Business Development News

4 Key Steps to Develop a Sales Culture

Becca Davis, Rea & Associates


The accounting industry is changing, with a higher importance and greater sense of urgency being placed on selling consulting services. For some, these services are easy to sell. But for others, it’s a big unknown. How do they identify opportunities? How do they talk to a client or prospect about an engagement that takes a different shape for each client? How do you create a culture in which everyone is responsible for selling? Business developers and marketers who are trying to drive the sales efforts of practitioners should consider these four key steps.

Create a Pilot Group
Changing your firm’s whole culture is a lofty goal. Make it easier on yourself by starting with those who show an interest, talent or passion for business development. You can test your process, incentive program, training, communications and effectiveness on them before rolling out to the whole firm.

There will naturally be partners who enjoy selling, and those who aren’t as comfortable. You’ll certainly want to give everyone the training and resources they need to develop business, but focus your time on those who want to work with you. As they start to see successes, they’ll become an example for the others.

Give Them a Process
Accountants, by nature, love processes. The first place to start in developing a sales culture is to break the sales process down into bite-sized steps – always explaining “why” along the way.

Standardized training for new hires is a must to set expectations and to teach them how your firm develops new business. But don’t stop there. Consider developing a “business development playbook.” This playbook will spell out your BD process to help ensure everyone is following your preferred strategies. Not only will it help with onboarding new hires, but it will be a resource for your partners and managers as they pursue opportunities. Key components of a good playbook include your BD process (broken down by stage – including details of actions to take during each stage), clear expectations for what they should do and when, best practices to employ to help when they’re stuck, and a terminology glossary to ensure everyone is speaking the same language.

As you write the playbook, don’t forget to explain why they should take these actions. This will not only foster buy-in, but it will also help them understand why successful business developers do what they do.

Talk About Your Pipeline

A regular pipeline meeting is at the heart of any sales-centric firm. Your pipeline meeting should always be on the same day at the same time. It should be short (about 30 minutes) and it should be mandatory. If you have a CRM, your pipeline should be stored there. If you don’t, you can maintain it in Excel (*shudder*) – just make sure everyone can see and update it.

In the pipeline meeting, you’ll celebrate recent wins, share lessons learned from lost opportunities, and, most importantly, your partners will discuss their key opportunities and commit to their next step to keep it moving. There may be some open collaboration if an opportunity is stuck, too.

It’s crucial for these meetings to be a safe place for sharing. No one should get beat up for losing an opportunity – the important thing is to discuss why they lost and how to do better next time. Pipeline meetings also open up opportunities to share success stories internally. Keep your ears open for unique stories or strategies that you can share with your firm to help others learn how to sell.

Show Them Actionable Data

For your partners, identifying opportunities is half the battle. If you can hand them a list of opportunities you’ve identified, that is great. But, as they say, teach someone to fish and you’ll feed them for a lifetime … and if you can teach them how to find opportunities in data, they’ll be on their way to becoming self-sufficient business developers.

If you have CRM and marketing automation, there’s no end to the amount of demographic and behavioral data available. Show your partners how to pull that information from your system, how to analyze it for opportunities, and where to go from there.

The best place to start is with your existing clients. Chances are, you have more information about them than you do about your prospects, and chances are, there are plenty of opportunities to provide them more services – especially if you have a large menu of consulting or advisory offerings.

You’ll definitely make some people uncomfortable, but comfortable firms don’t grow. Remember to work with the ones who want to work with you. Then once they have it down, you can roll it out to a larger group. Once you have a strong tone at the top and have some awesome wins to share with the firm, you’ll be headed for success.