As accounting professionals, we often don’t identify with what are considered the typical traits of your traditional salesperson. Yet, there is one inside of all of us.
In fact, we, as professionals, need to start to accept this natural talent that might not feel very natural. Let’s start by discussing why we’re so good at that not-so-ugly five-letter word (sales).
To put it simply, we have a passion for our work, and it is infectious. This enthusiasm is evident when our clients want to send us everyone they know. In fact, you may have more referrals than you know what to do with. This is a byproduct of focusing our energy on serving our clients and adding value to their businesses and lives.
At my firm, we try and make this a part of every interaction we have with our clients from the moment they walk in the door (virtual or physical). However, that is just the beginning of the sales process. We still need to engage with the lead and close.
The simple sales process begins with the discovery phase. At this stage, we need to determine whether or not the potential client could be a good fit for us.
I like to start by interviewing the prospect. I do this because I am trying to better understand what they really need from me. At the same time, the prospective client is also trying to determine whether the referral or the piece of marketing they received matches with how we are selling ourselves. You’re both probably going in having done a little mutual Google research on each other – it really is a bidirectional process.
As the process continues, it’s important to determine, together with the prospect, whether taking them on is going to simply solve a problem or be the start of an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship. Because it’s still early days, it’s important to be really careful about how you ask your questions and to truly listen to the pain points the potential new client is telling you about.
During this phase, educate the prospect on the type of value you as a professional can provide.
Once you have determined the relationship will be mutually beneficial for all parties and the prospect understands the services and value you will provide, the engagement process begins.
Everyone likes to do this differently, but because you’ve put in the time building a relationship, it’s important that you move through the engagement process as quickly as possible. You know you are good at what you do, but if you get stuck at this step because you haven’t developed a good process, you can easily fail here. It’s the worst feeling when you get a follow-up email from a prospective client after your first few meetings asking for the proposal you promised them.
The engagement process is critical to getting your proposal out the door. Set specific time frames you know are easily achievable for you and your team to hit, and articulate this timeline for your prospective client. Transparency is important here.
Also, make sure you have all the data you need to create your proposal up front, and take great notes. If your note-taking skills are a little off, record your calls so you don’t miss any details (of course, make sure the client is aware). Everyone has a different engagement style, so find yours and make it work for you.
You're almost there once they sign the engagement. Now comes one of the hardest parts: onboarding. But why is this so difficult?
Well, if you don’t do this effectively and set great expectations early on, you are going to have a disconnect between you and your new client. My best recommendation is to over-communicate in this phase and make sure you are clear on who does what and the specific time frame you are going to adhere to.
Remember, you spent a good amount of time and effort explaining and showcasing your value to your new client. Just over the hill, you will finally be able to get to the ongoing work and delivering on your value proposition. The quicker you get to this, the more likely they are to tell their friends how great of a job you are doing for them. Then, the whole process starts over again, which is a win!
Getting a new client doesn’t happen overnight. You have to follow a process in order to ensure success and create the types of new client relationships you want for your practice.
About David Emmerman
David Emmerman is a partner in Emmerman, Boyle & Associates and a Xero Ambassador. For the past 15 years, David has had a passion for working with his small business clients and his team to develop a best-in-class accounting experience.