Building a Sales Culture in Accounting Businesses


Building a Sales Culture
IN Accounting Businesses

Panalitix CEO Mark Ferris recently presented a webinar on Building a Sales Culture in accounting businesses. He investigated how to get team members to WANT TO sell… which requires a major mindset shift in most cases. Our webinar audience came up with such good questions that we decided to respond with our thoughts in this article.


From a Stockholm-based firm:

What about accountants without a “selling personality”… How do we help them sell and enjoy sales?  

Let’s start by acknowledging that sales is a process with many parts. Identifying opportunities, setting meetings with prospects, presenting your business, drafting proposals, negotiating terms, running sales meetings, deciding pricing and closing deals all require VERY DIFFERENT skills. They are so different, in fact, that there is a place for almost everyone. Start by showing that ANY personality can play a role in sales.


From a Melbourne-based firm:

As leaders, how can we encourage selling?

In one word, the answer is ‘education’. People avoid things they don’t understand. You’re unlikely to order something on a menu if you don’t know what it is, right? That would be risky. Likewise, your team members need to know EXACTLY what you sell (your ‘product’), EXACTLY how it is priced and EXACTLY who your target customer is.

Another thing to get clear on is the sales process. How do we generate a Proposal? How do we make an Invoice or Engagement Letter? How do you track the various sales opportunities?

People may tell you they know this … but any vagueness will discourage active selling.


From a Brisbane-based firm:

Any marketing bullets to share?

That’s another ‘big question’ but a clear presentation of what you do and HOW YOU ARE DIFFERENT is key. So many accounting businesses are, well, ‘just another accounting business’ and will not stand out. Find a specialization, an angle, a perspective to differentiate your firm.

From a Denver-based firm:

As a professional, I find what I do is completely different to a sales mindset. How do I overcome this?

Selling has a bad reputation. It is associated with ‘out-thinking’ a prospect so they buy something they probably don’t need. But what if we turn this on its head and say, ‘we have something incredibly important and valuable to offer and have a duty to share it with people’. Many accountants don’t like selling because they lack confidence in what they’re offering. By gaining that confidence, we are no longer selling, or at least it doesn’t feel that way.


From a Sydney-based firm:

I’ve been unsuccessfully encouraging my team to set more client meetings. How do I get them to respond?

There are many possible reasons why they don’t obey. Maybe they think it’s not important. Or they don’t take your suggestions seriously because you won’t follow up. Maybe they don’t know what to do. Sometimes leaders need to ‘mandate’ rather than ‘encourage’. At least, this will highlight what the real resistance is.


From a New Jersey-based firm:

How do we craft offers to clients? We send proposals but often get rejected.

This could be a case of not understanding your prospects’ needs. That is, you are not addressing the actual problem your client is trying to solve. Often accountants propose work which is based around THEIR skill-sets, not the needs of the client. You may be brilliant at cash flow forecasting but if that’s not what the client needs, you are unlikely to sell that project.

Part of the problem is that accountants have traditionally sold services which clients are OBLIGED to buy (i.e. compliance). There has been little need to demonstrate an understanding of client needs… and sales skills have suffered as a result.


From a Tampa-based firm:

I want to increase my fees and still be attractive to my prospects. How do I achieve that?

A better question is ‘How do I increase the value I provide?’ That’s the easiest way to generate more fees and requires an acute understanding of your clients and your competition. Most markets will dictate the price levels and if what you are charging is not enough, you have to change your value proposition.

From a Kansas City-based firm: 

Any recommended incentives to offer staff for sales-related activities?  

We can divide this into financial and non-financial incentives. Regarding financial incentives, some options include:

  • A discretionary bonus. At the end of a fiscal period, a manager acknowledges the contribution to sales and awards a bonus. The manager decides the amount which should encourage the team member and be reasonable for the business. Processes are required to inform the team of this plan, monitor their contributions and then make the awards in a fair manner.
  • Linking a bonus to the value of the sale. If an employee sells an additional $3,000 in project revenue, perhaps they are entitled to 10 – 15%. This ‘direct’ incentive encourages the team member to look for more work and the business benefits. However, the business should ensure the cash has been collected before making the bonus payment. It is also necessary to monitor that the team member sells the ‘right’ products and targets the ‘right’ clients.
  • One of our Pennsylvania-based clients provides a bonus based on the number of hours billed in the prior month. So, if a sale is generated (no matter what the dollar value of that sale is), the accountant gets $2 for each hour billed in the prior month. This is an interesting way to encourage more billable hours AND generate new business.
  • Any of these can be combined but clarity and simplicity are important.

There is no limit to possible non-financial incentives which provide an opportunity to appeal to the specific needs of an individual. Spa treatments, working from home days, extra time off, restaurant vouchers, company awards, attending a conference, professional development, gift vouchers, etc. are more common options.

What do employees value? This can be complex… and it’s a good idea to ask them. Many people will say they want to be rewarded with additional cash… but they actually value acknowledgment just as much. (Panalitix offers TeamBuilder which helps you better understand what your employees’ value).


From a Fort Worth-based firm:

How do I motivate the younger generation to actually value the organization and understand the [challenges]?

Entrepreneurs have always been misunderstood by non-entrepreneurs (and vice versa). People won’t understand risks unless they are put at risk themselves. Many people (across all generations) assume that there will always be a job for them and they only need to ‘show up’. If leaders create an environment where this is true, it is likely many employees will just ‘show up’ and productivity will be low.

You can explain the organization to people in great detail and some will ‘get it’… and many won’t. But if you really want to change behavior, people need to feel at risk, meaning their job and compensation are linked to their performance.

Also, motivation is overrated. Discipline is underrated. Motivation is fleeting and when things get tough, it easily evaporates. Discipline kicks in when things get tough because it involves a set of rules to follow. It’s smart to promote discipline above motivation.


From a Sydney-based firm:

We’ve just established our firm and are interested in some first steps related to sales and scaling our firm.

Probably the very first step is to set clear goals. Set the goals you REALLY want to achieve in one, three and five years. What revenue, profit, number of clients, service offering and income to you want? Clarity on this provides guidance on what you need to sell, at what price, at what rate, to which clients etc. More mature firms should also revisit their goals from time to time.


From a Portland-based firm:

Which sales trainers do you recommend to implement selling skills within professional service practices?

That’s a question we like! Panalitix is working extensively with firms to develop their sales strategy, sales processes and sales teams. It takes time but the rewards are considerable. Get in touch to learn more!



Mark Ferris

Mark Ferris is an entrepreneur who has founded, built and 'exited' numerous businesses realizing success for shareholders, employees, customers and acquirers. He has a particular interest in software, solutions and service businesses and frequently writes on related topics.

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