An Accountant's Guide to Consultative Selling
We're all familiar with high-pressure, hard-sell salesman who won't take "no" for an answer until the client's or customer's check is written. While most accountants probably aren't very comfortable with "sales" no matter how it's done, it is far better to take a "consultative selling" approach to selling in order to get and keep the client for the long term.
In consultative selling, the salesperson becomes a consultant focusing on the client's needs, asking questions before recommending solutions and establishing ongoing relationships. You, as a seller of your services, add value by developing and exploring options rather than by selling a service. Services and products become your tools to hit your clients' goals.
The difference between product-oriented selling and consultative selling is the difference between sales and marketing, asking not, "What do I have to sell?," but "What does the client want to buy?" And, consultative selling often goes a step further when the service a client prospect eventually wants and buys isn't what he originally thought he wanted. The needs analysis, questions and evaluation of the answers on your part actually help client prospects clarify their own needs.
Determine the Need
In a consultative approach to selling, ask open-ended questions to understand the client's needs, feelings and attitudes. This helps the consultative salesperson not only develop a complete understanding of the buyer's situation, but also builds client confidence.
Be a good listener. Avoid offering opinions before all questions are answered, and avoid correcting what a prospect says.
Never present any products or services until you learn the client's objectives, needs and problems.
Present the points relevant to those concerns, but also give some thought to what the client hasn't told you. You can add value by recommending additional products or services, if warranted. The client will admire your proactive thinking.
Seal the deal not only after it's clear that a product or service meets the client's needs, but also after the customer has said he or she has no more issues to discuss relative to the purchase.
Consider every completed sale as the beginning of a long-term relationship and strive to become a sustaining resource to the client.
No matter the quality of appropriateness of a CPAs recommendations, every client eventually raises concerns with an offered service. The most effective way to deal with these concerns is to restate them, which causes clients to further explain why they feel the way they do. If a client objects to a plan that requires spending more money a month, you might ask if he or she doesn't have the funds to address this goal. You can review the budget and show the client how the funds will be worth the investment.
Consultative selling bridges the gap effectively between consultant and seller of financial products and services. The trust you've built with your clients over the years opens the door for detailed discussions about your clients' feelings and objectives - and more insight than is the case with most other accounting professionals.
While the paradigm may be different, a consultative approach is well worth exploring. The payoff of long-term relationships and business can take your practice to the next level.
About the Author
Hugh Duffy is co-founder and chief marketing officer of Build Your Firm, a practice development and marketing company for small accounting firms and website development for accountants. Hugh teaches a series of Accounting Marketing Workshops; writes an email newsletter reaching thousands of accountants; and is frequently published in various publications, including state CPA society magazines, The CPA Practice Advisor and Progressive Accountant.He can be reached at 888-999-9800 x151, or at [email protected].