Kevin Price, Host of the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Kirk Ward.
About the interviewee.
I am Kirk Ward and am a retired accountant, a former IRS Enrolled Agent, and author of the original MicroMash review course for the Special Enrollment Examination to be come an Enrolled Agent. For fifteen years I audited borrowers of major banks to verify contract compliance and detect fraud. I started, built and sold multiple accounting practices in various cities across the Southeast.
It was this combination of situations where I developed the ability to meet and work with top level executives in a variety of industries.
Tell me about your firm (number of employees, location, type of companies you work with, etc.).
My firm Instant Practice Builder, operates on the internet, as a consultant to independent bookkeepers, accountants, tax professionals, and consultants, in almost all of the various United States, as well as portions of the British Commonwealth, including the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
We have over 500 members in the Instant Practice Builder network, and their clients range from the smallest mom and pop owner-operator type firms to large international corporations.
A practitioner may be working with a C-Suite client as an individual, consulting with the individual on tax and financial planning matters, or they could be working to create a solution for the clients firm.
I am a retired Enrolled Agent, and author of the original review course for the IRS Special Enrollment Examination for folks who want to become Enrolled Agents, published by Micro-Mash (now a division of Thompson-Reuters).
The first half of my career was as an “Asset Based Loan Examiner,” and I was traveling 50 weeks a year auditing multi-million dollar clients of major banks, such as BankAmerica, PNC, Sterling Bank, Chase, Barclay’s and more. In 1985 I opened my first accounting practice, in Kennesaw, Georgia, and then went on to build and sell multiple accounting practices across the Southeast. Between these two careers I learned how to talk to owner‑operator types of mom and pop operations as well as top level executives at multi‑million dollar corporations.
Today, I am semi-retired, and act as a consultant to over 500 accounting practitioners located around the world, including most of the United States, as well as parts of the British Commonwealth, including Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Most of my clients are small independent practitioners who have plateaued and want to grow their practices, or they are marketing managers at mid‑level practices.
Tell us your story about reaching C-Level executives to do business?
C-Suite executives are busy, and husband their time carefully. They have access to, and absorb, lots of data. In many ways, the higher their level, the more of a “Renaissance Man” they are. A master of many fields.
Because of the demands on their time, they will use what Dr. Daniel Kahneman calls “System 1” to evaluate you and your offer, possibly before you have ever spoken a word. This “System 1” that Dr. Kahneman defined, is built into our brains as a sort of energy-efficient defense mechanism, allowing humans to instantaneously sort known information and reach a decision. His “System 2” is slower, requires more energy, and is only used when System 1 cannot provide an answer.
So, an individual who wishes to work at the C-Suite level must pre-sell themselves and their offer, before they ever attempt to gain an introduction to a C-Suite executive.
Do you know of other examples of businesses being creative in this endeavor?
You will see this technique used almost exclusively by top producers in “The Professions.” In most cases, it is called “Rainmaker Marketing.” In typical Rainmaker Marketing, you will see the marketer become known as an expert in their field. They will work to have books published, articles published in trade magazines, they will speak at industry conferences. They will also do research on matters of interest to their niche or specialty and deliver their findings at small, exclusive, workshops.
However, what I have discovered is that the successful ones don’t just get themselves “known,” anyone can have fifteen minutes of fame. It’s the ones who know what “Promises” clients and customers at each of the three response types, Tansactional, Consultative or Complex, are expecting, and who Pre‑Sell or Pre‑Position themselves as providers of that solution, who get in to the C-Suite.
What lessons, if any, do you derive from these stories?
I’ve discovered that there is a formula to selling, an exact formula. And, whether the marketer follows it instinctively, through training in marketing tactics, or through an understanding of the complete system, doesn’t make a hill of beans difference. It’s not following the process that keeps you out of the C-Suite.
The formula involves developing the appropriate strategy for your target market, building a business model that has the resources and capabilities to deliver a value proposition that solves the problems or meets the needs of your target market, and utilizes the correct tactics to deliver your value proposition to the correct prospect.
Tell us why it is important to for you to pitch to the CEO.
Actually, in many instances, it may not be appropriate to be pitching the CEO. In many cases, either the CEO or the Board may have delegated the full decision making authority to a member of their team. I learned long ago that your true boss is one who does not have to ask anyone if they can hire you, and only has to ask one person if they can fire you. Finding and targeting that individual, or if it is a Committee you must sell, then that group of people, is what the marketer must do before they ever make their first call.
In my work with my clients, I teach them that the first thing they need to do is identify their target and create a complete profile, down to naming that prospect, as if their prospect was a single individual. I call my prospect “Milton.”
Once they have identified their market and developed a profile of their typical prospect, that is who they should target. If it is not appropriate for them to target the C-Suite because the decision making has been delegated, then they should not target the C-Suite. Even if their ego tells them that that is where they want to go, going there when it is not appropriate could get their access denied permanently. And, even if it is not permanent, it will be a deep hole to dig themselves out of.
What are some unique things you have done to get the attention of CEOs?
There are three things you must do first, and they are pre‑sell, pre‑sell, pre‑sell. IF your C-Level prospect is not sold on you BEFORE you ever make your first contact, then you will have an almost impossible job of making the sale, even if you get past the front door.
For years direct marketer’s have known that they had to get readers to read the headline, and that everything after that was closing the sale. A few years back, Dr. Daniel Kahneman, the only Psychologist to ever win the Nobel Prize in Economics proved the existence of two thought processes in the brain, which he called “System 1” and “System 2.” System 1 is an instantaneous decision making process which conserves the body’s energy by only using resources located in the human Pineal Gland. System 2 uses the whole brain, which requires much more energy, and is why thinking actually tires people. It is the job of System 1 to conserve your body’s energy by making decisions instantly based on known facts.
By pre‑selling C-Suite prospects, the prospect absorbs data. Accumulating data does not expend a lot of energy, and the brain can sort this information in its down time, allowing the System 1 to retrieve it quickly so an instantaneous decision can be made concerning whether to meet you or not.
Tell us about the type of companies with which you like to do business.
As I mentioned, I work almost exclusively with independent practitioners. Individual who have their own bookkeeping, accounting, tax, or consulting business. I teach these individuals to plan their strategy, business model and tactics before they start contacting prospects.
As part of that process, I show them how to identify the needs of their prospects, and determine who their target is, whether it is a C-Suite Executive, or a mid‑level purchasing agent. Once they have identified the needs, and created an individualized profile of a “person” that they will be targeting, I call that person their “Milton,” then is when they start looking at their practice, their resources and capabilities, and what actions they will have to take and what channels they will have to use, and that is when they make the decision as to whether that prospect, or that market, is the one the wish to pursue.
Take my own case for example. There is no point in me wanting to work with one of the “Big 4” accounting firms, unless it was to talk to an individual branch, because over the years, the firm has developed the branding and positioning tools that I help smaller practitioners develop.
What suggestions do you have for others trying to reach CEOs.
There is a specific process that must be followed for buyers at all three response levels, from the simple “Transactional” type of buyer, to the slightly more demanding “Consultative” buyer, to the “Complex” type of buyer, which is where your typical C-Suite executive resides.
Complex buyers are looking for someone who can provide them with strategic guidance in the way of a custom solution. They are looking for a “partner” who will become active in their success, which is why they must be pre‑sold. This pre‑selling is done using what is commonly referred to as “Rainmaker” marketing tactics . . . articles in client-oriented journals, speeches at industry-specific conferences, proprietary research, and small-scale seminars and meetings.
Skip the pre‑selling and you’ll never get in the front door.
And, to pre‑sell, your strategy, business model and tactics must all be carefully crafted in a way that will meet the needs of your prospect. Once you have pre‑sold the prospect and can get in the C-Door, then you have to deliver the promises this buyer is expecting to hear, using the motivating principles that are appropriate for their response level.