In my last article, I talked about why selling skills were important to accounting professionals. No one doubts the importance of selling in the professional services space, but can you actually learn “how to sell?”
Sure, anything can be learned. You can try and take courses on sales skills, but most of what you need to know can’t be learned in a classroom or online. Instead, one of the best ways to learn how to sell is to shadow someone else who knows how to sell – and close – a client engagement.
To do this, go on in-person visits with more-seasoned partners who can show you the ropes. I think it’s a good practice to tag team any prospect meeting or even an in-person client meeting. What this says to the client is several things:
- It shows the client/prospect that the firm cares about its business because more than one person was brought along.
- Chances are some great ideas will come out of more than one firm rep at a meeting. After all, if you ask two people for their opinions, you’ll get three answers.
- A tag team is a great opportunity to ask for a referral. Remember, your clients want referrals to new business just as much as you do.
However, shadowing may not be always ideal because some older members of the firm may not want the younger folk or someone else ‘tagging along,” to put it mildly. You get into turf issues and older partners and directors who think the younger members are trying to replace them. Transparency is key if the partner/staff relationship is going to succeed.
If you’re in a much smaller firm or even a sole practitioner, and don’t have someone to shadow to learn how to sell, ask for help outside the firm. While it may seem like you’re taking away business from the competition if you network with other accountants, do it in a non-threatening way. A great way to network is at local meet-ups and groups; chances are, you’ll be the only accountant in the group. Ask the leader to find a speaker who can talk about sales techniques and/or network with members before and after each meeting.
I think there is more on this topic to talk about, but I’ll leave you with one other thought. You can only get better at selling by really listening and anticipating what the client or prospect needs. It’s a cliche, but so true: You don’t know what you don’t know. Most of the time, clients and prospects don’t really know what they need other than the obvious tax return or writeup.
It’s up to you to listen to their situation and evaluate what they need. That’s how you learn to sell.