As Geoffrey James so eloquently explains in this article, “Selling is the process of making dreams come true." And even though this is absolutely true (or maybe because of this), many accountants are still very uncomfortable with the notion of “selling." They find it off-putting, or difficult at best.
However, if you are not willing to learn to sell and understand what selling really is, you are sabotaging your own success. It’s not about engagement letters and a list of deliverables; it’s about selling yourself—your services and your ideas!
You are in a position to help other people achieve their own goals and dreams, but none of this is possible without an exchange of value. Your service becomes your clients’ value. You must embrace this concept, and be comfortable making it a part of your day-to-day.
4 mistakes to avoid when selling advisory services
Here are some common mistakes made with selling in general, and specifically with advisory services:
1. Jumping straight into what you want the client to do
Clients need to understand what you are offering. While you’re speaking with the client and before you sit down with them, think about 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? These questions are especially important with advisory because it is not a compliance based service. Don’t be a drill sergeant; be an advisor.
2. 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.
3. Forgetting to model the relationship
Telling the client what to do too soon will scare a client 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. 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 you 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.
4. Unwillingness to try different approaches or tactics
We all know 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 upsell, and it also might involve trying new software products to support your advisory services.
Our LivePlan Method training includes sample email engagement series. It can help you understand how to position your advisory offering in different ways for different clients.
The right way to sell
The following items are key components to 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 you understanding how you can help them. Guide the conversation with open-ended questions. Be attentive and exhibit 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 will not 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. Show value
Once you establish the areas where your client needs help, you can show them value by giving real examples of how they can achieve their goals. Sharing ideas on what you will be monitoring over time to help reach certain goals, reviewing the way you’ll model their forecast, and developing short, mid, and long term milestones to hit those goals, are all ways that show value to a client.
4. Be consultative
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!
5. Value price for transparency
Transparency is a big part of building trust. Having a set price with defined services will be much easier for a client to understand. I like the tiered pricing package approach. Everyone likes options, right? When you present a client with options, they don’t feel cornered and can make a decision that they feel fits their need. This also ensures expectations are clear and all parties are on the same page from the start.
When you eliminate the surprises, you improve collaboration. Clients will be more likely to communicate better with you when they know how much they’ll be charged in advance. This improved relationship will also help you upsell your other services.
Plus, when planning your value pricing, you get to separate the cost of the services from the time taken to provide them. This gives incentive to improve the efficiency of your own business processes. Talk about a win-win!
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!
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!
Pro Tip: Cloud pricing
I’m sure everyone has heard of Mark Wickersham and Cloud Pricing. It’s an excellent tool that will put you at ease with presenting pricing to your clients. If you’ve been procrastinating taking this step, please check this out!
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,” they will feel they just acquired another team member that will lead them to success!