In an ideal world, you would simply tell people that you are an accountant and your ideal prospects would then find you and ask to become your clients.
Life isn’t like that. Even when these people do find out about your practice you need to have a process which brings them onboard as clients. Traditionally known as ‘closing the sale’ this is quite distinct from your marketing and business development activity.
That activity should be focused on attracting the right type of prospects. If you are attracting the wrong people you may never be able to close them. If this is happening you need to review what you are saying and where you are promoting your marketing messages.
If you are seeing the right sort of people but they don’t become clients you need to consider why this is the case – even if it seems to be about fees often this is not the real issue.
What does ‘closing the sale’ mean?
None of us like to think that we are in ‘sales’, so perish the thought that we might ever come across as a pushy sales person.
For the purpose of this blog I suggest that ‘closing the sale’ means advancing the sales process to secure absolute confirmation from the prospect that they are appointing you as their new accountant. This isn’t when they first agree to do do so – it’s when they sign your letter of engagement and confirm payment of your fees. Until that point the ‘sale’ has not been completed or ‘closed’.
Before you close the sale
Every time you have a conversation with a prospective client you need to ensure that you are both clear as to what happens next. Will you send some information? Will they visit the FAQs or testimonials page of your website? When will you speak again?
Equally it is during preliminary conversations that you will want to help the prospect to realise why they should appoint you rather than any other accountant.
Helping them does not mean being pushy like someone selling double-glazing.
But you cannot help them to understand why they should appoint you until you know sufficient information about them – which means starting by asking the right type of questions and listening to their replies.
If you ask good questions in this regard you will be able to remove any obstacles that are preventing the prospect from saying ‘yes’.
Whenever I think about the times I’ve felt uncomfortable when someone tried to sell me something, it was always when they had no idea what I was looking for or what I needed.
They never asked me any questions or listened to what I was saying. Instead they just launched into explaining the features of their particular product or service. I’d discourage you from doing anything like this when trying to build up clients for your new accountancy practice.
You must connect with your prospect, asking them what they are looking for, how you might help them, and what they might have in mind.
Taking the time (and the opportunity) to really get to know your prospect, find out what makes them tick, what they might be struggling with and what might solve their problem, are the first keys to successfully closing of a sale.
Obstacles and objections
There are lots of ways to close a sale – indeed closing a sale has become a science unto itself. The challenge is to avoid coming across as a second-hand car salesman.
In large part, closing the sale requires you to discover and remove obstacles. These are typically hidden within the objections raised by prospects.
Perhaps the most common objections heard by accountants are variations of: “I need to think about it”, “You’re fees are too high” or “Sounds good but I’ve already got an accountant.”
Closing down the conversation early
However important it is to be able to ‘close the sale’, it is equally important to be able to close down a conversation early. By this I mean developing the ability to extricate yourself at an early stage once you realise that the prospect is not someone you would like to have as a client.
This is something to think about when you are planning your ‘free consultation’ with prospects.
Good accountants use such conversations to include among their questions some which will help them to determine whether or not the prospect has prospects, can afford to pay realistic fees and does not have questionable morals.
Following-up makes it easier to close
A common mistake that reduces the number of prospects you ‘close’ is if you fail to follow up after your initial conversations.
Following up after meeting people at networking events, following up after engaging with people online, and following up after people have approached you but not agreed to appoint you at the end of the first conversation.
If you get back in touch with people you have met or engaged with once or twice, you will obviously increase the number who will eventually appoint you as their accountant or refer you onto prospective clients. Some will just need an extra nudge, for others it’s a question of keeping your name in the frame and ensuring they remember you when their needs change.
Personal contact is important here. I’m not talking about sending a generic newsletter unless you at least add a personalised message; instead, picking up the phone is by far the best form of follow up.
When accountants say that networking doesn’t work for them, what they often mean is that they didn’t win any new clients as a result of attending a networking event. But that’s an unrealistic expectation. You generally only win clients when people get to know you, to like you and to trust you.
Meeting someone at a networking event or elsewhere is a prerequisite to them getting to know you. They will probably only agree to follow up the conversation if they like you, but trust takes longer to establish.
If a new relationship has any promise you need to nurture it – which is why follow up is so crucial as a pre-requisite to closing the sale.
Staying at the forefront of a prospect’s mind requires persistence and should not be confused with being a pest. This is why it’s important to get agreement on the next step each time you have contact. Follow up therefore should never end. The pace may slow but when a sale is made, then a new type of follow up begins.
If you’d like to follow up with me, feel free to fix up a call so we can discuss how I might help you improve your closing skills >>>