In the first of a two-part series, Phil Sayers explains how you can develop those all-important soft skills
As an accountant, you may not think of yourself as a sales person, but there are certain sales skills you need to manage clients.
Let’s be honest. Many of you would have gone through years of training to qualify as an accountant, but none of this covered the ‘soft skills’ of dealing with clients and selling your services. Yet if you’re a practice owner or you’ve reached director or partner status in an established firm, you’re expected to find and win new clients and bring in new revenue.
Even if you’re comfortable with reaching out to potential new clients and talking to them about your services, one of the most common issues accountants struggle with is how to respond when a client objects to the proposed fees.
A common scenario
You’ve just met with a potential client and they want the usual things; bookkeeping services, generating and submitting VAT returns, annual accounts, corporation and self-assessment tax returns. It’s bread and butter business – it’s what you do and you know you do it well, so you explain your onboarding process, what you expect the client to provide, the key deadlines and how you work with other satisfied clients. You tell them your fees…. and they turn you down.
So what went wrong? If they give you a reason for saying no, more often than not it’s along the lines of “you’re too expensive”. When I set up Proten Sales Development I knew I wanted to work with an accountant. I’m happy enough managing the books, but I knew I’d need advice me on minimising tax and ensuring that all the requisite HMRC and Companies House submissions were made correctly and on time.
So I did what every potential customer does – I Googled ‘Accountants’ in my area, selected nine firms and looked at their websites. Most of the sites said pretty much the same thing: “We’re experts in providing accounting services, we manage your VAT and tax returns”, etc. Some said that they focus on particular industries, some gave pricing and most offered a free consultation, but the bottom line was that it was really, really difficult to understand why one firm might be better than another.
So I called all nine and asked to meet. Six scheduled appointments immediately, three said they’d call back and of these three, two called back later that day and one never called back at all. I’m still waiting…
From the eight meetings I had, one gave me the impression that the quicker he could get me out of the office the better and five talked to me about how wonderful their services were and explained their fees. Two were different; they started by asking what help I needed, what my business was, what I wanted to achieve, what I thought my biggest challenges were. Then, and only then, did they talk about how they could help. And they only talked about services that were relevant to my needs.
It’s no surprise that these two gave the most positive impression. They showed real interest in me and my business and demonstrated how they could help me solve my problems. They weren’t the cheapest, but I’m working with one of them now. There was nothing to differentiate the other six apart than the fees.
And that’s the key message. ‘Effective selling’ isn’t doing all the talking, it’s understanding what problems the client has and providing a solution to those problems. If the client doesn’t appreciate the real value of what you’re doing for them, is it any wonder that they just see you as an added cost?
Customers and prospects raise price objections when they don’t fully understand the value that they’ll receive from you as a supplier. If they don’t appreciate your value, all they can do is make an arbitrary assessment of whether or not they feel the quoted price is appropriate, whether that’s simply by ‘gut feel’ or by comparing your quote with an alternative from one of your competitors.
In my next article I’ll look at what to do if the client still objects to your charges.
• Phil Sayers is the founder of Proten Sales Development. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07776 203 431 if you or your clients need help selling your services.
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