Winning Team Selling: The Vice President and Aretha Franklin

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By Allan Boress, CPA - I have always been a big fan of team selling and devoted a lengthy chapter on the do’s and don’ts in The I-Hate-Selling Book.

Recently Senator Biden was named as Obama’s running mate, and it reminded me of a client CPA firm situation I had in the Detroit area years ago.

The client CPA firm was one of the largest in the Detroit metropolitan area. Before we started our two-year training program, they got a referral to the Queen of Soul, Miss Aretha Franklin (immortalized in Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen, “She don’t remember the Queen of Soul.”

I certainly remembered, as she had sold bazillions of records when I was a kid. My CPA firm client wanted to know if it would be a good idea to have a patron such as Miss Franklin on their roster. I told them, yes (see my blog entry on “marquee clients”). So they moved ahead and agreed to see Miss Franklin.

A month later, when I showed up for our first session, I asked what happened. “We didn’t get it,” the managing partner relayed. “What happened?” I asked.

“Another firm got it,” he replied. I asked where the sales call took place (strike one: in the client’s home). And then came the killer: “Who went on the sales call?”

“Oh, we sent a couple of our tax partners, Peter and Paul” (strikes two and three).

“You sent two middle-aged white guys, with less than one-half of a personality between them, to visit a prominent African-American businesswoman?” I asked.

Miss Franklin chose a competing firm, who also sent along a white middle-aged white guy tax partner - and a vibrant African-American woman who was a manager in their tax department. It’s not that my client didn’t have African-Americans in management positions; they did. They just didn’t look at it from a sales point of view.

Lesson to learn: People buy from people they can relate to.


Unfortunately, these kinds of mistakes happen often in any important selling situation as most CPAs and professionals rarely strategize out the sales interview before they go. So they lose to someone better prepared and trained.

In team selling, you want a good match, one the client can relate to – and buy.

In our firm, I always take with my business partner, Sherri. She is quite the exact opposite of me: she is much younger, probably smarter, has a great personality, has energy, and likes people. I figure that if the client doesn’t like me (to be expected), they’ll be fond of her.

This may explain Obama’s choice to add a senior-citizen, white guy to his ticket. Joe Biden is pretty much the exact opposite of Obama: old, boring, a Washington hack, not a great speaker who has little or no personality.

And, Senator McCain also chose someone as his running mate who is the reverse of him in some ways: young and female, someone with executive experience as governor of America’s largest state.

It remains to be seen who adds more to their respective ticket. Obama got no bump when Biden was announced (he would have gotten a huge bump if he named Mrs. Clinton). As of today, I haven’t seen any poling on McCain’s numbers, but I suspect based on the feedback I saw on the news shows, she is a winner.

So, remember that in team selling situations, avoid the Aretha Franklin factor: check out the client ahead of time from your referral sources; you might want to call the prospect’s assistant to find out more. Also, make sure you take someone with who is likeable, as well as knowledgeable

By Allan Boress, CPA, CVA – author of The I-Hate-Selling Audio CDs, available at


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