Hiring pros to help you win new clients.
|By Colette Nassutti|
Colette Nassutti is a consultant to accounting, law and other professional services organizations. She is the author of Turning Sales Over to the Pros: Fourteen CPA Firms Share Their Experiences , which was issued by the American Institute of CPAs management of an accounting practice committee.
M any CPA firm partners and managers argue they don't have enough time to win new clients. In fact, it is time-consuming to search the marketplace for businesses that fit your firm's target market profile, determine whether or not they are qualified prospects and begin to establish relationships with them. A skilled professional salesperson can help a CPA firm acquire new clients while also helping the professional staff develop stronger marketing skills. Even a firm that uses sophisticated marketing efforts and has a marketing director can profit by hiring a good salesperson or telemarketer.
This article looks at some of the ways professional salespeople can help CPA firms and provides two case studies of firms that have employed pros to boost their client base.
WHAT CAN A SALESPERSON
DO FOR US?
A firm's managing partner will not be interested in having another professional on the payroll unless he or she understands precisely how a telemarketer or salesperson can add to the firm's bottom line. Following are the services a sales pro can offer a firm at each stage of the sales process.
- Development of new leads and referral sources based on the firm's acceptance criteria. The salesperson can acquire a list of local entities that fit the firm's target client profile, evaluate whether the prospective clients meet the criteria, market the firm through direct contacts and cold-calls and build rapport with potential candidates until the prospects meet with firm partners.
- Introducing the CPA or CPA team to prospective clients. The salesperson can select an appropriate CPA or team to visit the prospect and prepare that CPA or team for sales calls, including scheduling and supporting the first sales call and conducting fact-finding. This involves providing a complete history on the progress the salesperson has made in developing a relationship with the prospective client as well as a profile of the prospect.
- Support of the proposal process. The salesperson can help the CPA or team interpret the results of the first sales call, prepare a written proposal, plan the oral presentation and coach the CPA(s) who will present the proposal.
- Presenting the proposal. This is when the CPA and team (and the sales pro) meet with the prospect. The sales pro can act as the team leader, key presenter or the "closer."
- Follow-up. The salesperson can maintain contact with the new client to support quality assurance and to cross-sell additional services. The sales pro can become the second line of contact with the firm when, for example, the client can't contact the engagement manager. The client can call the salesperson, who can determine the nature of the client's concern and relay it to the CPA in charge of the client.
- Conducting exit interviews on lost proposals. The sales pro can contact prospective clients that have chosen not to work with the firm to learn which firms they selected, why they selected those firms and how the proposal process can be improved.
The degree to which salespeople are involved in each of these stages of the sales cycle varies by firm. In some cases, a salesperson can function as a telemarketer who is primarily responsible for identifying and evaluating prospects. At that point, the lead is turned over to a CPA, who is solely responsible for needs analysis, proposals and closing. In other firms, the salesperson is actively involved throughout the sale, from identifying and evaluating the prospect to signing an engagement letter.
HOW OTHERS HAVE DONE IT:
TWO CASE STUDIES
Here is a look at two CPA firms that have integrated sales professionals into their business development.
1. Hiring a contract telemarketer
CPA firm A, with a single office, 10 partners and 80 professional staff, retained a telemarketer to sell the firm's services to a particular industry niche. The firm had been targeting the industry for two and a half years through traditional marketing methods-a quarterly newsletter, public relations, sponsoring an annual trade conference and CPA participation in relevant trade associations. It had won few new clients as a result of its conventional marketing practices.
The telemarketer-an independent contractor with extensive experience in business-to-business selling-placed calls to companies on the firm's prospect list and set up appointments for partners working in that industry niche. Reporting daily to the firm's marketing director, she managed appointment setting, oversaw the sales effort and was paid a fixed fee for each appointment.
After eight months of telemarketing, the firm secured roughly 85 appointments, 12 new clients and $200,000 in new, recurring fees-a return well in excess of the cost of securing that business. The best part was that firm A's CPAs were able to invest most of their marketing time in sales calls with qualified prospects.
2. Hiring a full-time salesperson
Firm B, with a multioffice practice, hired a salesperson for a branch office with 10 partners and 100 professional staff. The sales pro, who prospected and sold for all partners and practice areas based on a predetermined target client profile, was a college graduate with 13 years' experience in commercial lending.
The salesperson reported directly to the office's managing partner and was given the title of director of client development. His duties included generating leads through cold-calling and networking; attending the first sales call with the partner; and managing follow-up activities, including scheduling appointments, sending out letters and writing the proposal. He also coached and trained the partners and managers in personal selling skills.
Within 12 months of employment, the sales pro had generated 80 proposals with a 65% "win" rate, which converted into $700,000 in new fees for the firm. He received a base salary in the mid-50s and earned a commission of 5% from fees generated during the first year and 2% of fees generated during the second and third years' billings.
PREPARE BEFORE YOU HIRE
Not all CPA firms that have hired professional salespeople have enjoyed the successes recounted in the two case studies. The reasons for poor results vary, but the following recommendations may help you hire the right person for your firm:
- All partners must agree on the decision to hire a professional salesperson.
- Partners should understand how marketing and sales functions work. This is vital to properly defining the salesperson's role and to hiring the right person.
- Partners must be ready to have a salesperson involved in the process. This means ceding certain tasks to the sales pro while taking on even more work in other areas, such as being ready to jump when the salesperson finally does land an appointment with a prospect. Some CPAs are surprised at the time demands imposed on them and may not see the merit in following up immediately on the leads their telemarketers develop. This is a "no-no." A CPA cannot reschedule an appointment with a prospective client or fail to follow up with alacrity once the lead has been developed.
- The salesperson must have something to sell-the firm's unique selling proposition. Firms possessing an industry niche orientation or a specialty service generally see improved results more quickly.
- When hiring a salesperson, look for product knowledge, a track record of proven sales results in the business-to-business environment, a good personality, a strong work ethic, contacts in the target market, patience, flexibility and the ability to train and coach others.
- The managing partner must champion the sales effort, direct the salesperson's work and set level-of-effort standards for the salesperson.
- The firm as a whole must set realistic expectations (and be patient), establish the sales and marketing infrastructure needed to support the salesperson's efforts (and not expect to see the salesperson in the office very often) and reward the sales pro for results he or she can control.