In public practice, no matter what level you work in – from staff accountant to managing partner – everyone must be a part of the selling function. You may not be in charge of business development, but you do represent the firm to your clients and to the community.
Working in business and industry may be perceived differently; after all, if you work inside a company, it seems as if there isn’t any service to sell. While you may not be selling tax or audit services to a client, you still represent your company to its stakeholders, including customers, potential new hires, and even other employees. As a result, you have to “sell” who you are and what you do.
How do you learn to sell and how can you improve?
The Bottom Line: Begin Selling Right Away
The most important thing to remember in sales is that you must sell from day one. Although you may think you’re already at a disadvantage in your firm or company if you didn’t begin selling right away, don’t panic.
Companies want their talent to help them grow their business, so the smart employer invests time and resources into a newbie’s training and education, and goes out of the way to value you as a new employee. Yet, this commitment works both ways. The company wants you to realize that you’ll spend just as much, if not more time, helping improve the bottom line.
You will substantially improve your reputation and future if you begin selling right away. You won’t be made partner or director of a department overnight, but if you don’t demonstrate your selling chops, it is far less likely that you’ll be promoted. What you need to do is go from non-sale to full on-sale. How to accomplish this? Start building early.
Talk About the Value
Most CPAs are competent in tax, audit, assurance, and other accounting functions, but have a hard time talking about what they do. Can you sum it up in 30 seconds or less? If you’ve networked with any groups in social situations, you have to be able to tell others what you do in order to make a valued connection that might build business. Ever hear of the elevator pitch?
Most of us recite the same 30-second elevator pitch about what we do: “My name is John Smith and I work at Jones, Jones & Jones CPAs. I work in tax, delivering services to individual and corporate clients.”
There’s one word for John’s description about what he does: Boring! If you’re a CPA, most everyone sort of understands the kind of work you do.
How about these two: “I can double your bottom line in three months,” or “I specialize in ways to make you money.” There’s one word for both of these: Cliché!
What you want to focus on, instead, is the value of what you offer: “Hello, I am John Smith and I work with Jones, Jones & Jones CPAs. We are experts in individual and corporate taxation, with proven results in reducing our clients’ tax liabilities.”
With an introduction like this, you’ve now made some sort of connection because you’ve opened the door to have the other person ask some kind of question – for example, “How do you do this?” This method isn’t perfect, but it does work; try it and practice your technique with your colleagues and friends so you can improve.
Find the Right Opportunities
Successful sales professionals believe that every opportunity is an opportunity to sell. There’s the famous story of the guy who was asked for his business card … while attending a funeral! Sure, this isn’t the appropriate opportunity to network, but perhaps at another time the two could exchange cards.
While the selling function isn’t inherent in all of our personalities, you can get ahead by creating opportunities. Here are some ideas:
- Seek local networking functions. Every city has, literally, hundreds of meetups or social networking meetings; what you want to do is find the one that fits what you do and offers the most exposure to prospects or referral sources. Ask your colleagues, your manager, and even your clients or customers for recommendations, but be specific and be smart about your needs. If your firm, for example, specializes in the energy industry, then you’ll want to go to meetings where energy companies come together.
- Use social media. LinkedIn has its Group function for a very good reason; Groups bring people together for a like-minded reason. You can use LinkedIn and other social media to seek out opportunities by searching for subject and location. While quite a bit of activity occurs in online discussion groups, that’s OK, too; finding prospects and referral sources can happen online as much as it can happen in person.
- Always carry cards. Subscribe to the salesperson’s mantra and see just about any opportunity as an opportunity to network. Of course you don’t want to network at a funeral or perhaps over the produce section at your grocery store, but be prepared no matter what you are doing. Always carry business cards and be prepared to exchange cards if the time is right. You’ll know when the time is appropriate and when it’s not.
A note to young CPAs who think carrying business cards is too archaic: It may not involve technology as much as bumping your iPhone or friending on FaceBook, but the traditional card exchange is still the best and the most often-used method to get and receive information. As much as digital technology may be taking over our world, the card exchange is here to stay.
You don’t have to go to sales school to learn how to sell your skills or sell your company, but you can create ways to help you gain that all-important foot in the door. When you do, you’ll find you’re not only improving the bottom line; you’re also improving your own self-confidence and will feel better about what you do.