Selling Professional Services

by Rachel Anevski, MAOB, PHR, SHRM-CP, Matters of Management, LLC – April 24, 2023
Selling Professional Services

When selling core accounting services such as the tax return or the financial statement, CPA firms often have only one differentiator: their people. A person’s unique self is the key ingredient in selling professional services. However, learning to sell profes­sional services is sometimes an unexpected add-on for the aspiring accountant.

In small firms, there may be one or two senior partners who lead this charge. In midsize firms, it is likely a handful of CPAs supported by a marketing director. Large firms often have business development executives (BDEs) to run the ball. Some of those BDEs have risen to the partner­ship level and oversee successful sales and marketing staff teams.

“What Keeps You Up at Night?” 

In a legacy hand-off from traditional “door-to-door” salesman techniques to an age of solving problems virtually, this remains the question CPAs should look to answer when acquiring a new client. Organizations today require more than the commodities a traditional accounting firm provides, and they expect the CPA to be the solution pro­vider. Firms that recognized this evolution pre-pandemic began acquiring IT managed service providers and other services like talent acquisition shops to grow their solution-based services for the same end-user client. It’s easier to keep an existing client than procure a new one, so today’s professional services salesperson has a better shot of cross-selling firm services (and ancillary services) to someone who already knows and loves them.

The Business of Accounting

Learning how to sell is not an inherent skill set for everyone, but it is necessary. Perhaps accountants who double as enter­tainers, natural-born leaders, politicians and bartender types adapt the tools to sell more naturally. While some practitioners who are drawn to solving for x, perfection­ism and consistency may never find the allure in developing their sales side, there is plenty of room for all types.

In many traditional firms, selling profes­sional services is a catalyst and paramount to earning a title at the top. Second-generation firms are having an easier time solving the business need to acquire market share by leveraging more strategic client acquisition methods such as social media marketing, mergers and sales forces, and adding multi­disciplinary service operation departments (a cross-sellers dream and a client’s one-stop-shop).

Do It Your Way and Know Your Audience 

There are methodologies for selling and acquiring clients. Sales professionals may rely on the power of seven, which means that to get to closing the deal, a prospective client must have heard your business name, met you, read something about you, etc. a minimum of seven times. Professional services sales techniques include “peeling the onion” and asking layers upon layers of questions to a decision maker before presenting them with solutions. There are systematic research processes and cold and warm lead generation programs. The list is endless.

Understanding your buyer and how you can get them back to doing what they do best (servicing their own customers) wins the medal in professional services. Those who are confident in the arena of selling “themselves” consider a smattering of the above. They know an awful lot about both the prospective client and the decision-maker. They quickly find a way to become likable and compatible with the customer. They ascertain the areas in which they can absorb problem areas displayed, and then they serve that hopeful person/business with a valuable menu of solutions.  Research, connect, empathize, solve and serve.

This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.