Most accountants I talk to have a real fear of selling. They’re worried they’ll come across as product pushing - having visions of themselves in gold chains and snakeskin shoes - wielding a set of steak knives.
Many venture into the world of selling only to promptly exit after their first rejection - concluding that their clients don’t want or need these additional services or weren't discussed during the onboarding process. After all, clients aren't requesting the services, even though they’re on the website!
The majority of accountants also say that they’re just too busy to sell additional services.
These excuses aren't surprising in a recurring revenue business model where, traditionally, the tax department has served as the marketing and sales department for accountants - why, therefore, would academic institutions offer sales training? Combine that with the fact that young accountants start their careers by being bludgeoned with productivity KPIs and billable hours.
Your duty of care to help clients run a better business
We know roughly 50% of businesses fail in the first 5 years - so it's clear that clients need more help. Today’s accountants must get above the line, take ownership of the need, and responsibility for being the conduit for their clients’ success.
Most clients don’t view their accountant as the person who can help them run a better business. Today’s accountant has no choice but to ‘sell’ the fact that they’re willing and able to help.
Selling is not a dirty word
The definition of a sale is an exchange of a good or a service for money. For a client to agree to part with their money, the accountant needs to show that the value of the service is greater than the money being exchanged.
There is no trickery in sales - either you can provide that value, or you can’t. The problem is not that the accountant can’t provide the value; it’s usually that they can’t (or simply don’t) articulate that value clearly enough for the client to want to pay.
Here lies the perfect storm for small business failure - clients are struggling in business and are largely unsupported; the accountant can make a massive difference, but the client doesn’t know this because the accountant doesn’t know how to articulate that value.
'Stop selling and start helping' - Zig Ziglar
So, how about we forget about the word selling for a bit. Let’s call it helping instead. What do clients need help with?
- How to get greater control of their business. Think services that help with structure, systems, and technology.
- How to free up their time. Think role descriptions, KPIs, reporting systems, and effective meeting rhythms.
- How to improve profit, cashflow, and return on assets. Think about the Five Pillars of Value.
- Understanding their business better. Think financial awareness coaching and management reporting / getting into the cloud.
- Reducing their tax bill. Think tax review, restructure, or better tax planning.
Selling without product pushing
Once we understand that selling is simply helping, we need to create opportunities to find out what help our clients need. The best way to find out is to meet with our clients more often and ask them:
- What are your personal goals?
- What are your business goals?
- What are the problems and challenges getting in the way of achieving your goals?
- What will your life be like when you’ve overcome these and achieved your goals?
- How can we work together to get there quicker?
We call this meeting a Complimentary Client Review (CCR) meeting. The accountant simply needs to be able to articulate the value they can bring to the table.
For example, if the client’s goal is to reduce their working hours without adversely affecting profit, then the value lies in how they can spend that time saved; more time with the family, getting fit, or even taking a holiday. This value for the client is likely far greater than the cost of the service.
'Selling is about helping someone to see something through a different lens or from a different perspective, so they can make a better decision for themselves.' - James Ashford, Selling to Serve
Selling skills can (and must) be learned
So, now that you know you have a duty of care to help, and you know how to find out what clients need help with, how do you make the sale? There are three very powerful sales tools you can use:
As selling is such a neglected skill for today’s accountant, doing nothing is simply not an option.
The Gap provides you with a massive amount of resource to help you sell without coming across as that sleazy used-car salesperson - check out our website.