Can accountants make good salespeople?

Accountants are constantly having to widen their skillset to adapt to today’s competitive market, but one skill is proving harder than others to learn for some.

Sales and selling appears to have a blackened reputation in the accountancy profession - accountants consider it “dirty” and against their trusted adviser persona, according to marketing expert Paul Shrimpling.

But whether or not an accountant can make a good salesperson is a question that has divided AccountingWEB members, most recently on The Flying Scotsman’s blog.

“Is it is possible to turn an accountant into a salesperson?” he asked members...

Continued...

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Comments

Sales skills can be acquired quite easily    1 thanks

evanowen | | Permalink

Two decades ago a Barclays (BISCO) broker manager told me bank managers were failed accountants, they lacked the required personality. I asked him what his excuse was.

I used to tout my FS wares around accountants and found most of them to be professional yet a little naive, they seemed to believe an office and a brass plaque on the door is all they needed.

What many of them would benefit from is someone to show them subtle methods of drumming up new business and retaining valuable customers while chasing slow payers.

Selling your services is essential if you are to survive, it took me a long time to find that out and now my confidence in what I do (marketing) rubs off on those I work with. 

Breaking the ice

MAWCSS | | Permalink

This is all well and good but it's no use unless you can find a reliable way of breaking the ice with a lead. By far ans away the biggest problem with sales I've found is being able to break the ice. Once that's done you're off and running. It's that initial contact - finding the right person and taking the right approach - that's the difficult bit.

Has anyone else had this problem? How did you solve it?

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chatman | | Permalink

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About personality    2 thanks

KungFuKipper | | Permalink

I am going to write in extremes here to make my point, forgive me but it should get it across quickly at least.

I would argue that accountancy as a career choice is far more dependent upon personality than sales.  Let me explain.  Over the years I have met many accountants and they are, broadly speaking, very similar.  As always exceptions apart but good accountants tend to fit a profile (modern word for stereotype) - sorry but it is true, if a little overstated to make a point.

Throughout the same career I have met many successful salespeople who come in all shapes, sizes and personality types.  I have met inconsistent well groomed, slick Alpha males forcing their way to failure and small quiet types who make a fortune selling. 'People buy from people' is the oldest cliche there is and the truest statement in sales - everything else is window dressing.

If that is the case and accountants can't generally sell - I conclude that people don't like the persona they are being presented with or the message you are delivering. If that is the case - why not hire a salesperson instead of promoting the wrong person into partnership and expecting them to sell? I will never understand the logic of a 'board' or cohort of Partners who think diversification of skills is having a Tax expert sitting next to an Audit expert. Start valuing other skills more highly - here endeth the lecture.

 

I agree but please stop generalising.

WillWood123 | | Permalink

I get slightly annoyed with the whole generalisation of the group known as Accountants. Accountants think this this or do that.

I think that the days of Accountants being a certain type of person are over or on the way out.

Accountants, at least nowadays, come from all kinds of backgrounds and not just from a Mathematics background so we should try and remove the myth that we all certain types of people. The ICAEW for example now focus on business scenarios not just technical training. I am a product of this and think in a more broader, business focussed, way.  

"Sales and selling appears to have grown a negative reputation in the accountancy profession - accountants consider it “dirty” work that undermines their trusted adviser persona, according to marketing expert Paul Shrimpling"

I can't agree with the above comment. Maybe 10 years ago but now selling is part of any business and certainly the accountants I know embrace it, This sort of comment, in my opinion, enforces a stereotypical view of accountants that just isn't true, in my experience anyway. 

All that aside I do agree with Paul and with the rest of the article. Selling is easy if you apply an approach similar to the one described in this article.

The first rule is recognise that you are in a sales meeting. Next don't go to a sales meeting unless you are prepared and know what outcome you want. Go along with a list of questions you want to ask, find out the clients major problems and then explain how you will help to solve them.

Rapport is naturally built along the way. If you can't build a rapport then maybe you shouldn't sign the client up anyway. 

Finally give them the opportunity to buy from you by getting a commitment in the form of a signature in the meeting. 

 

 

 

Maybe...

Fenella | | Permalink

I once worked for a company with a Sales Director who had been an accountant in a previous life. Admittedly it was in textiles where there aren't many new leads to find (companies have been around for ever, they all know each other etc), but he seemed quite successful - if nothing else the sales admin was spotless, and there were none of those sales-that-cost-more-to-service-than-we-get-paid going on. Being a numbers guy he knew the point of a sale was to at least breakeven (oh and actually get paid!). And the expenses claims were immaculate too.

 

 

 

 

 

And remember

KungFuKipper | | Permalink

Ask for the business - thats the simple bit.

I disagree that sales is easy - closing is easy, sales can be difficult, time consuming and soul destroying.  Of all of these 'time consuming' is the worst, it takes time to identify, target, contact, meet with, and close a new client. This is difficult to achieve when squeezing it between client meetings and VAT returns etc, etc. Because it can be hard to do (who likes being rejected day after day), that audit proposal looks oh so tempting.... don't do it either commit to selling or don't do it and hire someone who can. When you have hired them, value them - their job is every bit as hard as yours.

And, like coppers or soldiers, most accountants share certain charactersitics - different training and backgrounds don't change that a great deal.

Proof in the pudding right

kellyanstee | | Permalink

Proof in the pudding right here! I also help clients with their social media as well as being a business start up specialist..... I started @tyrrellandco when I was 14 on work experience and I never left. I feel that I had a perk as I was so young starting in business, listen to the podcast here: http://www.thesocialmediashow.co.uk/show-8-professional-firms-and-social-media/    I converted more clients than the CEO last year.... let the competition begin!

Flying Scotsman's picture

Stereotypes of accountants

Flying Scotsman | | Permalink

I think the image of the accountant being exactly the oposite of  salesperson is down to John Cleese, but no doubt he did it for a reason. But as has been noted the profession has moved on ,as indeed have many professions. Is it perhaps time to include a modicum of sales techniques into the syllabus ?

Breaking the Ice

bill ellison | | Permalink

There are actually variety of ways to make that initial contact.  Networking is good.  Take every opportunity to meet new people and then invite any interesting contacts out for coffee.  Another way is to use your knowledge to give free seminars or training sessions.  Most local enterprises or business development arms of the local council are very happy to offer seminars to those starting new business's provided it doesn't cost them anything. Business in the Community are others who will give you an opportunity to present seminars or join in with something they are planning.That way you get known and become regarded as someone who is approachable.  

A problem with many accountants is that they are reluctant to do anything for free, but sometimes you have to consider the long game.  It is a balance.  Also in my experience many accountants are reluctant to leave their office. They always expect new clients or prospects to come to them.  It is much better and more comfortable for the prospect to meet in a neutral environment where they feel that they are under no obligation.

paul shrimpling's picture

building trust is the goal    1 thanks

paul shrimpling | | Permalink

Some great comments above. I'd just like to focus things on the word 'trust' if I could?

Business owners will buy from the accountant they like and trust the most.

Because their existing accountant has met with them several times over the years (hopefully) it's easy for a business owner to opt for 'better the devil you know' than move to a new firm. Unless and until the business owner learns to trust the 'new' firm much more than the 'old' firm they will not move.

Therefore the marketing and sales process in your firm must be designed to nurture and grow the trust between the two businesses. Or more accurately between the relevant people in your firm and their business.

When seen like this it makes the preparation for a sales meeting a vital exercise - and why I suggest it's number 1 on my list of sale skills. I realise the gross generalisations in the article can wrankle a bit. But the professionalism I associate with accountants (in general) is what the sales profession needs more of. Systemic preparation and planning is well suited to accountants and therefore they can become strong at professional sales - the successful ones already are. Meeting ice-breakers can be planned, great questions can be planned, great opening and closing scripted lines can be planned too.

For trust to be won, more well-planned meetings and more well-planned phone calls between you and your prospective customers are needed.

And if I could add one relevant point in response to a couple of comments above? Demonstrating you are trustworthy requires you to do something for or with the business owner. Instead of talking of selling if we switch this debate to working out how you demonstrate the value of what you do and demonstrate you are trustworthy we'll all become better at selling.

What do you think?

 

I think    1 thanks

dropoutguy | | Permalink

that selling is not particularly difficult provided that you can demonstrate that you are highly competent.  And if you are highly competent, you'll never need to bother to sell too much or too hard.   

ricpayne's picture

Very good post    1 thanks

ricpayne | | Permalink

This is very good advice. Selling starts with two fundamental questions (1) can I add value to this person? if yes (2) am I willing to get in front of him/her and explain how? The first question is about client selection, The second is about self-confidence.

I often get asked to recommend a great sales training book. There are thousands out there--just google it! My recommendation is an oldie but a goodie--How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Interestingly, Warren Buffett says it was one of the only TWO books that changed his life, the other was Ben Grahams' The intelligent Investor.

Finally, I'd like to make the point that "selling" is something we all do all the time in all aspects of our lives as fathers, mothers, siblings, partners, managers, leaders - you name it! I can't think of any life role in which selling is not a central part of the communication process intended to influence people for good and sometimes bad. To suggest that accountants can't sell is absurd. They may choose not to commit to add value or not to develop the skill to articulate how they could add value. When I was in practice I passionately believed that it was my professional responsibility to create value for my firm's clients when i could see an opportunity to do so.

I don't believe this an issue of responding to competitive pressure. It is now, and always has been, a a question of our responsibility and our willingness to make a difference to the lives of people. That's a a defining characteristic of a profession and a professional. Better business means a better life. Accountants are in the perfect position to help people make better choices in their business and consequently to experience better outcomes. Spend more time seeking clients in respect of whom you can create value and less time chasing easy, mindless work and everything will change for you.

A key difference

nick.sell | | Permalink

There is a key difference between being good at sales and being too "salesy" i.e. a pushy salesperson. In my opinion the stigma around sales revolves around the latter.

There is always room for a good salesperson in any profession including accountancy.

I agree with ricpayne who I hope will appreciate the following, very apt Carnegie quote:

"Even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15% of success is due to technical knowledge and about 85% is due to skill in human engineering, to personality and the ability to lead people."

ricpayne's picture

Thanks Nick, I do agree and

ricpayne | | Permalink

Thanks Nick, I do agree and appreciate your observation. Carnegie was right then and still is .... in my view anyway.

Statistics

chatman | | Permalink

nick.sell wrote:
15% of success is due to technical knowledge and about 85% is due to skill in human engineering, to personality and the ability to lead people

89.4% of statistics are made up on the spot.

How to win friends and influence people

KungFuKipper | | Permalink

I have not read this book for years but remember it as manipulative and the exact opposite of what sales should be based upon. The comments about sales being easy are misleading - it really, really is not an easy thing to do to convince someone to change their mind and do what you want them to. Both assume that there is a set of techniques that will turn a professional into a salesperson - there is not. Weirdly I think that demonstrating competence doesn't work all that well either - rather build a successful presentation of facts, deliver it well and repeat, a lot!

A prospective client of ours recently stated that they don't need an accountant anymore - there is more than enough software on the marketplace to make the profession redundant. I think we all know that this is not the case, there are things that years of experience bring that cannot be replaced with software or a quick books training course. The same is true in sales - you cannot replace experience with social media marketing or a 2 day training course - that way lies only technique (manipulative) salesmanship. Commit to it or hire someone who can do it, train them in your values and nurture them.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

chatman | | Permalink

Great book. I don't remember it being about sales.

jjknott's picture

KYC

jjknott | | Permalink

Breaking the ice is about showing an inteerest in them - knowign about their bsuienss will often present an opportunity to talk about an issue relevant to them. Remember you are NOT trying to sell to them. Just talk to them and listen to what they are saying. act instinctively with background knowledge.

Too much generalisation

john woolmore | | Permalink

Would accountants make good salespeople? Would salespeople make good accountants?  Answer the latter and you will answer the original question.  Possibly!  Just as there are degrees of good and bad, proactive and passive accountants so there are in all professions - and serious selling is a profession.  Selling is both an art and science - it requires imagination and creativity alongside tenacity, stubborness, committment and single minded focus to be good at it. 

Horses for courses.  In my experience accountants do make good sales managers - they have all the skills necessary to monitor, administer, control and direct resources.  They understand not all business is good business.  They work as team players.

Maybe the question should be can accountants sell themselves? 

 

Its funny reading all these

npreynolds | | Permalink

Its funny reading all these comments. characterising sales people OR accountants. i think there is more to this. Accountants' training, i think,  should include how to communicate. being a clever accountant and working out the answer is ok but we ( i am clever !) need to communicate effectively in writing and orally. The exam system means we have to be able at written communications. But there is no training or testing or non-written skills.

I have no suggestions on how or when that training takes place. I am an accountant who can sell - i am not an educationalist !

KungFuKipper I agree the

WillWood123 | | Permalink

KungFuKipper I agree the sales meeting is the easy part. I suppose I am a lazy sales person in that I let the marketing do the lead generation and then go straight to the sales meeting. I don't do the soul destroying part; I do a lot of inbound marketing and let the leads come to me. 

 

 

Regardless of whether they could do it, should they be doing it?

Eva Perrone - djca | | Permalink

 

The sales process is long, time consuming and very administrative. Even if an accountant COULD make a good salesperson (which I have to disagree with, these roles have totally different skill-sets), SHOULD they? Is it really the best use of their time? Surely, they can be adding their expertise and knowledge to other more valuable areas of the business, rather than making dozens of follow up calls?

We've had a sales team made up of non-accounting graduates at our practice for a few years now, and it's worked out great. They do all the lead generation, initial meetings and follow up, and then bring in the accountants to seal the deal. This approach was a big time saver for our accountants. We also found that our target market (SME's, IT, creatives etc) could relate much better to our non-accountants in that first meeting, and were more willing to talk with them. 

Surely all accountants & staff have to be good sales people?

SE | | Permalink

In my opinion 'people buy people'. A client or potential client will get a feel if they can work with someone and if they feel they can't they are unlikely to engage your services. Just a flippant statement 'I can save you tax' in my experience is not enough. If the client feels comfortable and likes you then that can be the deal sealed. Staff also need to be sales people as often they will talk to the clients a lot more than the partners. Surely all staff are part of the overall sales force? For me it is not a case of 'can' but 'must' be good sales people.

Confused

Tash12 | | Permalink

Eva Perrone - djca wrote:

 

The sales process is long, time consuming and very administrative. Even if an accountant COULD make a good salesperson (which I have to disagree with, these roles have totally different skill-sets), SHOULD they? Is it really the best use of their time? Surely, they can be adding their expertise and knowledge to other more valuable areas of the business, rather than making dozens of follow up calls?

We've had a sales team made up of non-accounting graduates at our practice for a few years now, and it's worked out great. They do all the lead generation, initial meetings and follow up, and then bring in the accountants to seal the deal. This approach was a big time saver for our accountants. We also found that our target market (SME's, IT, creatives etc) could relate much better to our non-accountants in that first meeting, and were more willing to talk with them. 

I am confused. You use non accounting graduates for the first meeting? Please excuse my ignorance, but what exactly could they bring to a meeting? Also, in my experience business owners have limited time and patience and are usually fully loaded with 'straight to the point' questions. How could someone with no answers to these questions or technical knowledge represent your company?

Good Article.

Kirupan | | Permalink

What is the fuss? .surely every businessman must think about selling . We are all born to be positive and conditioned to be negative.In the business world everyone needs to market and sell otherwise you cannot survive.Our practice started with the sales in mind.both partners were engaged in selling .this was a great experience.

 

Eva Perrone - djca | | Permalink

 

Yep, totally. It suited us because we had a lot of multi channel sales efforts going on and to have a qualified accountant managing that process was not cost effective at all. Initial meetings were very much information gathering, building rapport and introducing our range of bundled services etc. They focused on the benefits/outcomes that the service would provide to the client, not the technical jargon that a lot of sme's struggled to relate to/care about anyway. It always came back to that 'People do business with people they like'.

Business owners seemed to be happy to give the time because they liked the fact we showed that we cared enough about their business to asked a tonne of questions. Often we would hear back that the grad had shown more interest in their business than their prev accountant had in the past year! (But case by case, if the business owner's situation was rushed, the accountant would just be introduced earlier)

It's definitely a different technique and it might not suit everyone, but we had a good team with constant support and training - and it worked out pretty well for us!