AAM Minute - Topic At Hand

Defining Your Sales Process

Jennifer Cantero, Sensiba San Filippo LLP


Right now, if you mention CRM implementation to a room full of accounting marketers, you will watch them shutter in unison, but sales processes and tools are a huge trend in the accounting industry. While sales and marketing in many industries are two separate departments, in accounting, many marketers must fill both roles. 

With this new turn towards sales, CRMs seem to be the shiny new tool that will solve everyone’s problems. However, I would like to share a small warning and some advice. A CRM is a tool and unless you have a sales process in place, your new CRM will not be successful. Getting a CRM is like buying new exercise equipment – unless you know how to use it and have a plan to keep yourself on track, that equipment will sit somewhere collecting dust.

Before you dig into a CRM overhaul or a complete implementation, take a look at your sales process from start to finish. Review the way you currently define and gather leads and also how you make all your touch points move from a lead to a prospect, and from proposal to client.

Most marketers are familiar with defining your target audience for marketing, but have you defined your target client and each industry or vertical you serve? From a sales perspective, defining your target client is a bit different and more focused than defining an audience in marketing. There is a great deal of soul searching that needs to happen to create a list of criteria for your perfect client. These clients can bring in the right amount of revenue for the firm and require work that is cross-departmental or even ‘off season.’

Obviously each client will not meet this criteria 100 percent of the time. There will be exceptions, but there also should be very few exceptions. Having this definition will help your team stay focused and not waste time chasing requests for proposals that have a snowball’s chance in Hades. You know the ones. Start with making a list of your basic service groups like, tax, audit, and consulting, etc. Then, make a list of your industry niches. For most firms, the second list might be a bit harder. It is a great time to take a hard look at the industries you say you serve and determine if you should continue to serve them. Ask yourself if you have an internal champion for each niche, someone who is passionate about it. Next, look at the percentage of revenue that niche brings in each year. A good rule of thumb is if it is not bringing in at least 10 percent of your revenue and it has been around for a while, then it is not a niche. The more you define and focus your efforts, the more efficient and profitable you will be.

Now that you have your list of services and niches, start looking at the characteristics of your best clients in those categories. Look at things like:
Any sub-niches or sub-services
Form of entity
Number of employees
Geographic location
Revenue they bring in by service/niche
Type of ownership
Do they buy more than one service?

Once you have the ‘ideal client’ profile established for each service line and niche, think about the types of questions you would ask a prospect to make sure they qualify as an ideal client. Also, think about the basic questions you should be asking all prospects to understand them before you get to the proposal stage. Many times, our accounting staff comes to us excited about a new prospect and want the marketing department to provide them a proposal; however, they have not spent time to get to know their prospect. That means a generic proposal, and as we know, generic proposals do not win. Encourage your staff to ask questions like:

1. What are your biggest pain points right now in running your business?
2. What are your reasons for seeking alternative service providers?
3. What did your previous accounting firm not provide that you believe was important to you?
4. What are your main concerns about the audit/review process, tax planning, etc.?
5. Who are your other advisors: legal, banking, insurance, etc.?
6. What is your succession plan/exit strategy?

Take their responses to the above questions and add them to the applicable service/niche profiles to create a one-page document for each. You may be surprised with what you come out with on the other side of this process. Once you have this all documented, share it with the entire firm. Having these clearly defined and distributed across the firm will help everyone be on the same page about the quality of the clients your firm desires and demands.

At , we have even taken the qualifying questions and created a placemat to be used during the prospect meeting. That way the important items are not missed and everyone in the meeting can take notes. On the reverse side of the placemat, we have included biographies, a list of all our services, or a thought leadership article we believe the prospect will like. The placemat (image provided below) creates a great interaction in the meeting and gives it a nice flow.

Now, on to proposals. Every firm has their own way of creating proposals wither it be in a proposal software, PowerPoint, or Word. We use Word and our proposals are one sheet (front and back). Yes, one sheet. Most buyers know what they want to buy before they even talk to a sales person. They research the company online and through social media, read reviews and talk to advisors. By the time they get to the proposal stage, they do not need pages and pages about your firm. They have already done their homework. They want to see a list of services, fees, proposed timeline, and contact information. Therefore, that is what we provide, and we have received great feedback in return. If the accounting staff has done the relationship building, then a long proposal is simply not needed.

There are many steps in the sales process and every firm needs to define what works for their culture. Be sure to establish your process before you invest in fancy tools to be successful in the implementation. Define your ideal client, how you will qualify them, and take a hard look at what goes into your proposal. Times are changing and so is the buying proc