Great sales questions accountants can ask to win new clients

Dec 5, 2023 | Business development

Despite the title of this post I should first stress that it is rarely a good idea to come across as a salesperson when you are trying to promote your services. The best accountants know that they must first build rapport and confidence so that prospects like and trust them.

Many a business coach or management consultant will use a structured approach to win clients who are already working with accountants.

All too often I have heard such accountants complain that they could have provided the services offered by the coach or consultant. And that their fees would have been lower than the coach or consultant.

This suggests to me a need for accountants to improve their approach to ‘sales’ in line with the recommendations in this blog post.

GOOD QUESTIONS

We can often build rapport, confidence and trust by asking questions that, by their very nature (and assuming our reactions to the replies are genuine), will encourage prospects to choose to ‘buy’ from us.

However, it is much more difficult to secure a ‘sale’ if we seem more focused on our objective than on evidencing a genuine interest in our ‘prospect’.

The better you understand their needs, challenges, issues and problems, the easier your job becomes. Not just to ‘sell’ your ‘solutions’ but also, if they become a client, to service them effectively. You will also want to pick up on their Aims, Dreams, Hopes and Desires to find what drives them.

You will want to gently probe to ascertain this information and to reflect back what you have learned so both prove you have been listening and also that we understand their position.

If, at any stage, you seem to be on auto-pilot the prospect is unlikely to be impressed.

The focus of your questions has to be on the prospect and their situation.

This means you need to encourage the prospect to explain, to amplify and clarify.

If you assume you understand or if you leap to conclusions the prospect may become less engaged and less likely to ‘buy’. Remember that to ASSUME makes an ASS of U and ME.

So the critical questions are those that get the conversation rolling and those that focus the conversation.

Obviously the ‘best’ approach in any specific situation will depend upon how the meeting came about, how much has already been discussed and the background research undertaken beforehand.

SPIN-style unscripted questions

One well-established way to gain the information you need is the SPIN model explained at the end of this post.

The following general questions are simply indicative of the path you could follow.

1 – Clarify the prospect’s SITUATION

What’s on your mind? How might I be able to help you? What did you want to talk about?
Contrast this approach with self-centred laptop presentations, history of the company, case studies, CVs of all the key consultants, etc.

What else can you tell me about your business?

What drives you? Why are you in business? What’s the big ambition?

2 – Focus on the prospect’s PROBLEM

What’s holding you back?

What concerns do you have?

WHERE RELEVANT

You mentioned your previous accountant – what went wrong?

You want to find out why they are looking or are open to speaking with a new accountant. Even if they mention fees you don’t want them to come to you simply because you are cheaper (as that risks them later leaving you for someone eeven cheaper than you!).

What didn’t you like about their service and how they looked after you?

I’m sure it wasn’t all bad. What did you like about their style and approach?


OR, WHERE THE PROBLEM IS NOT RELATED TO A PREVIOUS ACCOUNTANT

What success have you had in dealing with this problem?
Rushing to identify problems and solutions may imply you have little respect for the progress a client has already made.

By taking your time with this step, you can build real rapport and trust (as opposed to superficial body-language stuff) and therefore you are more like to hear the real problems later.

If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
Take your time and allow them to think before answering.

If the prospect comes up with a list, encourage them gently to get to the root problem.

What else? (repeat one way or another 3 times, to get to the real underlying issue)

Too often, we get so excited by the potential extent of the work, we gloss over this. This is where we help them clarify where the real root of the pain lies. If they do the analysis themselves, there is a much greater probability that they will accept the eventual solution which they have played a part in developing.

3 – What are the IMPLICATIONS of this problem remaining unresolved?

Depending on the prospect’s earlier responses you want to ask a question that helps them to realise that things won’t get better unless they take action.

4 – How would they feel if you could resolve things? the NEEDS-PAYOFF question)

If between us we solved this, what difference would that make?
This is where they come up with lots of benefits, and you write them all down – in their language.

Feel free to repeat the question in several ways. Ask for the benefit of the benefit.

Keep going until they cannot think of anything more. These are the reasons they will buy.

What would happen if [the problem] is not solved?

This can be useful if you suspect you might have to help them overcome later indecision – the greatest scourge of professional life!

If I could help you with that, would you be interested?

Either they are interested or they aren’t. There is little point in spending time on a solution where there is no genuine interest in your service even though the prospect likes you as a person.

Is there any other way that I could help you?

This is the ultimate Needs-Payoff question 😉

SUMMARY OF SPIN APPROACH

A key feature of this SPIN approach, as implied by the suggested questions I offered above, is that it encourages the prospect to define both their problem and their desire to find a solution.

As a result, you can come across more as a ‘consultant’ rather than as a salesperson trying to make a sale.

The SPIN acronym is often credited to Neil Rackham, former president and founder of Huthwaite corporation The structure is explained in Neil Rackham’s 1988 book.

  • Situation Questions – to gather background information and understand the context of the sale.
    Bear in mind that Situation questions can bore the prospect so the more background information you can collate (and recall) beforehand the better.
  • Problem Questions – to explore the prospect’s dissatisfactions and concerns.
  • Implication Questions – that develop and link apparently isolated problems by examining their ‘knock-on’ effect on the areas of the prospect’s business.You want these to focus the prospect’s attention on the consequences or effects of their problems. The goal of using these questions is to persuade the prospect to EXPLICITLY state a need that you can solve.
  • Need-payoff Questions – that invite the prospect to consider the benefits of solving his or her problems and, having done so, to express an Explicit Need for a solution. These address issues such as the value and compatibility that the prospect perceives in a solution. Only ask these questions AFTER the prospect has confessed to a need. If you ask these questions too early in the process your prospect will simply deny the existence of the need which you claim to solve.

I learned recently that the SPIN acronym was originally going to be SPIP. Neil Rackham contrived to make the last letter an N at the encouragement of his young son who pointed out that SPIP was a silly word!

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