In the words of “Zig” Ziglar, American author, salesman, and motivational speaker:
The top salesperson in the organization probably missed more sales than 90% of the sales people on the team, but they also made more calls than the others made.
Yep… sales can be a numbers game. More calls bring more leads which bring more deals. But sales fundamentals (think processes, habits and tools) also play a big part in the success of a sales person.
Accountants are not known for running strong sales functions. Sales can be something of an afterthought, even a dirty word!
What an opportunity to get the fundamentals of sales right and create a big gap between you and your competitors! And it’s not that hard. Have a quick read of this interview between Panalitix and our client STABS (which stands for Super Talented Accountant who is Brilliant at Sales)! By the way, STABS is on a journey to building a successful advisory business.
Panalitix: Hey STABS, how are you doing?
STABS: Good, thanks.
Panalitix: How are sales going?
STABS: Yeah, pretty good. I am chasing 17 opportunities at present.
Panalitix: 17? Wow! That sounds like a lot!
STABS: Yes, the year has started pretty well. Things were a little quiet end of last year.
Panalitix: When you say ‘opportunities’, what do you mean exactly?
STABS: We’re strict on that definition. If we have quoted a specific price for a well-defined piece of work, we call it an opportunity. And there needs to be a written proposal.
Panalitix: OK, but 17 is still a lot. How do you prioritize among these?
STABS: We look closely at each deal and grade them. There are clients we REALLY want to work with and larger deals that we want to get. Then there are others which are less interesting. Important we are moving all of them along… but we are clear which ones matter more to our firm.
Panalitix: Oh, so you have criteria to evaluate each deal?
STABS: Yes, in addition to the client, the deal size and the solution we are selling, we also look at the close date. Selling advisory services is great… but sometimes the lead times can be really long. We prefer a quick close. We also know that we are not going to win every deal so try to estimate the probability of closing a deal.
Panalitix: That sounds hard. How do you estimate probability?
STABS: It IS hard and we sometimes get it wrong. But we like people to be bold in our sales meetings and state a % likelihood that the deal will close. This creates accountability.
Panalitix: What else do you talk about in these sales meetings?
STABS: We look at the businesses we are selling to because we have a clear sense of our ideal target client. Sometimes we walk away from deals where the client is not going to fit our strategic plans. And we talk through what will make clients decide to work with us. How can we be more attractive to their decision makers?
Panalitix: What else?
STABS: Well, we also look at what exactly we are selling? You see, sometimes a client says they need additional support and we go and put together a proposal and a price. Then they change the scope of work so we update our proposal. This can happen a dozen times before they say they want to go ahead. Really important we go back and check that we have the scope of work, the resourcing and the pricing right.
Panalitix: Sounds like you learned these lessons from experience??!
STABS: Do you want to see my scars?
Panalitix: Save that for another time! How do you arrive at prices for your advisory work?
STABS: We have a method which factors in our costs, the value the client can derive and how badly we want the deal. Oh, and I’ll give Panalitix a plug – we did your pricing course which helped us organize our approach to pricing.
Panalitix: Appreciate the kind words! Do you think you’re naturally good at sales? Can others achieve what you have done?
STABS: Of course! Honestly, what we’ve learned is that most of sales is really tactical. Follow up. Make the calls, provide the information. Be fast. Be credible. It’s not rocket science. And we seem to be repeating the same things over and over which is good. We always update the next step in our sales pipeline and then get it done in the required time. We don’t win them all… but a lot of small steps can get you a long way.
Panalitix: Sounds like great advice. I’m going to use those words!! You’ve said “we” a lot when talking about sales. Who is “we”?
STABS: There are 18 people in our business now and one of our values is ‘everyone is in sales’. We did this to break the belief that only two of the 5 partners could ever sell anything. And we started to have some wins when our Client Service Coordinator surfaced some deals. Not really part of her job description… but we’re delighted that she finds opportunities in her client interactions.
Panalitix: Yes, that’s great. Does she do the selling?
STABS: No. Once we establish there is an opportunity (based on our criteria), it is allocated to one of two partners or a senior accountant who are responsible for moving it ahead. This creates a sense of ownership and the opportunities don’t get ‘lost’ among a bunch of people.
Panalitix: Ah… so accountability…?
STABS: Exactly. And sometimes things get a little competitive. In a good way!
Panalitix: How else do you create accountability?
STABS: We ask the partner to suggest a close date for any deal they are responsible for. This draws a line in the sand saying, ‘OK, I know the size of this deal – $10K – and I expect it will close in 3 weeks’. This makes people think really hard about their approach because they will be held to account later. We want to get the balance right between ‘bold’ and ‘realistic’.
Panalitix: Have you got any other good advice for our readers?
STABS: Well you need to make the time to get a little strategic too. For example, we thought we’d do really well selling Estate Planning services and we put a lot of energy into that. But it wasn’t working. So we had a rethink and spent some time offsite to come up with a different plan. (Also facilitated by Panalitix, I should add!!)
Panalitix: Yes and you now do a lot of planning projects for clients, right?
STABS: Well, they start that way but the planning days we offer lead to a variety of other advisory projects. Opportunity analysis. Risk analysis. That’s the stuff we enjoy and find quite lucrative.
Panalitix: You’ve been a great interviewee. One final word from you?
STABS: Well… a major breakthrough for us was to think about solving our clients’ BUSINESS problems. We stopped thinking about what we have to offer and listened a lot more. We’ve started putting ourselves into their shoes and asking what we would do in their position. That drove us in a good direction. Still plenty to learn though!
Are you a Super Talented Accountant who is Brilliant at Sales? There’s always room for improvement!
We’d love to help. If you’re transitioning to an advisory business, we offer courses on ‘The Language of Business’ as well as marketing, selling, delivering and building teams to deliver extraordinary advisory products.
The Panalitix SalesPipeline is powering the opportunity management of many firms too.
And then there’s our content resources. Get a sample here: