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Getting The Restaurant Prospect As A Client

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Knowing what to ask when interviewing a prospect for the first time is often a tricky undertaking. Sometimes it helps to have a script.

While there are many sources for strong closing scripts for accounting practitioners, there aren’t nearly as many guides for selling to specific industries or niches.


Selling to specific industries and niches is one of the reasons we published the Industry Specific Marketing Kits at Practice Builder Publishing.

A well developed Client Needs Analysis is always a good place to start.

Since I had an opportunity in my misspent youth to (very successfully) develop and run a small chain of fast food outlets, I consider myself halfway knowledgeable of the restaurant industry.

Admittedly, like everything else, things have changed, but the basic concerns of the industry are still the same, menu and facility, food cost, labor and sanitation. It all becomes a balancing act, and the better you are able to help your client prioritize and balance their concerns, the more they will respect you as an industry expert.

The first thing when you are targeting restaurants as clients is to get a subscription to a couple of major trade publications such as Nations Restaurant News and Restaurant Business Magazine.

The first thing when you are targeting restaurants as clients is to get a subscription to a couple of major trade publications such as Nations Restaurant News and Restaurant Business Magazine. Click To Tweet

By reading those trade publications you will have the opportunity to develop some industry specific knowledge that you can use when you are trying to carry on a conversation with your prospect.

You can also use the information found in the trade publications you subscribe to as fodder for a ‘seeding’ campaign as described in the Practice Builder Publishing ‘Absolute Beginners Guide To Starting And Building Your Own Accounting Practice When You Are Flat Broke’ training course.

Once you’ve gotten a chance to meet with a prospect, and to hold a conversation with them, in addition to your industry knowledge, you also need to have some specific information about the prospect. This needs to be public information, or hints of something that you may have picked up using the lead generation technique taught in the ‘Absolute Beginners Guide To Starting And Building Your Own Accounting Practice When You Are Flat Broke’ training course I just mentioned above.

Having industry specific, and company specific information, gives you the opportunity to establish rapport and build on your open ended client needs analysis questioning.

For example, your first series of questions should be designed to put your prospect at ease, and avoid putting them on the defense.

Beginning with something like the questions laid out in our overview on the client needs analysis process at “Get Accounting Clients By Understanding Their Needs.”

As the prospect responds to the background questions, you want to be able to understand their motivations for entering the restaurant industry, even if it is something as simple as “My spouse makes great soup.”

Whatever the clients response to the background questions is, you want to dig into it a little bit, and find out more about their thinking and the level of difficulty they are facing.

And, if you have properly developed some industry specific knowledge, you can use that information in a data gathering manner.

For example, if the prospect is discussing their firm profitability, and discloses that their labor is running at over 30% of gross sales, it might be worthwhile to know whether that is in line with or higher than the industry average for their service model. Even if it is lower, it could be significant as a low labor cost could be indicative of a service problem, which could be detrimental to overall sales volume, and profits.

Remember, at this point you are gathering information, you have not established enough rapport to be challenging the prospect’s management style.

You want to spend some time developing rapport with your prospect. Not talking about yourself, or your practice.

If you have any thought at all that your prospect wants to hear about you, or your practice, even though they invited you to find out what you could do for them, and both of you know that helping them is why you are there, this is not the time to talk about it.

You want to use this time to find out about the prospect, their background, and their goals. You want to ask them some challenge questions.

Challenge questions are the questions that you ask to discover more about the prospect’s needs and whether you can help them solve their problems.

Challenge questions are the questions that you ask to discover more about the prospect's needs and whether you can help them solve their problems. Click To Tweet

Starting with a direct question about the problems facing them, might open some doors in your mind, but hopefully you were able to pick up on some ideas as to what the prospect is facing if you were listening while you were establishing rapport.

For example, if the client happens to mention that they have become a popular hangout for the neighborhood, but even with all that popularity they are not seeing the sales they were expecting, you might want to ask what their seat turnover is, what their average order is, or some related item that you learned about during your research.

Once you are able to identify the problem, there are other things you may want ask, such as how long the problems have been going on, or maybe when did the prospect start noticing the problems. It is also useful to ask what the most difficult part of handling the problem is, or if they have anyone working on the problem at this time.

One major question that most people forget to ask is to ask if others in the industry are having the same type of problem. For example, if decreased foot traffic is a problem, then you want to ask if anyone else is having the same type of problem.

Interesting point here is that no one really wants to admit they are the only one who is unable to solve this problem, so they will generally answer affirmatively.

Now, big point here.

This is where you can pick up a few leads. Just remember, a lead is not necessarily an introduction, a lead is the name of someone who has a need that you can fill.

As soon as the prospect says there are other restaurants with the same type of problem, all you do is look at them and say “Oh really, who?” and then leave it to them to give you a list of hot leads.

Once again, a lead does not have to be an introduction. A lead is merely the identity of a prospect with a need that you can fill.

So, if you learn enough from your industry research, and your current client needs analysis to be of help to this particular prospect, then you can almost certainly be able to help another prospect with the same exact need.

Once you have established rapport with your prospect, identified their needs, and gotten them to start thinking about the problems they face, then your next step is to start drawing out a bit of the history of the problem.

For example, with a restaurant where the owner has identified food costs as a problem, you may want to ask them when they first noticed that food costs were getting out of control, what happened to cause the food costs to start rising, and what have they noticed that they think may have caused this rise to become so serious.

At this point, you need to take the first steps toward your close. You need to establish a sense of urgency in the prospect so that they want to take action to solve the problem.

For example, you want to ask them how the problem has affected their business. In the case of the restaurant with excessive food costs, but no traffic increase, you may want to inquire as to whether they have had any changes in portion sizes, or service personnel comping meals for friends and family.

In the case of a restaurant with low health ratings, you may want to inquire as to what effect that has on traffic or head count, and profits.

Then, you want to find out if the problems have affected the prospect personally, and what will happen if they are not solved in the near or immediate future.

And finally, you want to help them see the positive outcome if you are able to help them solve their problem. You want them to be able to visualize how much their life would improve if you could make their problems go away.

Without identifying solutions, you want to paint a picture in their mind of how much better their life would be if these problems were solved.

Then you want to walk away.

Well, yes, I do mean that literally, but not quite as abruptly as that.

At this point, you want the prospect to see you as a thoughtful and introspective expert with their best interests in mind. You want them to think of you as having their interests first on your mind. Asking for the order or making the sale at this point defeats that.

You want to go back to your office and carefully weigh their situation, and if you have associates, discuss their problems with them. Then, you want time to develop a custom solution that specifically meets their needs, and solves their specific problems.

You want to come back in a few days with a custom proposal that is designed to solve the needs that you and they identified today, and gives them the solution that will make their life better, just as you discussed.

You want this solution to be designed specifically for them, and only them.

I guarantee you that once they see that you are not there to sign them as a client, that you are there to solve their unique problems, they will be waiting for you with pen in hand, and when you deliver, you will have a client for life.

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Best to you and yours,




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