How do ambitious accounting firms stand out from the rest?
Sell more, sell more often and build a better business. That’s Phil Sayers promise to the companies he works with through Proten Sales Development. Across a 35+ year career, Phil says the no.1 challenge firms struggle with is how to articulate their value. We jumped on a Connect4 call with Phil to find out what accounting firms can do differently to stand out.
“What people really struggle with is how to define and articulate their real value and how to take that to market and ultimately sell the concept to their customers.”
What’s wrong with how some accountants approach selling?
Phil says that many accountants struggle to communicate what it is they do beyond what is traditionally expected of them. “Many people have a preconceived idea about what an accountant can do and how they might be able to help their business. And that idea is often quite limited. They’ll talk about the compliance stuff, producing year-end accounts, tax returns, vat returns and Companies House submissions. But you and I both know that there is a whole range of other things that accountants can do for their clients.”
This is a problem that is echoed in the way accountants present themselves online too:
“If your website just has a list of standard services you offer and all of your competitors are doing the same thing, all the client is going to do is focus on price. It becomes a race to the bottom for who will provide the cheapest service”.
Phil says that when he was trying to find an accountant of his own, the majority simply sat him down and read off a list of services. The two firms that did things differently instead focussed upon the value they provide.
“They spent time getting to know me, why I’d set up the business, what my goals were, what I was trying to achieve. And only then did they talk about how they might be able to help. That effectively is what true professional selling is. It’s trying to uncover what’s important to your client. And then presenting the value that you can deliver that relates to those objectives.”
Why should practice owners build a sales process?
Phil argues that all practices should be thinking about their sales process.
“Even if you’re a well-established and stable practice, you’re going to lose clients; some of them are going to close, some of them are going to retire, some of them might be sold, so even just to stand still you need to still be replacing those lost clients.”
“It’s a very competitive space as well. Those firms that are more proactive around how they approach prospective clients do tend to be successful. And the reason they can do this is because they have a structured approach. They have a system behind the scenes that helps them do this more effectively”.
Having an effective sales process helps to uncover additional needs that a client might not have realised they had. “There is almost always a fundamental difference between what a client knows they want and what they might need!”
Should teams be coached to be more involved in the sales process?
Phil says that there has long been a problem in the accounting world in its approach to developing sales skills:
“Soft skills — sales skills — are not included in any accountant’s training. You’re trained how to be a technical accountant but unless you’ve got those soft skills you’re going to struggle to build stronger relationships with clients and prospects and struggle to identify new opportunities.”
But this is changing: “what we’re seeing more and more is that people other than partners or the firm principle are being encouraged to develop stronger relationships with clients.”
There is a generational shift afoot too: “there is a growing community of younger accountants who want to do more. They want to be involved with their clients. They want to understand more about what’s happening with the client’s business, and they want to be able to provide them with greater levels of help and support. But you need the skills and the techniques to be able to do that effectively.”
Just as teams need coaching and processes to run better client meetings more generally, they’re demanding guidance towards having better sales conversations.
What unique opportunities are there for accounting firms in 2022?
Phil believes that there is a huge opportunity for accounting firms to help businesses to restructure for the future. “One of the things that the last two years have forced almost every business owner to do is to rethink what’s important to them. And that has huge implications on how they run their business.”
“A lot of them will struggle to think how they will restructure and how it is going to impact their financial results. Accountants are perfectly placed to help them through that process to define what their goals are and what the actions are that they’re going to take to achieve those goals.”
It’s crucial too that accountants make the most of the experience that they have. “Accountants very often undersell their experience to their clients. They will have talked to tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of businesses about issues that they’re facing and your understanding of these common themes and how people have addressed them elsewhere is incredibly valuable and can be offered as an additional service to help guide clients.”
“It’s all about restructuring for the future and looking at new ways of working.”
We were able to glean some amazing insights from our short conversation with Phil. If you’re looking to up-skill yourself or your team, do reach out to Phil via email at [email protected].
And, if you’re interested in finding out how you can use Connect4 to help build a robust sales process that you can replicate across a team, get in touch!