P R O F E S S I O N A L . . . C O N T R O L L E R S
The ART in “Start” © 2002
(Advice to Colleagues)
by Adrian W. Hollander, C.P.A., CISA,
CIA, CBA, CFSA,
President of COMPLUS Inc. – Professional Controllers
Accountants are “the world’s worst sales people,” and I have seen preciously little evidence over the last 35 years to dispute this assertion. (We don’t have to live down to the stereotype, though.) Before I attempt to give selling advice, let me offer this warning: When the best marketing and selling ideas are coming from the accounting department, the marketing/sales department needs lots of help. We will still try to help anyway, but especially in a client situation, any really good ideas from us should be worthy of consideration for a bonus.
Prospecting is tedious and frustrating. Even in our carefully defined target market, the proportion of “no’s” is still outrageously high. Despite many surveys saying otherwise, most company owners seem to be well enough served by their accountants that they will seldom force personnel changes. We are looking for that short interval of owner’s frustration when he/she realizes that a change must be made. Turnover presents a significant opportunity. Alligator skin is a valuable asset for a “prospector.” That’s why I appreciate my mailing and telemarketing services so much. When they produce a “warm” lead, the real “fun” begins.
When one of my Associates receives a lead through me from Professional Controllers, he/she calls to make a meeting appointment with the President/CEO, ASAP. Meeting with a “gate-keeper” (one who can say “no,” but not “yes.”) is usually of little value. A quick response (same day) gives us an advantage. The appointment-making phone call should be short (less than 5 minutes. We defer “interview” questions to the meeting. The Professional Controller lead generation process will give an Associate a lot of information about a prospect. Besides the necessary name, address and phone number, we usually know nature of the business, years in business, gross sales, fiscal year end, payroll service, accounting software, and some “hot buttons.” The prospect will have been expecting our call. If an Associate wishes, he/she may check the internet for more information before the face-to-face meeting.
At the meeting we ask for more information about why the “prospect” responded. The business owner ordinarily will confirm what we already know and will probably re-emphasize his/her “hot buttons.” As soon as we can justify a “close” (one of my interviews lasted only 15 minutes), we ask, “May I begin (this work) on (day/date)?” Wait for an answer. (Whoever speaks next “loses.”) If the answer is “yes,” you’re hired. Go to work!
If the answer is “no,” the real selling begins. Ask more questions to probe for objections. (Look in the COMPLUS web site for “Interview Questions - Clients.”) Answer the owner’s questions candidly, and again attempt to close.
The most common objection is a simple stall. Examples are
“Chemistry” is critical. Smile. Act like you enjoy this work. If the owner doesn’t like you, he/she will never give you a chance to show how smart you are. If there is competition for the Controller’s role, “raise the bar.” We expect to serve as a talented executive, not just a clerk. Be confident -- we’re very good; we’re very economical and we’re worth what we charge.
A business owner will always pay for good accounting -- one way or another.
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