It’s a simple idea – know what you’re selling so you can be better at sales. So the question becomes – do you know what it is you are selling to your clients? Knowing the answer to this question can make you better at sales, even if you have no inherent talent at chatting clients up.
What Accountants Are Really Trying to Sell
Tiers of selling
Your first inclination might be to say that you’re selling better services. And this might be true. You may have far superior workflow processes than those of your competition.
The thing is, your clients don’t care. They don’t want to know how you got them their awesome returns or how you go about spotting red flags in their bookkeeping or how you just hired this awesome payroll specialist. The streamlined workflows are for you to provide fantastic results with reduced effort. Chances are, if you’re chatting about your processes you’re boring your client.
Far more important than your processes is your firm’s dependability. Have you dealt with clients that face similar concerns as their own? Do clients feel comfortable coming to you when they have a problem, or do they feel like it’s a big hassle? Have you done everything you can to minimize any uncertainties they might have in dealing with an accounting firm? Do you have a friendly relationship, or do they find you antagonising or condescending?
Finally, and weighing more heavily on your clients’ minds beyond likability and far beyond your internal machinery are the results that your firm provides.
Taking these three tiers of sales together what you’re really selling your clients (what you should frame your pitches around) is their future.
You’re pitching potential clients the idea that your firm is the one that’s going to help them build the best possible future because (in reverse order of the tiers above) you’ve provided fantastic results for similar clients and helped them achieved goals A, B, and C, that you’re earnestly involved in your clients’ well-being, and finally, that you’ve set up your internal processes to focus on helping your clients achieve their goals.
Your sales workflow
Having a workflow process in place is going to help you increase your sales skillset. With a workflow you’re going to be able to identify weak spots and tweak them until you’re a well-oiled sales machine that’s able to deal with any questions, comments, or complaints that a potential client sends your way.
Look at your current sales process. Do you have a set plan if someone walks into your office? Do you or a team member automatically hop up and get them a coffee, get them set in a meeting space, and so on?
What about during actual meetings? Do you have a process for setting the agenda for meeting with a person there to consult on personal finances versus a potential client that comes in looking for help with launching their small business?
After these meetings, do you have a set process for sending follow-up emails or letters or phone calls?
Can any member of your team handle one of these situations if you’re away on business or down with an illness?
Tips for your sales workflow
1. Only meet with people who can give you an actual go-ahead. If there’s more than one, make sure you’re meeting with all of the people needed to give you a yea vote. Otherwise you’re probably wasting your time as you’ll have to repeat your pitch at a later date.
2. Don’t confuse a meeting with a sale. As you work on your workflow you may find you have a recurring pattern, something like:
- Step 1 – Initial meet-and-greet with pitch.
- Step 2 – Second meeting to get into specifics with potential client.
- Step 3 – You send out a documented project proposal (depending on the type of client).
- Step 4 – They respond that they like it or that they want tweaks.
- Step 5 – Actual signing and payment.
Breaking down your sales workflow into steps has 4 big benefits.
- This will allow you to keep track of how your team members are doing when they’re the ones handling the sales meetings as opposed to yourself.
- It will help you identify weak points if the pitches seem to always peter out at one of the steps.
- It helps you keep track of where you are with each particular client.
- This will help you identify your team members who are the best at sales. You can then either shift the bulk of the sales work over to them, or you can have them mentor the rest of your team.
As you and your team gain more experience you should find that you need fewer steps to convince your potential client that you’re the best possible firm to help them attain their goals for their future.
3. Prepare ahead of time. It’s perfectly fine if you’re not a born salesperson. But you’re going to want to appear confident in your meetings – the more confident you are, the more confidence your potential client is going to be able to place in you.
Writing out a meeting agenda will help. You won’t have to flail through notes to find out what points you need to hit. It will also help you keep control of the meeting.
Practice your pitches. Write out your pitch and practice saying it out loud when you have some alone time. This might seem weird, but it’s better that you practice ahead of time rather than during your first few meetings with actual potential clients.
Likewise, write out the questions you think clients will have. Having answers ready to fire back will increase your confidence. However, if you don’t know an answer, don’t try to bluff it out. Say that you don’t know, thank the potential client for raising the question, and promise to get back to them with an answer. (This in fact gives you a good reason to send a follow-up email or phone call.)
If potential clients come up with objections, you can use your question list to have a counter ready. You understand why the potential might be hesitant on Subject A. Past clients X, Y, and Z had the same objections. But they stuck with us and here’s where they are now.
4. Dress for success. This is going to depend a bit on your firm’s culture, but the way you dress is going to have an impact on the potential’s perception of you. The same goes for your team members, your office, even the car you drive – their perception of your level of success will impact the success of your pitches.
5. Ask the potential client about their goals. Remember, what you’re selling them is the notion that you’re the firm best suited to help them achieve their dreams. Eventually you’re going to find that clients’ goals fit into niches. The more a particular potential client fits into a niche, the more they’re going to resemble existing clients that you’ve helped before.
This is your cue to explain how you’ve helped existing clients get over the same hurdles the potential is facing right now, and what they can expect in the future. In fact, you’ve assembled this lovely package of services that is designed for clients just like them.
The more you know about what motivates a client, the better you’re going to be able to show that you’re the firm that will have their back.
6. If possible, get some “wow” numbers ready. This will not work for unexpected walk-in potential clients, but for the potentials that you do have some time to prepare for, show them some numbers that hit them with insights that they might not have.
For example, you can show them how much they’re losing by letting their customers slide on payments. Or perhaps you could show them that if they raised their prices by X they’d be situated to make Y more revenue per year.
Mind you, you’re only showing them these numbers that exist now. Don’t do a bunch of work showing them how to get from one point to another, only that the potential exists. That work, getting from A to B, is what you’re selling them. A is now, B is their brighter future.
When you give them a hint of how big that B future can be with your help, your service fees are going to look small in comparison. Especially if you tell them that your fees will be coming out of the increased profits that your firm will help them achieve.
7. Have case studies ready. We mentioned them in passing above, but case studies warrant their own point. Once you know what kind of potential client you have on your hands (personal finances, small business, etc.) a case study showing how you helped another client with similar problems can really help seal the deal.
8. End with a confirmation of a next step. Sometimes the next step will be a meeting so you can go over your proposal. Or so you can visit their business premises. Or that you’ll sign on and collect fees.
Make sure that something concrete is in motion, and that there’s something that the potential client has to do, as opposed to only you having to commit (e.g. a next step would be that the potential client will come in for the next meeting to go over your proposal, not that you send the proposal out).
9. Ask for them to sign on. Seriously, don’t forget to ask them to sign on the dotted line. If, at the end of you showing them how you can help them achieve the future they want they’re still wavering, put it bluntly – “We’d like to help you achieve the goals we’ve outlined here today. Are you ready to get started?”
If they say no, so be it. You’re simply not going to land every potential client. If you have a lot of potentials saying no at the same point in your meeting timeline workflow, then see how you can improve that point.
If the client wants you to lower your price, you answer no and go back over your pitch to see where you’re failing to show the value that you will bring to their finances. Asking you to compete on price is tantamount to the potential saying that you haven’t impressed them enough.
Hopefully, that potential client is going to go out, meet with competing firms, and see that other sales pitches don’t have the substance that yours packed into your meetings. Once you get your sales pitch down it’s going to linger even after a potential client says no; it will stick with them when they meet those other firms, and those other meetings will pale in comparison. So it wasn’t really a “no” at all, just a delayed “yes”.