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Why Selling Skills are Important for Accounting Professionals

Based on an article I put together several years ago for the AICPA Young Professional Network, I was asked by Bill Hayes at the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs to record a podcast in late May for “CPA Conversations” on sales for CPAs and accounting professionals. I thought this topic would be good for a multi-part series.

Let’s start with the basics. Without getting into a lot of theory, the bottom line is that sales skills are very important to any person who sells services or goods. That goes without saying. However, the conundrum for most accountants is they a) think they know how to sell, or b) they think don’t need to know how to sell.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a firm or working inside a company; at some time or another, you’ll have to sell something. Inside a company, you’re often selling management on issues and projects related to the company’s bottom line, such as internal audit or a new cost control system, for example. What most of us think about when it comes to sales is selling within a firm, so that’s what we’ll focus on.

In a firm, everyone is responsible for sales, from the receptionist all the way up to the partner in charge, and my friend and practice guru Darren Root would wholeheartedly agree. Most often, sales skills are important for client recruitment and retention. Yet, sales isn’t the first skill accountants traditionally think they need. Their focus is on numbers and not on how to get or keep clients or sell more services. In addition, they’re not taught in college how to sell, although a marketing course or two might help. Instead, they are learning all about accounting and tax, with the goal of passing the CPA exam, becoming an enrolled agent or just plain practicing accounting.

Selling is also important because professionals are graded or evaluated on numbers – and this is the way most firms promote staff accountants to managers and directors. If you’re bringing in more work, doesn’t it make sense to “value” an employee by giving them a loftier title and more money?

This traditional model of billing more hours is still prevalent in firms, although we’re certainly seeing more value-pricing firms who charge a monthly fee for services. In this case, sales are based on volume, not hours – and along with value pricing comes the valued client-accountant relationship of being in touch more often throughout the year rather than just a few times for tax filings.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: accountants need to learn how to sell for long-term personal and professional growth. We’ll get a deep dive into tactics and strategy in my next blog.

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