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Practice Tip - Selling feelings

14th Nov 2005
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I had lunch with Bob Harper of More Software recently. We spent some time discussing just what we thought accountants were selling to their clients. Bob suggested everyone sells feelings. I suggested that in the case of accountants the feeling an accountant sells is relief. Relief from stress, that is.

It has to be accepted that accountancy and all issues related to it (including tax) is a nightmare for many people, including most of the self employed. The reasons are complex. I suspect that for many people the real reason is that they think the subject is about numbers and that brings back nightmarish recall of school maths lessons. For others it's the problem of having to engage with a subject in which they have had almost no training and of which they have even less comprehension. And for some there's the fact at the end of the process there's always a bill to someone, like it or not.

But whatever the reason, I very much doubt that more than 10% of clients understand what we sell them at a technical level. Even fewer have the ability to appraise it. So why do so many accountants persist in selling at a technical level?

Take an example from an accountant's web site I looked at recently. I won't name them to save the blushes, but on the home page there were immediate links to three areas. The first was business services. Follow this and it was broken down into audit, corporate tax planning, strategic tax planning, mergers and acquisitions (as if most people do them very often), VAT and company secretarial services. Personal services were as technical, being split between self assessment, personal tax planning, retirement planning and estate planning. The third choice was about specific business sectors. From each area links were provided to descriptions of ever greater complexity.

All good solid stuff, I'm sure. But let's be candid, it assumed the client could identify the problem they had that needed addressing ' and most can't. They've just got a feeling that something is wrong and want someone to solve it. Identifying and solving their problem is the job they want you to do, and they really don't care very much about how you do it.

So why sell technical services in that case? Relationships are what matters in accountancy. It's a people business. And if that's the case then just three things need to be communicated by your marketing:

1. you've got to tell people you'll listen;
2. you've got to convince them you'll understand;
3. they've got to believe you'll solve their problem with the minimum hassle being imposed upon them.

That's what they will pay for. Your solution may be technically clever. It may be very, very obvious. It really doesn't matter if the client thinks it's given them peace of mind they did not have before, because it's that peace of mind that they buy.

So why try to sell them something else they really don't want?

Richard Murphy
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. A collection of previous articles by Richard on practice management themes is available in Practice Management Zone


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