Reframe Sales as Communicating Value

Two people working side by side on laptopsCreate a conversation where the client can experience what it would be like to work with you.

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I've talked about how the accounting industry has been disrupted. High-volume, low-profit services such as tax returns are being pushed out by large commercial organizations, leaving small and medium-size accounting firm owners to work increasingly harder for decreasing profits.

MORE: 3 Keys to Evolving Your Accounting Practice
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The solution is to allow your business model to adapt by following these three core principles:

  1. Transform from accountant to advisor. (Read 3 Keys to Evolving Your Accounting Practice if you haven’t yet!)
  2. Learn to price/sell/deliver.
  3. Confront and conquer fear.


This post focuses on the process by which you can consistently price, sell and deliver services so valuable that clients will pay $3,000-$15,000 per month.

Your clients who are business owners are starving for help. Many of them are on their own, hustling hard and under a lot of pressure to make their business work. They are inspired and passionate, with a clear vision for their company. They also may not be financially savvy, and many of them are struggling. Those who are making money may not be sure what steps they need to take in order to promote growth and scale their success. They don’t know that you, their accountant, are the answer to their prayers. When you make the transition from accountant to highly profitable advisor, you become aware of your worth as a trusted confidante and consultant.

The next vital step is to find a process that clearly communicates your worth. That’s how Don Lingering, CPA took a client who complained about their annual $3,000 tax bill to one who happily pays $30,000 a year for his advice. That’s how Peter Stefanoff, CPA evolved a $260/month client to a $2,800/month one. And it’s how Mike Mellinger, CPA, and Dan Messersmith, CPA both landed client engagements paying over $10,000 per month.

Price

As an accountant who can help your clients significantly improve the growth and profitability of their businesses, any engagement where you charge less than $3,000/month is priced too low. You may not feel this way because most of your peers are also undercharging for their services. Hourly billing is a particularly big culprit of undervaluation for advisory services.

Before you can object, you should know that our informal study of thousands of accountants shows that pricing is largely unaffected by factors such as geographic location or size of the firm. The single biggest factor that determines what you can charge is your belief in the value you provide.

Sell

Many firm owners are essentially winging it when it comes to their pricing and their sales process. They don’t have much formal sales training, so they ask a few cursory questions and then pitch themselves to almost every client who walks through the door. They say that they have a lot of experience and get the work done quickly, then send out a proposal and hope that the client responds positively. This process (or lack thereof) does not adequately convey the value you can offer clients.

The right sales process starts with discovering the client’s situation and needs. This requires asking intelligent questions that will quickly tell you whether this client is the right fit for you. It also involves recognizing clients who aren’t a good fit – and learning to say thanks but no thanks to them. You create a conversation where the client can experience what it would be like to work with you as an advisor. The key is to do this without actually giving away free advice. If you do this well, you can skip the whole proposal back and forth. You’ll have clients ending the conversation with “When can we start?”

It’s all too common for accountants to read a book or watch a webinar about sales, and then try to replicate what they’ve seen. This method usually fails, because you haven’t truly learned and internalized the sales process. You end up in awkward conversations with resistant clients, beat a hasty retreat and go back to trying to outbid your competitors for bookkeeping or tax returns.

Instead, you need to spend time honing a sales process that’s specific, replicable and that communicates the value you have to offer. And you need to discover your potential clients’ goals and dreams, issues and obstacles, by getting curious, staying open and focusing on the person in front of you instead of the pitch. When done right, this kind of process naturally compels the right clients to move forward into engagements at higher price points after a single conversation.

What’s critical is understanding the mindset behind the buy/sell/deliver method, and for that, many accountants need to do more than read a book or watch a webinar. Getting the right sales training and support could mean the difference between long hours of endless work and high profits with ample free time. The first step is acknowledging that you need to invest in education if you want to successfully navigate a sales process and deliver for your clients.

Deliver

Many accountants self-sabotage potentially high-paying engagements because they’re not sure they can deliver. They’re not sure what they should be providing for $5,000/month (or even if they’re worth that much), and they’re afraid of not meeting the client’s expectations.

For the client, good delivery is all about setting appropriate expectations while selling. The heart of those expectations is, again, understanding the value you can provide as an advisor and communicating that value effectively to the client. Charging $5,000 for a tax return isn’t going to earn you any new business, but talking about cash flow, decision-making and profitability can easily win over a potential client. Keep in mind that you have a wealth of knowledge that a business owner likely doesn’t possess.

Delivery does not need to include any promises or contractual agreements to take a client’s business to a specific level of growth. You don’t need to have all the answers or assume responsibility for a client’s business, but you do need to commit to helping the business grow to the best of your ability. Your role is to provide an expert opinion and to help clients make better choices for their businesses. With the right sales process in place, you’ll attract clients who want your advice and are willing to take responsibility for their own decisions and results, rather than expecting you to shoulder the burden of their financial health.

Let’s recap:

  • The key to a good sales process is learning to communicate the value you provide.
  • Price is based on value, not hours. It’s also dependent on how well you understand and communicate your value, and on the results, you can deliver when partnering with clients.
  • Selling well requires you to come from a place of curiosity about the client and a willingness to explore whether working together is a good fit.
  • Delivery is all about setting appropriate expectations, for both yourself and for the client.

Understanding and communicating value: this is what most sales coaches and consultants in the industry will teach you.

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