Many accountancy firms are identifying how to move away from being solely reliant on selling compliance services. In this blog post, Heather Townsend, founder of the 'The Accountants Millionaires’ Club' explains why many firms struggle to get their clients to take on any non-compliance based services.
If you read any sales research you will hear over and over again that your existing clients are the easiest people to sell more stuff too. And, this means expensive stuff like advisory services. However, for every firm which is managing to sell advisory services like management accounts and reporting to their client, there is another firm struggling to bridge the gap. If you can’t get your existing clients to buy advisory services from you, what hope have you got of selling advisory to new clients?
As with anything in accountancy, the reasons for clients not buying is often multi-faceted. For this article, I will focus on the top 4 reasons why accountants struggle to upsell advisory services to their client.
Poor sales skills
When I have watched accountants in a sales situation many of them start to behave like they are a waiter. I.e. a glorified order taker. This can work for compliance services when there is a tangible output and a legal reason why your prospects or clients need to take them. It’s not quite the same with advisory services. Advisory services or even stuff like management accounts are optional for clients. They just don’t need to take them.
In fact, your three biggest competitors with advisory services are:
- Inertia - is the pain big enough for them to do something different?
- Technology - will technology give them the answers?
- Their real or perceived in-house existing capability – can we do this ourselves?
When you are selling advisory services, you must not only convince your prospect that you are the right person to help them, but also that they have a deep, urgent and pressing need to take this service. Unless you have good sales skills, you will struggle to make the sale. I know a lot of accountants think that good sales people are born rather than made. This isn’t the case in my view. With a tried and tested process and checklist for your meeting with your client you can significantly improve your ability to sell advisory to your clients.
Selling the wrong thing
If your sales skills are not top notch, you are only going to make it harder for clients to buy by trying to sell them something that they don’t want to buy! I often hear accountants wondering exactly what advisory services they should offer to their client. Many accountants often fall into the trap of believing they know exactly what they clients actually need, without checking their assumptions with their clients. Therefore, defining a set of advisory services without doing any market research.
It is so much easier to make a sale when you are helping your clients buy. So, the first step to any successful sale is to do your market research. This market research has several purposes. It helps you understand their world, their challenges and their pain points. It also helps you capture their language and their way of putting things so any copy you write really speaks your clients’ language. Thus, removing a barrier to a successful sale.
Accountants are often fast followers. So, don’t fall into the trap of following your peers when you decide what advisory services to offer. Do your research and really listen to your clients and what they want to buy, and how they want to buy it.
Not defining the value for the client
As I have already mentioned in this article, unlike mandatory compliance services, advisory services are purely optional for a client. This means that you need to find a source of ‘pain’ which is painful enough to take this service from you, rather than doing nothing or doing it in-house.
Let’s take management accounts as a great example of where many accountancy firms are already adding real value to their clients; helping them be in control of their day-to-day finances. However, many clients don’t want to buy management accounts. There is often no implied value in taking another report. Particularly if they believe they can probably get this straight from their accounting system! Whereas if you can attach a value to management accounts which your client desperately wants or needs, e.g. to help them keep control of their cash flow and take informed decisions on business strategy, suddenly your clients can see the value of management accounts or Silverfin reports.
Selling to the wrong clients
Given that advisory services are optional, not all your clients will need more than compliance services. (And that is okay.) It could be that their business is just not big enough to need anything more than basic compliance and some simple tax planning advice. Therefore, if you are going to have some successful sales meetings upselling advisory services to your client base you need to have researched which of your clients are the right people to aim to sell too. For example, a start-up business is unlikely to be in the market for exit planning or retirement coaching. But may be interested in a mastermind group for young companies who want to grow.
To successfully upsell advisory services to your clients you need firstly to be selling them services they want to buy. But equally importantly, use a tried and tested sales process/checklist to help them see the value in your services.
Heather Townsend is the Founder of ‘The Accountants Millionaires’ Club'. In 2015 the ICAEW decided she was the number one online influencer for the accountancy profession. She is the author of 4 books, including The Go-To Expert, and ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ (co-authored with Jo Larbie).