Can Accountants Be Like Salespeople or ... Doctors?

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Seth Fineberg
Managing Editor
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There are many who believe that the words “accountant” and “selling” shouldn’t be in the same sentence, when referring to these professionals.

And yet, increasingly, accountants are expected to be more than they are (or have historically been). But salespeople? Or even doctors? This may seem like a stretch, but wrapping your head around the concepts behind these roles can actually be a good step.

In June, George Williams, owner of Florida-based Boca Bookkeeping, will be speaking in a session entitled “Accountant Selling: Prescribing Solutions” at the Scaling New Heights conference. He will explain how to approach the sales process, what it is, and how you can only win with your investment of time and energy.

We recently chatted with George about accounting professionals’ apprehension to even the idea of selling, how they can get a bit more comfortable with this prospect, and actually benefit their firms and their clients with some of the vendor relationships available today.

AW: What is some of your advice to accountants who are averse to the idea of “selling?”

Williams: If you had the cure to cash-flow cancer, would you be willing to share it with your client or prospect? Would you be willing to find out if they might need the cure?  

You do, but you find out quickly in the process if the client has cash-flow cancer. If you have the cure and they don’t need the cure, finding out early in the process is a win-win for all.

Selling is all about relationship. Like any relationship, it involves trust, knowing the other party, and liking the other party if the relationship is to develop.  

It involves questioning, listening, and evaluating if the client has problems that merit an investment of time, people, and money. And evaluating if there is a fit between what you are willing and able to provide, and with meeting the client’s needs. Selling is in synergy (when a proper process is followed) with being a trusted advisor or coach.

AW: It has been mentioned that the role of the accountant is like that of a doctor, prescribing apps instead of meds. What are your thoughts?

Williams: The role of the trusted advisor is to probe, poke, and identify pain (analogous to a doctor). Next, they identify if they have a prescription or treatment that can relieve the pain and hopefully cure the root cause.  

If they are confident they can solve the problem, they must identify if the client is able and willing to afford the prescription (apps, services, training, new software, etc). If they have the pain, you have a solution, and if the client is willing, able, and values the payback and can afford the investment, you ask them if they want to implement the prescription. Then and only then do you identify if the client is truly interested in moving forward.

AW: Do you have any opinions on so-called “accountant programs” or partner programs from vendors?

Williams: Regarding the partner programs or “accountant programs” from vendors, they come in many varieties. Some have tremendous value to the client and the ProAdvisor, and some have little.  

Some require a large investment/commitment, and some don’t. Ask your peers your questions and research the Woodard Group tools for assistance.  

Each client case is different and each product, app, or service has a fit when appropriately placed and valued by the business owner. The universe of products and apps is vast. You cannot be an expert in them all. Pick your niche and develop specialization.  

AW: What are some sales or marketing tactics that you see work best in the accounting professional sector and why?

Williams: There are three key tactics in selling that work well for the trusted advisor:

1. Communication. Listen 70 percent of the time, and talk 30 percent. Accomplish this with good questioning strategies (i.e., seek to understand, then be understood).  

2. Establish and equal business stature with your client/prospect. You need to lead the dance. Start with an upfront contract.

3. You can’t lose what you don’t already have. Keep an attitude of abundance and identify early if the obvious answer is a no (not a fit, or otherwise). You get and give back the gift of time!  

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