Remote work has a lot of benefits: greater flexibility, no commute and more time with family and pets. But if you’re planning to stay remote, you have to think about how business development will change when it’s purely digital.
As a CPA, you have some responsibility for business development, no matter your position or firm. At the very least, you’re responsible for client service and satisfaction—core components of business development. You remain responsible for business development even if you’re working from home, and business development can be done effectively in a remote environment. Like many aspects of work-from-home versus in-office, business development has pros and cons in either setting. Let’s explore how to make remote business development work for you.
Here are four of the biggest challenges of remote business development, as well as tricks to overcome them.
1. Developing rapport. Rapport, often defined as “mutual understanding,” requires connectivity to uncover commonalities. To set yourself up for success, do your research in advance—digging into available information about the person you’re meeting with can reveal topics or interests you have in common. On video calls, scan the virtual environment of your client (subtly!) for clues, like sports teams’ logos or family pictures, that can be a starting point for building rapport. In a virtual world, you’re going to have to work a little harder to find commonalities with your clients and other stakeholders.
2. Earning trust. Trust is earned through repeated positive interactions. Without the touchstones of in-person meetings, plan extra virtual interactions to demonstrate that you’re working on the relationship, being proactive and doing what you say you will. These interactions can range from videoconferences to check in to emails to keep clients updated. Whether you’re working in the office or remotely, earning trust requires doing great work. With strong communication skills and high standards for yourself, you can build trust with clients in a virtual environment.
3. Determining needs, wants, pains and fears. In a virtual environment, getting clients to open up about the problems they’re facing can be challenging, which makes getting at the heart of what you can offer them more difficult. Try sending questions in advance of a one-on-one video meeting to understand what’s driving their decision-making, where their pain points are and how you can craft a package of services to best meet their needs. Giving clients time to think about their answers before meeting with them virtually to discuss will help get to the root of what your clients truly need. This is critical, as you won’t be able to do your most effective work without knowing what your clients really need.
4. Dealing with distractions. One of the biggest challenges of doing business in the digital world is attracting and keeping the attention of potential clients. If a client is only passively participating in your conversation, they are likely missing important information, and you’ll have an even harder time building rapport, earning trust and discovering their needs. Try different approaches to contacting clients to see when they are more likely to respond. Are they more responsive to email, or do you have your best conversations over the phone? Do they seem uninterested during videoconferences or are they engaged? A client’s comfort with an approach might depend on their age or personality. Find what works best to engage potential clients in back-and-forth conversations rather than making a one-sided pitch.
Stop making excuses for not developing your business remotely. The pandemic brought change that is here to stay. Cultivate a new skill set now and learn to roll with change. This will only help you as the business world continues to evolve and transform. Embrace (or at least learn to tolerate) the new reality of conducting business development activities via digital channels. Relationship building will remain part of your business development strategy—even if it happens without the traditional relationship-building activities.
It’s time to embrace these changes and dive into virtual business development. Firms are reporting strong gains, clients are spending money and it’s time to get back in the game—as long as you recognize our new environment and make the commitment to change accordingly.
This article originally appeared on the Illinois CPA Society website.