Selling in a professional service environment isn’t difficult. It’s not rocket science. It is increasingly a skill that managers, partners and principals of accounting firms need to develop if they are truly to become trusted advisors. However, for many accountants in public practice, selling is still a ‘dirty word.’ In addition, it’s often confused with marketing services.
What’s the difference between marketing and selling?
Many accounting firms confuse marketing and selling. Marketing is essentially all the work you put into creating interest in your services from clients and your community. It includes branding, advertising and networking activities.
Selling is the work you do to actively engage with your ‘prospects’ in understanding their specific needs and developing solutions to help them achieve their objectives.
Marketing without selling is like a car without a steering wheel. You’re moving, but there’s no clear sense of direction. The best way to create direction is to establish a clear sales process backed up by internal systems, and then to train your team in ‘the art of professional selling.’
Why is selling so difficult for accountants?
So many service providers think that selling, by its nature, is a distasteful and less than ethical process, the purpose of which is to part people from their money. They believe that to be successful at selling, service providers must leave their values and personalities at the door and adopt an approach that ‘manipulates’ the prospect into making a decision.
Nothing is further from the truth. The best rainmakers bring clients and fees into their firms because they are in fact no different when they are selling their services than when they are delivering their services.
- They prepare
- They listen
- They solve problems
- They care about their clients’ well being and success
- They create new futures for their clients
- They are ethical at all times
In other words, the best rainmakers are simply great professional service providers. They are masters at uncovering the goals and challenges of their clients and prospects. They are able to provide valuable ongoing support to clients as trusted advisors, independent of their role as an expert in tax and accounting.
How can you show accountants how to sell?
In talking with accountants about professional selling, I usually start by simply discussing the need to engage both clients and prospects in ‘rich’ conversations about their needs and wants. This is not as simple as it sounds. Rich conversations of this type need to be separated in time from accounting and tax discussions. Active listening is required – this means not only asking the right open-ended questions, but also asking clarifying and probing questions to really understand what the prospect or client is thinking.
This is easier to do with prospective clients than existing clients, simply because existing clients often haven’t been exposed to these types of discussions and may not see their accountant as a trusted advisor. To change the rules with existing clients, you need to tell them up front what you are doing and why. A simple approach is to explain that ‘what we used to do was good, now what we do aims to make us more aligned with your financial goals.’
- We are committed to better understanding your needs and objectives.
- We will ask questions we haven’t asked in the past
- We want to work with you to focus more on the future
- We do this with ALL of our clients.
Where do you start?
Simply start by asking questions. For business prospects and clients, it may be as simple as asking ‘How’s business going for you?’ When you get the response ‘Same as last year, no change.’ Or ‘We’ve struggled for the past year,’ you then need to say ‘tell me more.’
It’s not the first answer that you are seeking, it’s the in-depth discussion that gives both you and your prospect / client a real insight into their needs and wants. It’s then a relatively simple process to then explain to your prospect / clients how you can help them.
In November 2014, Training Beyond Accounting is running a 2-part online program ‘Principles of Professional Selling for Accountants’
In this special program, we’ll explain the key principles of professional selling in an accounting environment. Your team will receive practical tips and hints on how to really engage clients and prospects in discussions about what you can do to help them. Most importantly, we’ll help you significantly increase your conversion rate!
For further information, visit www.trainingbeyondaccounting.com.au and click ‘Upcoming Programs.’
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