Art Kuesel, Kuesel Consulting & Katie Tolin, CPA Growth Guides
Accountants are typically not salespeople, yet they are involved in virtually every sale. Even firms that utilize business developers have to rely on partners to complete the sale. In most firms, the sales function falls on the partners and includes proposal help from marketing. It’s not an ideal situation – but you don’t have to relegate yourself to playing a minor role in the process. Whether you are in marketing or business development, you can help drive the sales process and become the coach your firm needs.
Guide Partners through Individual Pursuits
When a partner gets a lead, how soon do you know about it? Ideally, you should be one of the first people they call. Why? Because they know you can help navigate the sales process and coach them on next steps to increase their odds of winning.
To be successful, your firm needs a consistent sales process. It is imperative that everyone speaks the same language. That way when you ask if the lead is qualified, people know exactly what you mean and you can guide them through the next step in the sales process. Given that 80 percent of sales are closed between the fifth and twelfth encounter, your focus should be on setting the next meeting and building relationships. A sales process guides those next steps while you reinforce the process.
Navigating the sales process can be difficult, but you can show partners the way. Here’s how one firm handled an impact lead and won:
Step 1: The managing partner (MP) was contacted as soon as the lead came in
Step 2: MP assembled a pursuit team that included marketing
Step 3: The marketing director and lead partner orchestrated the entire pursuit
Step 4: Team members divvied up responsibilities and met multiple times with the prospect and the prospect’s advisors; MP flew to meet one out-of-state advisor
Step 5: Market research, including off-the-record conversations, was completed to uncover prospect information
Step 6: Issues were identified and tailored solutions, including unique visuals, were presented to show expertise
Selling is a team sport. In some cases, the partner who gets a lead may not be the best person to run with it. For example, one not-for-profit partner received a lead for a medical clinic. After a quick conversation with marketing, the partner realized he could not win this one on his own. Together, they identified another partner to quarterback the sales process. He was still part of the proposal team, just in a secondary role. After receiving guidance from marketing, he put the firm’s best interest before his ego, which helped the firm win.
It’s when a partner needs a proposal that they think to involve marketing, but that is too late. A proposal document recaps the sales process and provides unique solutions to the issues and concerns uncovered. You can produce a custom proposal if you are part of the process. How?
- By identifying missing information and helping the partner determine how to find it
- By ensuring solutions are both specific and custom
- By brainstorming unique pricing options
You provide the most value by being a part of the entire process by helping drive the strategy and messaging – not by only playing an administrative role.
Establish a Personal BD Strategy for Partners & Managers
It is equally important that you play an ongoing role with your partners’ overall personal business development efforts. This way you will be among the first to know when an opportunity enters the pipeline and your assistance is needed. You also will be able to build accountability for personal marketing and help demonstrate your expertise and knowledge to your most important clients – the partners.
Begin by setting a goal. Should they bring in $50,000 in new business or cross-sell $50,000 in new business to current clients over the next year? To identify a reasonable goal, start by going through their new business from the previous year; they probably aren’t aware of this amount.
Then, help them identify where their new revenue will come from. Personal marketing usually includes activities from four quadrants:
- Client Development – The first and best place to start. Satisfied clients are likely to buy additional services and refer others as long as the partner focuses in this area. Your partner needs to sit down with their clients on a regular basis to make sure the firm is doing everything it can to help that client be successful. Further, when the firm delivers a great result, such as a large tax savings, the partner needs to ask for a referral or testimonial – it is the best time. Up to 50 percent of the revenue goal can and should come from this quadrant.
- Referral Source Development – What is your partner doing to cultivate a professional network of referral sources that can refer clients to them? This network consists of bankers, attorneys, third party administrators, professional consultants, investment advisors, and other professionals who hold strong relationships with their clients.
- Personal Brand Building – What is your partner doing to create a strong reputation in their service line or industry niche? This usually consists of membership in trade associations and leveraging LinkedIn, blogging, speaking, and other activities that create awareness for their unique and valuable skills.
- Prospecting – Has your partner identified a list of prospective clients they proactively reach out to on a regular basis to build awareness in their area of expertise? Ultimately, if your firm doesn’t have a target client demographic, you will undoubtedly accept non-ideal clients along the way.
Meet with your partner monthly and discuss their activities and progress towards their goals. With your assistance, you can enable them to bring in more revenue than they could have achieved on their own.
To illustrate, a senior manager with no business development experience wanted to make partner, which required having a book of business. After reaching out to marketing for help, she aimed to obtain $25,000 in new business in 12 months. Utilizing a personal marketing plan rooted in the four quadrants, holding monthly meetings with marketing, and receiving strategic assistance with pursuits and proposals, she surpassed her goal by $10,000 and accelerated her path to partner.
Whether you step up to help your partners with their overall business development process or assist with a specific opportunity, you have the unique ability to contribute in a way others in the firm cannot. Coaching is a needed function, and partners who are open to the process will reap the rewards. Understand and own the business development function and be recognized for your contribution of helping drive firm growth.