Consultative selling is the best method that accounting firms can use to avoid coming off as being too salesy with existing clients. As a tool, it requires accountants to ask clients good questions, actively listen to the response, be empathetic and focus on solutions.
It is important to follow the 80/20 rule. Listen for 80 percent of the time and provide thoughtful solutions for the remaining 20 percent. The client will tell you everything that you need to know to make a sale if you take the time to listen.
Here are four recommendations for having successful consultative sales conversations:
- Discuss problems, needs, and wants. Ask open-ended questions to discover hot buttons, issues, challenges, needs and wants by:
- Letting your client talk. The longer they talk, the more insight they will provide.
- Asking open-ended questions to obtain a longer response to questions.
- Listening intently and repeating back information to acknowledge that you understand and, if appropriate, agree with the client.
- Talking about the client’s problem — not how wonderful you are.
- Being prepared. Analyze the client’s key performance indicators (KPIs), historical data, industry trends and other relevant issues before the meeting.
- Present your solution. Once you have a solid understanding of what your client is looking for or what issue they want to resolve, present your solution(s) by:
- Explaining how you and your organization can solve their problem or meet their needs.
- Illustrating your points with anecdotes by telling stories about the solution you provided to a client with similar issues.
- Focusing on the benefits they will realize by expanding the scope of the engagement. Paint a picture in the client’s mind of how it will be once the solution is in place.
- Watching your client’s behavior as you speak. Then, ask qualifying questions in response to their body language and comments.
- Allowing the client to ask you questions or provide feedback.
- Asking closed-ended questions to gain agreement.
- Overcome objections. Expect objections and be ready to address them by:
- Repeating the objection back to the client to ensure you understand them correctly.
- Empathizing with what they’ve said and giving a thoughtful response.
- Offering proof that you have the solution by presenting statistics to support your claim, telling a client success story, providing a report, earning designations and awards, etc.
- Confirming that your answer has overcome their objection by asking the client if they agree.
- Close the sale. The client will only buy or expand the scope of the engagement once you have presented a solution to their problem, educated them on the value they will realize and addressed all their objections. Ask yourself:
- Does the client agree that there is value in your service?
- Does the client understand the benefits of working with you in this area?
- Are there objections that still need to be addressed?
- Have you minimized the risk?
- Are there other factors that could influence the decision to expand the scope of the engagement?
You may have to provide several forms of proof that your solution is the best to convince the client to buy the service from you. For example, offer testimonials or references, articles from vetted sources, results of research studies and statistics on other clients' return on investment (ROI).
If you’re not sure if the client is ready to close, ask the following questions: Would you like me to help you implement (solution)? Should we get started? Can I send you a new engagement letter?
Selling is about helping a prospect find a solution to a problem. All you need to do is educate your client that you are the best solution provider. Approach the process as a consultant — someone genuinely interested in helping — and you will not come off as salesy. Instead, you will be considered a trusted advisor, or if you are exceptional, the client’s most valuable advisor.