business owners. Obviously, this would be of great interest to most business owners.

5. Establish the purpose of the meeting

Let the prospective client know that the purpose of the meeting is for both parties to determine whether or not it makes sense to work together. They are aware of the potential benefits of working with you, they feel free to say “no”, and so now it’s time to engage in a conversation. If the prospective client resonates with what you said so far, and most will, they should be quite willing to answer your questions because they’re hoping there is a fit.


6. Get permission to ask questions

A critically important component to a productive sales conversation is to ask the right questions. You want to uncover the client’s goals and needs, and gain an understanding of the issues they’re facing and the impact those issues have on them. Getting permission to ask questions allows us to respectfully lead the conversation, and demonstrate our client centric focus.

7. Establish your authority

By making a well thought out opening statement, you are quietly establishing your authority to lead the conversation. All the while, the client feels in control because you asked for their permission to lead by being respectful every step of the way. You drive the process by asking questions and learning what’s important to them. From there, you are able to describe your expertise and services in terms that are relevant to them. You’re leading from a place of service, and clients will appreciate it.

Here’s what you should never do in a selling situation:


1. DON’T wing it

Be prepared to make the best of the first 60 seconds. Winging it is not the answer. It takes thought and preparation to optimize that opportunity to establish your difference, gain emotional buy-in from the start, and establish the foundation for a very productive meeting.


2. DON’T deliver a commercial about your firm

While this might seem counterintuitive, the more you talk about your firm’s experience and expertise, the more you sound like all the others because that’s what most firms do. Use the first 60 seconds to make an opening statement that differentiates your firm, gains their buy-in, and brings your focus right to the client.


3. DON’T try to “close” the sale

Trying to control the outcome of the meeting can come across as manipulative or controlling. Rather than taking a self-serving approach, ask questions, discover what they want and what their issues are, and then determine if you there’s a fit. If you can truly help them, there’s a very good chance the client will see that and want to engage.


4. DON’T ask questions without permission.

Asking questions is necessary to effectively conduct a client-centered conversation. Most clients will not mind you taking the lead, if you do so respectfully. This means asking their permission to ask questions before you start. By making a well-thought-out opening statement, clients will understand why you need to ask questions and will readily engage in the process and answer your questions very candidly.


5. DON'T be something you're not.

DON’T try to become someone or something other than who you are. There’s no need to put a “professional” persona out there. What sells best is authenticity. You being you. By following the above tips, and heeding the “don’ts” you can comfortably settle into your authentic self and enjoy productive sales conversations.

Why this works so well

In the first 60 seconds, with the right opening statement you have differentiated your firm and created emotional buy-in that often leads to a new client. You can create a compelling experience for the client by modeling the behavior of a professional who is focused on bringing value to them. You’ve established that you have an approach and methodology to understand their goals and their issues, and to see if the expertise, resources, and experience you bring is a right fit for them. You’ve shown that you’re not afraid to take charge. Rather than delivering a commercial about how great your firm is, the client is experiencing, in the moment, the value you can bring. You have laid the foundation for a very productive conversation and have already begun the process of motivating the client to engage.

About the Author: Rick Solomon

About the Author: Rick Solomon

CPA, CEO, Sales Trainer for Accountants, Coach

Rick’s driven by empowering accountants to move past their limitations in all areas of the professional life. He has spent the last several decades coaching, training, speaking to, and empowering thousands of accountants world wide to transform their results from the inside out.

His unique style, understanding of human behavior and performance, incredible processes for selling, and uncanny ability to support growth have enabled him to be a thought leader and innovator in the profession for decades.

Rick offers an incredible sales training and coaching program for accountants which opens up a limited number of times per year to a small group of accountants (next class starts in September 2017), has an incredible only program for holistic firm growth through his Enlightened Firm Blueprint, and offers transformational coaching in his Masters Coaching Program.