- Partners may be good at selling a practice’s services, but does that mean they’re a bottleneck for client relationships and service?
- If all members of the accounting team have practical consulting skills and can become relaxed at upselling services, it can dramatically impact practice revenue.
- One mid-sized practice that used these upselling techniques saw a top line increase of almost 20% and could achieve its five-year growth goals in three.
Accountants don’t enjoy selling. It looks ugly and feels awkward.
Yet every accountant in public practice sells. If you work with clients, you have an ongoing responsibility to help them gain better results. So you offer further services – in other words, you upsell.
You may not have noticed, but the process you go through with your GP is an example of effective selling. When you make an appointment, the doctor diagnoses your ailment, prescribes treatment and then asks you to come back in two weeks. Does that resemble selling? Of course not. But it is.
That process with your GP is relaxed, unforced and designed for your benefit. This is precisely how it should be in your own business.
Practise the art of selling
There is an art to selling. You should position yourself as an extension of your client’s team; in essence, their private consultant.
Earlier this year, I helped a mid-sized accounting firm that wanted to reposition itself as a commercial adviser. Having taken time to explore how this firm operated, I observed five significant challenges:
- Clients reached out late for discussion and advice
- Technical brilliance was abounding – yet the team struggled to deliver commercial advisory solutions
- The partners could sell well; the team could not
- Partners had become the bottleneck for knowledge, client relationships and service
- Plenty of services were on offer. None were in a repeatable and scalable format.
“There is an art to selling. You should position yourself as an extension of your client’s team; in essence, their private consultant.”
5 upselling tactics to try
This firm was facing an uphill battle to become the private business advisory it wanted to be. I made the following recommendations but, ask yourself, how well does your firm embrace these tactics?
1. Make an early impact
Prospects need to know from the outset that valuable help is within reach. Once you identify your preferred client type, you should create three or four high-value, low-cost, easily scalable ‘gifts’ appropriate for your clients’ concerns.
Discovery sessions, white-labelled strategy and tactics, or perhaps a guide that uncovers common pitfalls – your audience needs confirmation early on that your firm will make a real difference for them.
2. Explore the hidden challenges
The team I consulted with believed they had a firm grasp of the challenges their clients faced. But when I asked a few more questions, it became clear they spent too much time on resolving symptoms, not on the root of a problem.
We created a structured series of questions to gain deeper insights of client issues. By clarifying their clients’ unspoken hopes, motivators and challenges, this accounting firm was then able to craft solutions that resolved what really mattered.
3. Follow a repeatable framework
If every engagement is unique, how can a service be scalable? Accounting firms need to produce consistent high-quality output, be able to guide a client through the delivery process, and enable lower costs by using standardised methods.
Every consultant has a process, and accounting firms need one, too. A simple framework I use is ‘Explore, Design, Deliver, Review’. This framework detangles a client’s current way of working, maps out a future free of challenge, and provides guidance on what will be done to achieve that objective. Roles are clarified, metrics of success are agreed on, and tactics are put in place to prevent any regression to bad habits.
4. Look at your service as a product
Accounting firms need a branded, scalable solution that turns its services into a ‘product’. This product should repeatedly resolve the challenges your desired clients face, delivering solutions they find remarkable. It will differentiate your practice, increase advisory revenue, as well as identify and weed out those prospects that waste your time and have no real intent to work with you.
5. Don’t just talk – do a drawing
The most effective way of engaging a prospect is with a whiteboard and marker or a tablet and stylus. Don’t just talk about the problem and solution – draw it. Use a client’s figures, challenges and strategy to bring them into the discussion so they take ownership of the solution.
You could use a simple illustration of the sector your client is in, identifying where a prospect may sit, or the dominant obstacles faced and what it would mean when resolved.
Make sure you’re looking for the buying signals. The moment a prospect picks up a pen and contributes to the display, it’s at that point you know you have them as a client.
Upselling is a planned discussion
What can be expected from applying these recommendations? The firm I worked with saw a top line increase of almost 20%. The team responsible for applying the principles generated 70% of the advisory revenue. The target client was refined and services were made into products that better met the needs of this specific audience. Their five-year growth goals could now be achieved in three.
Upselling in public practice is a structured process that is full of value. It’s a passionate display of deep knowledge, a demonstration that you understand where a prospect finds themselves, and an explanation of the results they could expect when working with you.
These are not unplanned, off-the-cuff discussions. They follow a carefully designed consulting framework, yet have enough flexibility that they don’t appear scripted.
When you empower your team with practical consulting skills, the fear in selling dissolves and partners are no longer the bottleneck.