The world of professional services firms has become increasingly competitive over recent years, and professionals such as accountants are facing pressure to become better salespeople in order to convert more enquiries.
Although proud of their image as trusted advisers, many accountants would not consider themselves natural salespeople and therefore shy away from any activities they deem as ‘selling’. Whilst they’re happy to advise on a matter, share their technical knowledge and indeed nurture relationships once a client is on board, they are less inclined to proactively look for new opportunities, or want to get involved in following up on enquiries.
So where do sales begin and end, and whose responsibility is it?
Some firms have dedicated Sales or Business Development staff whose skill set is more aligned with that of a traditional sales professional. In that case, that team would deal with the initial enquiry, provide an estimate and perhaps even some basic advice, make the follow-up calls and then pass the matter over to an Accountant once instructed. However, in most firms we work with, there is no dedicated Business Development team so these activities are expected to be done by the professional-looking after the case.
Here are our top tips for becoming a better salesperson
- Change the language – One of the barriers professionals sometimes have is the term salespeople. You are not selling, you are providing excellent client service. Why would someone make an enquiry if they didn’t want you to demonstrate that you want their work?
- Prepare – prior to a meeting or call, consider how you’re going to open and lead the conversation. Having a specific goal in mind helps to steer the conversation in the right direction – is the aim to sign them up as a client or to have another meeting? You may want to consider writing out some open questions (who, where, what, why, how) to follow during the conversation to help you get all the information you need.
- Communicate – as always, effective communication skills are key. Being able to effectively listen, and then use that information to convey how you can help the client and why you are the right adviser for them is crucial. If you have worked with a client in a similar situation, explain how you were able to help them. Be positive, upbeat and friendly to convey that you are excited about working with them.
- Follow up – follow up calls tend to slip to the bottom of the to-do list for busy accountants and stay there until it’s too late to follow up. To hold you accountable, perhaps consider scheduling half an hour in your diary every other week, to call people you have provided initial advice to or met with. This will not only progress the matter in the sales cycle, but it will also help you establish that all-important rapport. And people will remember who did and didn’t follow up, and therefore showed an interest in their business.
- Close the deal – whatever goal you decided on in your preparation efforts, stick to it and come to a decision as to what the next steps are.
Although this is not part of the initial sales process, cross-selling is an important area to consider that can help feed the sales pipeline. During your dealings with the client, keep an open mind and try to look for other ways that your firm will be able to help the business or individual. Quite often, they haven’t considered that you may be able to help with something other than what they came to see you for initially or make a referral to someone in your professional network.
You might also be interested to read our previous blog on How Accountants can get more clients.