Selling doesn’t sit naturally with many accountants for a few good reasons.
Historically you weren’t allowed to sell. It wasn’t that long ago that in the UK, selling and marketing weren't actually allowed by your regulatory bodies. And this legacy still lurks, especially in the larger firms that have been around a millennia.
Sales is often taught all wrong. You get taught ‘sales techniques’ and ‘sales tactics’ like you’re in a game with your clients that you’re trying to win. This might work in the short-term, but as soon as your clients realise that they’re not playing a win-win game with you, they’ll be gone.
You’ve experienced bad salespeople yourself. We all have this image of the terrible salesperson that tried (and maybe succeeded) to sell us that thing we didn’t want, with ‘techniques’ we didn’t like and for more than we wanted to pay. And because we didn’t like being sold to, we therefore don’t want our clients to experience the same.
Selling just isn’t what accountants do. So you’ve studied hard to hone your craft of being an accountant. You paid money to do so. You passed exams. And now you’re being told that you need to learn this skill which anyone can learn, requires no examination and no qualification. And here I am, telling you it’s the most important skill for you to learn. And it’s in the understanding of this one point, where your world is about to change. And not only your world but the world of your team and the world of your clients too.
Over this three-part series, I’m going to change your thinking of what you think selling is, to the point where you’ll be championing it in your firm. In part two you’ll discover the massive benefit this is going to have for your client’s businesses as well as your own business, with one story that will become your ‘eureka’ moment. And in the final part, I’m going to give you some very clear practical steps, so you can actually take action around what you’re about to learn, including one obscure step, which underpins everything.
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So let’s start by understanding why selling is the most important skill for accountants to learn.
You see, to sell is to serve.
Without a sale, no value can be exchanged. You can be the greatest accountant in the world, with the ability to deeply enhance a business, but if you’re unable to sell me the services that I need, then I don’t benefit in any way…. and neither do you.
So by not selling services a client needs is to be unfair to them. In fact, it’s to be selfish.
If you know that you could provide me with a service that will genuinely help my business to be more financially secure or more profitable then to sell me those services is actually your ethical obligation. Otherwise, I may fail.
And why can I say that with such conviction?
It’s because I’ve been through the pain of having a business fail, and looking back, it’s because I hadn’t been sold the services I actually needed and therefore my business’s finance function had gaping holes in it. And it was through those holes that I leaked profit and became exposed to risks which took us over the edge.
Selling Isn’t Just About Selling
And if this hasn’t swayed you, understand this: selling isn’t just about exchanging money for services. Selling is simply your ability to influence your clients towards a course of action which better serves them. Let me say that again. Selling is simply your ability to influence your clients towards a course of action which better serves them.
This might be selling them on the fact that they need to cut their overheads. It might be selling them on the fact that they need to take on that next member of staff. It might be selling them on the fact that they need to reconcile their accounts faster so you can provide them with more timely information.
This is why selling, or rather your ability to influence, is the most important skill an accountant can have. And if you don’t think you’re a salesperson, remember that you were born a sales expert.
You see, kids are the best sales people ever. My son will try to sell me on the fact that he should have a biscuit before he goes to bed, or that he should stay up half an hour extra, or that I should read him two books and not one. Once upon a time, you knew how to sell and you loved it. You’ve just forgotten or have had it drummed out of you.
Let me remind you of that innate ability you have and the value it can bring to yourself, your firm and your clients.
To sell is to serve, and it’s your ethical obligation.
About James Ashford
James Ashford is author of "Selling to Serve", founder of GoProposal & The 7 Systems and Director at My Accountancy Place.