If you're an Accountant, I'd bet the thought of having to sell advisory or any of your higher-value services makes you break out in a cold sweat.
You'll avoid any possibility of selling because it doesn’t feel like you, but still find yourself in client conversations where you feel inadequately equipped to,
- Break the ice
- Qualify clients
- Confidently communicate your value and
- Secure commitment to your advisory services
You talk too much, you don't talk enough, you're frustrated working it out every time and worse still, you feel like you're selling. Your clients are confused, you wish the ground would open up under you, and it doesn't end in a win-win for both parties.
Most Accountants want to grow their business with advisory. The truth is without the know-how to 'sell' or position advisory services in a predictable way, Accountants default to delivering advisory as an ad-hoc service which won't help you grow your business.
Do you find it hard to navigate client conversations, communicate your value and gain commitment from clients for broader services with your current approach?
If so, I have an easy to implement 3-part approach to achieve great outcomes with your clients, and grow your business with advisory without having to adopt typical sales tactics to get results.
How do you 'sell' advisory without being salesy?
Sales and Accountants don’t go together like cheese and crackers. It’s more like oil and water until you use a method that allows both to intermingle just enough that you have a winning formula.
To successfully create a recurring revenue stream from advisory services, your relationship with your clients has to develop beyond a traditional compliance approach. You need to gather more information from your client about their business and what they want from their business, to successfully align advisory services with clients in a way they understand and value.
Structured conversations similar in principle but not exactly like a sales dialogue work extremely well with clients who would value a strategic relationship with you to grow their business and achieve their goals.
I know Accountants who've tried the full-blown sales approach, but it never translates into something they feel comfortable using repeatedly and successfully in their business.
You don’t want to feel like you’re selling, but you really want the outcome that a sales process achieves, which is aligning your solution to solve clients’ problems.
You need a planned approach to client conversations so you'll stop avoiding them and start leveraging valuable opportunities with your clients.
A planned approach is not one-dimensional.
For example, it isn't enough to singularly focus on what 'sales' tactics to use in your dialogue and hope you'll get clients across the line with a 'pitch'.
If you want to grow your business with advisory, take control of client conversations so you secure commitment to your higher-value services, and do it all without being salesy, you need a 3-part approach,
I spend a lot of time with Accountants and as an Accountant coach, I see first hand the challenges and personal conflict Accountants experience when they attempt to 'sell' advisory and their services. Typically introverts, Accountants often underestimate your natural talent for a skill like sales.
Throughout your professional training and role as a technician, you've never been taught or had much encouragement, let alone opportunity, to develop the soft skills essential for times when being able to sell advisory services would add more to your business.
Which skills do you need to develop?
Developed soft skills are crucial for success in client conversations. You might think you don’t have these skills, but you do. It takes time and practice to fully develop soft skills and understand the role they play when you communicate with clients. But we all have them, they're just at varying degrees of skill - which means with attention and application, they can be developed.
Here’s a short list of particularly useful soft skills for working with clients,
- Active Listening
Very few people are natural-born salespeople. Anyone can learn how to use a sales process effectively. This is good news for Accountants if you're motivated to apply what you learn with clients. This is an awesome book by Matthew Pollard, The Introvert's Edge: How the Quiet and Shy can Outsell Anyone
If client conversations make you nervous, your focus isn't directed to where it should be, which is on your client. When you make your client and the goal to achieve a great outcome for them a priority, it changes the tone of your conversation with your client.
Instead of telling or selling, ask questions, be genuinely curious about learning what concerns your clients and keeps them awake at night.
Great questions are the key to worthwhile client conversations and they open doors to opportunities with clients. Everyone wants to feel heard and when you make your client's needs the focus of your conversation you'll never feel like you're trying to 'sell' advisory.
With genuine curiosity and a motivation to uncover your client's needs, reflect your understanding and desire to help them, you’ll find clients are more inclined to consider solutions you suggest.
Your role as a modern Accountant is demanding a much broader skill set than being exclusively brilliant with numbers and delivering compliance. As technology releases capacity from traditional compliance tasks, Accountants must develop adequate client relationship skills, and have the confidence to 'sell' advisory in order to remain relevant and competitive.
You know the importance of structure in Accountancy and in client conversations, it's vital. Successful conversations don't happen by accident, they're always planned.
A structure inherently supports the direction of the conversation by breaking a client conversation into predictable stages. This is a lifesaver when you're learning client relationship skills.
If you feel lost at any point, the structure is your roadmap. Lean on the structure to guide you through each stage.
Structure sets you up to quickly break the ice, build rapport, and increase trust for the opportunity to communicate your value. Good structure gives you signals for where you are in your conversation and when to move the conversation forward in a predictable way.
Bear in mind though, the structure of client conversations isn't rigid. It must have some flexibility because you can never 100% predict everything that comes out in client conversations. Even so, a structure enables you to take directions in client conversations and still achieve good outcomes without feeling like you're winging it.
If you're avoiding client conversations it's very likely you don't have a structure that gives you a roadmap to follow when you have no idea what to do next.
What is the right structure for client conversations?
Client conversations are more often successful when you have a predictable structure to guide you.
Structure in client conversations takes the guesswork out of what to say and do next with your client. It gives you confidence and it gives your client confidence in you. They won't try to lead the conversation if you show them you know what you're doing (even if you feel like you don't).
This outline provides a structure for more successful and productive client conversations,
- Build rapport
- Introduction and purpose
- Ask questions and listen (don’t interrupt)
- Summarise understanding
- Ask for permission (always)
- Suggest a solution
- Address objections
- Reframe the solution
- Ask for the business
- Outline next steps
Structure helps you guide your client through each stage of the conversation.
Client conversations are opportunities to develop trust with your client. If you have structure in your conversations, you soon learn most client conversations play out very similarly.
Structured, planned conversations support you when you're developing your skills. If you're consistent your confidence grows and it gets easier to move clients towards your higher-value services.
Effective process provides foundational support for what is required to achieve great outcomes. If you have amazing skills but lack structure and detailed process, you'll lose everything you worked so hard to achieve in the client conversation.
You know the importance of process in Accounting. You rely on process every day in your work. It's the same in client conversations.
An appropriate process ensures you deliver what is required at the right stage of the client relationship in a timely manner, and it elevates your client's trust in you and your skills as their Accountant.
What does your process help you achieve?
Managing a client’s expectations is important to secure their commitment. Everything you do (or don’t do) contributes or detracts from their trust in your ability to help them solve their problems.
Think about how your existing process functions around your client relationships. Do you have solid processes in place already or are there opportunities to improve?
These are all important processes for building trust with every client interaction,
- Onboarding new clients
- Agendas and visual tools
- Templated documentation
- Maintenance and accountability timelines
- Regular and ongoing communication
- Scheduled follow up
Your client has a higher probability of committing to your advisory services if you have a thorough process that is easy to work with and understand.
Without a detailed, transparent process for you and your client, you fail to set expectations or manage accountability to agreed outcomes. The last thing you want is inefficiency, wasted time and resources for both parties.
Solutions for how to make advisory successful are often approached as a one-dimensional solution, and most commonly from one of two angles, marketing or sales dialogue tactics. Neither one in isolation is a complete solution.
Yes, they’re important in their own right but without a 3-part approach that encapsulates Skills, Structure and Process, you won't achieve the best results or feel supported as you develop your client relationship. Client conversations will usually fail if you don't have a balance of Skills, Structure and Process.
Here’s the bottom line,
If you don't have the skills, your clients won't listen to you. If you lack structure, your clients won't trust you with more than their compliance, and without a detailed process your clients won't commit to higher-value services.
Delivering advisory services the right way requires a planned approach to conversations with clients.
Even if you're a complete introvert, or you're not a conversationalist and you feel uncomfortable in conversations that feel like sales, you can succeed with clients in a non-salesy way when you have a 3-part approach of Skills, Structure and Process to support you.
Do you want the right Skills, Structure and Process to accelerate growth in your business?
Head over to my Business Metamorphosis® Advisor Intensive page. I help Accountants like you, grow your business through better client conversations with the Skills, Structure and Process to deliver advisory the right way (without ever feeling like you're selling).
Lynda Steffens is the founder of the Small Business Project, author of Accounting Revolution, an Accounting industry advocate, self-confessed introvert, quintessential speaker and Accountant coach.
With 30 years' experience in the accounting industry as an Accountant, Practice Manager and business owner, Lynda coaches Accountants to have the confidence and know-how to successfully transition their business into a future-focused client-centric business advisory services model.
Lynda created The Small Business Project Advisor Intensive Programs to help Accountants in practice gain the skills and knowledge to deliver profitable, rewarding business advisory services the right way with a trusted client advisory engagement model. After just one workshop you have a repeatable, proven system and processes to implement for creating client interest and ongoing commitment to your advisory services. Complete The Small Business Project certification and you transform your business completely from a functional service into a vital business advisory resource that clients value.