Now more than ever, you are in a position to help small businesses survive, overcome cash flow challenges, forecast financial statements, and return to a profitable business model. Embracing this, and recognizing your services as an essential tool, is what leads to the potential for growth.
True growth comes by taking it a step further, with an effective sales process that translates your passion and expertise into powerful statements that resonate with your target audience
What is selling?
As Geoffrey James so eloquently explains in this article, “Selling is the process of making dreams come true." While this is absolutely true, many accountants are still very uncomfortable with the notion of “selling." Perhaps the reason behind this is that we see strategic advising as a relationship business, which is built on trust and mutual benefits. Pushing directly into sales (as we know) can completely sabotage these delicate connections. The problem here is that the failure doesn’t stem from sales itself, but from bad sales methods.
Understanding what behaviors lead to both unsuccessful and successful sales will allow you to create your own definition of selling and step away from the fear of failure. Remember—sales doesn’t have to be a dry list of deliverables and one-sided conversations, it’s the idea of selling yourself, your passion, and making dreams come true.
3 mistakes to avoid when selling advisory services
Here are some common selling mistakes that are crucial to avoid specifically when promoting your advisory services:
1. Chasing unqualified leads
As a strategic advisor, you know that revenue and value, while related, are two very different things. But when the sales pipeline has dried up, it can become even more tempting to scramble for new opportunities and chase after the quickest ways to make a buck.
Looking at only the short term profits a customer presents, means you are losing long-term growth and missing out on strategic relationships. Instead, focus your efforts on qualified leads who will benefit the most from your advisory services and bring value to your practice over the long term.
Specifically, if you have helped customers with small business loans, but have never worked with them in advisory before, those customers could represent a big opportunity to turn short term work into long term value.
2. Pushing for what you want the client to do
Telling the client what to do too soon will scare them away. This is advisory, not compliance-based work, so the client will need to feel a relationship with you, and have the sense that you understand their business and their particular goals. Kickoff your advisory conversation by asking the following questions:
- What part of the service will bring value to them?
- How will they connect with it?
- How will it solve their problem?
Giving the client a small taste of an advisory conversation is a great way to model the advisory experience for the client and show them how it will look and feel. Allow the client to get to know you, and allow yourself to get to know them. You will need that foundation to be successful.
For more on how to structure this type of conversation, download our LivePlan Method Kickoff guide resource here. It has a helpful checklist and sample scripting for your engagement conversation.
3. Ignoring conversation and engagement
Communicating and listening to the client is critical to a successful advising relationship. A conversation—actually, multiple conversations over time—are needed to truly understand your client's goals and to identify areas your advising will be most valuable.
When advisors fail to communicate and neglect regular check-ins to understand how goals are being met, it translates into the client feeling forgotten and unimportant. The delicate advisory relationship will crumble and end with a lost opportunity.
The right way to sell
The following items are key components of selling. In order to have an effective sales process in place, these are the things you must learn, embrace, and get right.
1. Be an active listener
You must first be able to engage with your client so they will share their story, their pain points, their goals, and their ambitions. This is key to understanding how you can help them. Guide the conversation with open-ended questions. Be attentive and exhibit an understanding of what is being shared.
Remember, by getting the client to talk, you have become the most powerful person in the room.
Remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. If you don’t actively listen, you won’t be able to figure out what part of advisory services will be of the most value to your client. It will be a wasted conversation. I find that paraphrasing what you have heard helps to show the person that you truly understand what they said. And, it ensures you did listen!
2. Connect to establish trust
Building trust requires establishing an emotional connection. Offer the client something that can genuinely help their business. It doesn’t have to benefit you; it can be a connection to someone, research, or an observation about their product in the community. The key is offering it without any expectation.
You can guide a person to a decision when they trust you. You must be authentic and genuine, respected and knowledgeable. Have confidence, yet show empathy and be sincere. Connecting with your client and establishing a relationship is huge. For example, ask about their family and interests; this will build on that trust and set yourself apart from your competition, while strengthening your relationship.
3. Be consultative
After sharing your advisory approach to achieve short, mid, and long term milestones, help guide the client to the decision that benefits them the most. Help them feel informed to make the right decision.
You don’t have to give away the whole story when you are in the process of selling your advising service. You simply paint the picture on what that relationship will be like—provide a little taste of it.
What type of information and guidance will you provide to improve their business over time? Show that you are dedicated to helping your client be successful. Make sure the client feels it. You want them to learn that you will deliver!
4. Value price for transparency
Transparency is a big part of building trust. In an economy that is still reeling from COVID-19, your clients will be increasingly sensitive and reactive to prices. Having a set beginning price with defined services and multiple packages with tiered pricing will actively reduce uncertainties.
When you present a client with options, they don’t feel cornered and can make a decision that they feel fits their needs. This also ensures expectations are clear and all parties are on the same page from the start.
Eliminating surprises improves collaboration. Clients will be more likely to communicate better with you when they know how much they’ll be charged in advance.
Plus, when planning your value pricing, you get to separate the cost of the services from the time taken to provide them. This gives incentives to improve the efficiency of your own business processes. Talk about a win-win!
The biggest challenge is making the change. You will not be boxing yourself in with value pricing. You will still have services your clients may need from time to time that don’t fall into your regular scope of work. If you can manage your time, that’s fine—just be prepared to upsell those outlying services and price them to be profitable. Your client will understand that it’s an “add-on” because they will have a clear understanding of what is included in their monthly fee. Again, no surprises!
The LivePlan Method for advisory services supports this concept. You can easily cost out our advising services by mapping out who will do the work, the cost of that employee’s time, and the amount of time it will take to do the task. Don’t overthink it—just take the steps to properly plan your pricing. It will be so worth it!
5. Get bold and try new things
We all know that you don’t get different results by doing the same thing. You will need to step out of your comfort zone. This might involve saying new things to clients, either in person or through email engagement. It might involve packaging your services in new ways to up-sell, and it also might involve trying new software products to support your advisory services.
With remote work skyrocketing, now is a great time to start experimenting with different video software products like zoom or google hangouts. Try implementing a video conference into your sales funnel and see how having an active face-to-face discussion transforms your process. Not only will you get a better idea of the value opportunities, but you will be better able to convey the feelings of authenticity and sincerity that are key to a successful sale.
Sell with Confidence
Remember, you are selling yourself, your services, and your ideas. Listen, build trust, show value, and maintain transparency throughout the relationship. Stop holding yourself back and step out of your comfort zone. Have confidence in your offering.
Your clients will appreciate your guidance and will not feel they were “sold” or “handled.” Instead, they will realize that they just acquired another team member that will lead them to success!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 28, 2018. It has since been completely revamped and updated by Nina Bamberger.
Christa is the Sales Operations Manager for B2B efforts at Palo Alto Software. She works to improve efficiencies for effective team operations. Christa is experienced in leading teams of seasoned sales consultants and training others to step into the role of selling with confidence. She is fascinated with the psychology of sales and learning how to best communicate with different personality types. Christa graduated from the University of Oregon.