This week I want to get into selling as a firm owner. Selling is one of the most overlooked skills in most firms. It is key to attracting ideal clients and ensuring you have a predictable method to find when you want to grow.
Selling is part of the discovery process. In newsletter TFYW#013, I explained how your marketing would vet clients for the right Firm Fit.
Today, I will explain how selling through discovery will ensure there is a Value Fit for your firm.
Selling is not asking what the client THINKS they need and then creating a service for that.
Selling is discovering a client’s problems and determining if you can offer a valuable solution.
Why Accountants Don’t Sell
Most accountants don’t sell. The reason they don’t sell falls into three categories:
- They don’t think they need to sell.
- They don’t know how to sell.
- They feel sleazy pushing services on clients.
Let me address all three of these barriers.
1. They don’t think they need to sell
Some accounting services don’t need much of a sales pitch. Clients know they need bookkeeping and tax services to stay out of jail. You don’t have to convince them that you need that service.
Many accountants leverage that need to land clients.
Remember that when clients see our services as purely a need, it quickly becomes a commodity and then price becomes the variable in their decision. Clients make no distinction between your talent or expertise. Convenience and cost determine what service they will use.
The most technically talented firm owners will only get to use the extent of their expertise if they can sell or have a partner who can.
Many firms are built on this high-volume, low-margin work. It grinds the firm owner and employees. Revenue growth comes with more clients and more volume, creating an unscalable firm.
If you want to build a firm focused on transitional high-volume, low-margin work, you don’t need to learn to sell.
2. They don’t know how to sell
Selling professional services was not one of my classes in college. While I earned my CPA license at a Big4, no sales skill training was offered.
When I started my firm, I leaned on the skills I learned while selling door-to-door and working in a commissioned sales position at an electronics store.
I had no idea what I was doing. I wondered how to transfer my basic retail selling skills to professional services.
Professional services, beyond mandatory bookkeeping and tax prep, have to be seen as solutions. They are solutions to problems for expansion plans, better profitability, securing financing, or higher ROI on marketing efforts.
Our solutions are the vehicles to get the clients to where they want to go.
You have to help your client see what can be. Technical requirements to get them to the vision are important but aren’t the outcome that will convince your client.
Don’t focus on the steps but rather on the destination.
We become better at selling with a framework (provided below), practice and experience.
3. They feel sleazy pushing their service
I used to look down on friends who were ‘only salespeople’. Most salespeople never went to college, so I questioned how valuable their skill was.
I mistakenly thought that if a product or service was good, it would simply sell itself. I felt as if ‘selling’ accounting services cheapened the engagement.
It is easy to get lost in the argument that our service is what makes the money.
It may not make the money, but selling definitely brings it.
There are 100000s of companies that have problems we can solve. They need us to showcase and give context to the solutions we offer.
Selling stops being sleazy when your solution is presented for their actual problem.
A reliable framework helps you get to the actual problem faster and ensures that your services are the best for that client.
This framework is abbreviated from what I coach firm owners to use in their discovery calls.
It gets to the problems in your client’s business immediately. It agitates the problem and demonstrates the impact not resolving it will have on the client personally.
The V.A.L.U.E. framework puts your services aside and positions you to offer valuable solutions to your clients.
If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:
Value is contextual. It is not the thing that’s valuable, but rather the selling of the thing that gives it value.
V – Verify The Circumstances
You are focusing on the client here. Don’t launch into the services you offer. A doctor would never prescribe something without first understanding the symptoms and underlining circumstances.
Ask the client about recent growth, the impact of current events (inflation, supply chain issues), or investments to grow their business.
This is where you position yourself as an advisor instead of just a tax preparer.
A – Analyze The Circumstances
With the details from Verify The Circumstances, go deeper and probe for problems. Many business owners know they have problems, but the actual root of the problem is never discovered.
Tactics like the 5 Whys can be applied here. Just be careful to be more organic when you’re digging deeper into issues.
You can use questions like “Tell me more about [insert perceived problem].”
The client should be talking more than you during this process.
L – Link Issues To Pain
Once you have unearthed the problem, you want to agitate it. Generally, people want to escape pain more than embrace pleasure. When you link the issues in their business to personal pain, it makes the problem very real.
This connection will elicit a desire to get out of the pain. Businesses are just vehicles for people to supplement their lives and get what they want out of their lives.
U – Understand past actions + failures
Ask them what they have tried that has been unsuccessful in the past. The key is showing that different results only come when they change their actions. This highlights a gap in either their understanding or current processes.
You want to help them see that there is a missing component in their business.
E – Explaining Destination + Investment
You want to get the client to see they have two options: Move forward using a new method or remain stuck where they are.
To attract them to the new method, explain the destination (not the steps to get there) and the positive impact on their business and their lives.
Get them to share the financial impact (the dollar amount) that will result when they reach that destination. Throughout the whole discussion, try to use the same words they used in the earlier discussions.
Once the destination and financial impact are clear, position the investment of working with you against the financial improvement. Dropping a high price on a client without contrasting and proving its value beforehand becomes an uphill battle.
This framework will help you think differently about selling and how it is the only way to communicate value to your potential clients.
Build the firm you want,