The Sales Meeting: Questions to Ask Decision Makers or Decision Influencers

You might have come across the four Ps of marketing. Here are my four Ps of selling.

The Four ‘P’s

The first stage of selling is the interview. This is the reason you got the appointment. You will be in a business atmosphere where for the first time it is appropriate for you to sell. This is the time and place. This is when you probe for needs and wants of the prospect. For larger prospects, the interview may be separate from the actual sales presentation. You may be one of several firms invited to make formal, stand-up presentations to a board of directors or an audit committee. Whether you have competition or not, when a large company asks for a formal sales presentation, always arrange to visit the prospect’s office or facilities a week or so in advance for an initial interview.

Key Point: One objective for the interview: Determine what the client expects from us. Where do they “hurt”? What do they perceive to be their problem? What does he or she want us to do? Also, you gather data to give ideas to the client on what they should expect from their accounting firm.

Plan a list of key questions to ask. Do not photocopy the items below and take them to the meeting: prospects would perceive that as a canned, audit style checklist approach. The items listed below are intended as a “pole vault” to help you reach new heights; not as a “crutch” to support a crippled imagination.

Key Point: Hand-write the questions you want to ask on a pad. With some prospects it may be okay to have them prepared on a notebook computer. Prospects see the hand-written list as evidence of your interest and concern for them as individuals.

You need to scope four general areas of information. All of them begin with the letter P:

  • Product
  • Personal
  • Problems
  • Payoff


What is the prospect’s product or business? Visit their website as well as their facilities or office before the meeting and familiarise yourself with their operations. At your initial interview you might want to discuss the following:

  • History of the business
  • Principal products or services
  • Position in the industry nationally and locally
  • Latest technology
  • Effect of the internet
  • Effect of globalisation
  • Effect of offshoring
  • Factors of competition
  • Why do people buy from the prospect rather than from the competition?
  • Locations of plants and offices
  • Labour situation and prospects
  • Government regulations
  • Marketing methods and distribution channels
  • Manufacturing or production process
  • Major customers and credit terms
  • Major suppliers and credit terms
  • Major competitors
  • Professional advisors such as lawyers, brokers, insurance agents, consultants, directors, IT advisors, engineers, advertising agency, public relations firm, etc.
  • Financial results
  • Special tax factors
  • Review their financial statements, tax returns, and internal management reports. You might get lucky and find something obvious which their current accountant has overlooked or screwed up.


What should you know about the prospect as a person? Try to find out about the prospect from the referral source. Check them out on Facebook and Twitter and any other social media channels you consider appropriate. Personal attributes you may be concerned with include:

The prospect’s communication style? (Bottom-line, creative, analyser, free-form, fast, slow?)

  • Personal and family goals
  • Business goals
  • Financial goals
  • Succession issues
  • Family problems or disputes
  • Exit strategy
  • Plans for retirement, funding issues, pension plans, etc.
  • Life, disability, and personal liability insurance coverage
  • Turn-ons, turn-offs, and idiosyncrasies
  • Hobbies/interests/sporting affiliations


  • Ask the prospect “What do you want to accomplish?” and “Why is that important to you?”
  • What are their problems?
  • What important issues concern them?
  • What keeps the prospect awake at night?
  • What the prospect likes and dislikes about the current accountants


What would be the payoff if you solved their problems or helped the company to exploit its opportunities?

  • What benefits or values does the prospect expect if you (or someone else) solve their problem(s)?
  • Can one measure these benefits?
  • How will the client’s life improve?
  • How will the prospect evaluate our performance? How would they know whether we have done a good job?

How important is each of the following factors in selecting accountants?

  • Price
  • Timeliness
  • Creativity
  • Tax expertise
  • Business advice
  • Quality of the written proposal
  • Accessibility

If price is paramount, the prospect will not be very loyal, nor will he or she be interested in planning, consulting, and other value-added services. Ideally, you want clients who will view the amounts paid to your firm as investments from which they will gain a return, not as costs which have little future value or return.

If there will be a formal presentation, call the prospect a few days before the meeting and ask if there is anything specific that they want you to cover. Occasionally you may learn something else you were not aware of that the prospect perceives as an important problem or opportunity. Calling to discuss the meeting agenda also demonstrates your interest in the prospect and their opinions.