To advance, learn to sell

Developing sales skills is a key to a young CPA’s career development.

To advance, learn to sellCPA license? Check. Learning the latest tax code or regulations? Check. Work with clients on engagements? Check.

Prospect for new business and learn how to sell? What? Is this part of your job?

Successful young CPAs say that selling is indeed one of the key skills that they must concentrate on to advance their careers.

“I’m at a point in my career where I’m strong on the technical side, so in order for me to continue to be challenged and grow, I know I need to start focusing on selling and expanding our firm’s footprint,” said Andy Coutts, CPA, manager of Assurance Services at SS&G, a full-service firm with offices in Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and New York City. “The sooner I refine these skills, the better.”

Coutts has worked in public accounting for more than seven years, including serving two years with SS&G in its Chicago office. He believes mastering the selling process is a great way for accountants to get a leg up on the competition in the short term—and to secure long-term success for themselves and their firm.

“I know younger members of a firm feel their focus should be on existing work instead of selling new work,” he said. “However, being able to attract new clients is also very important to professional development, career advancement, and the firm’s bottom line.”

Sonia Freeman, CPA, director and audit practice leader at PKF Texas in Houston, is familiar with what young professionals go through to learn how to sell. The firm refers to its younger staff as “cubesters,” a group whose first step to selling is taking the initiative to get to know the clients.

“If you want to be valuable to your employer or firm, you must develop relationships with existing clients, first, then combine technical competence with the ability to sell by introducing your firm’s services to those interested,” she said. “They can be existing clients, prospects and even referral sources.”

In order to become better at selling, Freeman advises young CPAs to reach out to senior members in the firm to find out how they progressed in their career. She also suggests that young CPAs ask to be included, where appropriate, in prospect meetings.

Taking a team approach to developing new business also helps.

“At PKF Texas, we encourage our younger team members to sell the firm, first, then sell our services, whether the services are in your discipline or another area,” Freeman said. “It’s not about just selling what you do, but also getting clients and prospects to the right people in your firm who handle complementary services.”

Coutts said he cultivates contacts while staying true to who he is—which sometimes means mixing work with personal time.

“I’m an avid tennis player, so I try to make it a point to personally connect with others participating in a league or drill with me, knowing that they may need my help or know someone who does,” he said. “When it comes to selling, I feel it is very much about connecting on a personal level. There are other firms qualified to provide similar services, so for me, the selling process should be focused on finding and nurturing the right connection, even if it doesn’t result in an immediate win.”

Firms can help encourage young CPAs to sell by offering incentive programs and providing sales-based training. Training begins with teaching young CPAs how to listen for triggers and realize there may be an opportunity.

“At PKF Texas, we had a client that started out needing outsourced accounting, but ended up using services from multiple departments because we saw areas for the client to grow and get help throughout the process,” Freeman said. “There is a mystique to sales that sometimes feels uncomfortable. If we can begin the process of training team members to understand that sales really begins with developing relationships and knowing how to pursue opportunities, then selling can actually be fun!”

How will you learn how to sell? Here are three best practices:

  1. Attend weekly networking meet-ups or niche industry meetings and actively participate in discussions. When you participate, attendees will want to know more about you and what you do.

  2. Use social media to connect with people you don’t know; LinkedIn is a great way to develop relationships.

  3. Ask a senior member in your firm if you can attend prospect meetings to learn how to talk about what the firm offers in a way that benefits the prospect. You’ll also learn how to close the deal.

Scott Cytron is president of Cytron and Company.

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