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You should develop your sales skills – your clients’ wellbeing depends on it

April 18th, 2008

I’d love to have a penny for every time I’ve heard someone say accountants can’t sell or accountants don’t like selling.

In my last blog post I talked about Brett Kelly an Australian accountant who has spearheaded the phenomenal growth of his firm Kelly+Partners based in Sydney. When I say “phenomenal growth” I’m talking about growing from $400,000 to more than $4 million in one year! Some of this growth came from acquisitions but 38% came from organic growth in fees from existing clients and new clients.

One of Brett’s simple sales techniques is to ask the following question when he gets in front of a prospect: “Do you have a great accountant?” From the research we have done, the answer from more than 60% of the people who are asked will range from “sort of” to “absolutely” not. This gives him the oportunity to show them how his firm works and what’s in it for them.

You might read this and think to yourself that there is no way you would open a conversation with another person like that. I understand that some people do not want to appear pushy and certainly do not want to be accused of just doing it for the money—something that David Maister talks about is his new fabulous book Strategy and The Fat Smoker.

However, I believe there is selling and there is selling. If you truly believe in yourself and the value you bring to the table; if you genuinely know that you can help another person achieve a better life because of the knowledge and skill that you and/or your colleagues are blessed with, then I firmly believe that you have a professional obligation to do whatever it takes to give that person an opportunity to benefit from the contribution you can make.

Accountants have the potential to be great sales people because, by and large, they are trusted advisors and deservedly so. Gaining trust is the first and most difficult aspect of a sales process so if you’re already there you have a head start. The second requirement of a great sales person is to confidently and genuinely believe in yourself and your product or service and to do so with obvious passion—as in OBVIOUS passion and confidence.

If you possess these characteristics then all you need do to have the opportunity to realize the value you can create for other people is apply a simple sales protocol. One such protocol is elegantly explained in a great little book written by Allan Pease. It’s called, Questions are the Answers and it contains the simplest and most effective summary of how to become a super salesperson I have seen for a long time.

The book focuses on network marketing but the concepts apply in any context. Pease talks about the four keys of selling. They are:

  • Melt the ice
  • Find the hot button
  • Press the hot button
  • Get a commitment

I’ll leave you to read the book for yourself but the section that I like best of all is the one on how to find the hot button. Pease notes that people make a buying decision for a variety of different reasons and your job is to find what he calls their Primary Motivating Factor (PMF). Their PMF may be anything but it will definitely fall into one of two categories—to make a gain or avoid a pain.

For most business people their PMF—that may change over time by the way—will be one of the following:

  • Extra income
  • Financial independence
  • More free time
  • More valuable and saleable business
  • Greater control over their life and their business
  • Leaving a worthwhile legacy

Pease goes on to identify what he calls the Five Solid Gold Questions that will enable you to uncover the PMF. They are:

  1. What is your number one priority?
  2. Why did you pick that one?
  3. Why is that important to you?
  4. What are the consequences of not having that opportunity?
  5. Why would that worry you?

These are all open-ended questions in that they can’t be answered with a yes/no response. It’s very important when you ask these questions that you do so in the order given and that you allow the other party to respond. Do NOT interrupt. Even if there is a long silence, wait until the other person has responded before proceeding. While that is happening, show genuine interest in what the person is saying (that will be hard if you are really not interested and if that’s the case you won’t make the sale very often) by leaning forward and looking into his or her eyes and keeping your hands out in front of you.

When your prospect gets through responding to these 5 questions you will know what your prospect’s PMF is and whether your solution is going to be able to address it. If that is the case then it’s a relatively simple matter to press the hot button by showing your prospect how you will do that and from there, gaining a commitment to move forward.

It’s so important to understand that this process is a means to help someone bring to the surface a genuine need that he or she would like to have fulfilled. The focus should not be on what you (the sales person) might get out of it but what your client will get out of it. This should be the only reason why you are interested in helping the other person articulate his or her number one priority.

If your service can help deal with addressing that priority then you are going to enrich that person’s life. If the person you’re talking to does not have a number one priority then move on. Attempting to continue to sell something that the buyer really neither needs nor wants is the reason some sales people have such a poor reputation. These sales people focus in on themselves not on their customer.

There is no question in my mind that any trusted advisor can easily become an outstanding sales person by applying the strategy that Allan Pease has described in his book. It is only 90 pages (and big print so even us old guys can read it) so it’s a quick read. If you’re interested in making a difference in the lives of people then it might be a good idea to get out there and show them how you can do that—you might even enhance your own life.

So with all that said, here’s something you might like to think about. If you’re a professional advisor and you aren’t identifying and selling solutions to people you are doing your clients and prospects a disservice. If that is the case, it’s because you have not developed the questioning skills needed to identify what is important to your clients and prospective clients, you do not really believe in the value you are capable of delivering or you just don’t care. If it’s a skill issue then the good news is that you can develop the skill through some reading and practice. But if it’s a “don’t care” issue then nothing will change and your practice will fail to achieve its full potential. Those of your competitors who do care will enjoy the bounty of opportunity that you are leaving on the table. I firmly believe this why some firms (such as Kelly+Partners) grow at an astonishing rate and most others don’t.

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