Sales Skills for Accountants? The Top Five Reasons Accountants Don’t Convert Their Sales Proposals

By Posted in - Public Blog on August 2nd, 2017 7 Comments

Accountants need sales skills to convert proposals

Have you ever been frustrated at becoming a ‘proposal chaser’?

This is where you send a proposal to a prospective client—or a proposal for a new or expanded engagement with an existing client—and then you follow-up via phone and email to no avail. This is a sign that your sales process is flawed. Apart from not converting the business, being a proposal chaser is not a good look. You lose your positioning and authority when you follow-up multiple times. It sucks, it doesn’t work and it wastes your time.

What leads to an accountant or advisor becoming a proposal chaser?

It could be that you don’t have a structured sales process; or it could be that one of the steps in your sales process is broken. Just as with a chain, it only takes one link to be broken for the entire chain to be broken, and so it is with your sales process. If one step is broken, the entire process is broken and you fail to convert proposals. To help you get the right system in place, the value of selling skills for accountants is hard to understate.

In my 25-plus years of consulting to businesses around marketing, selling, and innovation, here are the top 5 reasons I’ve seen on why accountants don’t convert their sales proposals…


1. Abdication: 

You think a proposal will “do the selling” for you. A proposal is not a sales person. It does not sell for you. A proposal simply confirms the sale you have already made and agreed to, in conversation with the prospect. The proposal’s primary purpose is to clarify and specify what the prospect has agreed to purchase, and to make it easy for them to confirm and pay for the engagement.

2. Procrastination: 

You take too long to get the proposal to the prospect. We recommend live and collaborative scoping and pricing where in a meeting with a prospect together you scope up the engagement live on-screen. Practice Ignition is a great tool for this. Live, collaborative scoping and pricing requires that you have clearly defined your services, your pricing, your packages and so on. (We often help PARADOX members with this clarification process.)

If you’re still selling an amorphous blob of time—good ol’ time-cost billing—then you’re unable to effectively do live, collaborative pricing and scoping.

But if you have effectively structured and productised your services… imagine this.

You’re in a meeting with a prospect. You’ve had a great conversation about what they want to achieve and the services they want from your firm. Together you scope up what the firm will do for their business each month, each quarter and each year. You’ve been able to see their response as each service was added to the scope and the monthly price displayed at the bottom of the screen increased. The prospect is comfortable with the monthly subscription price for the scoped services and you ask them if they’re happy for you send them the proposal for the acceptance. They say yes. You click a few buttons to email the proposal off to them. They get it on their smartphone within seconds. They open the proposal on their smartphone and—right there in the meeting with you—they tap Accept. Sweet. They are now a client.

But with Practice Ignition it gets better from there. Imagine then if all the services specified in the proposal—whether initial once-off projects or ongoing services—instantly got set up in Xero Practice Manager (a.k.a. WorkflowMax) without anyone in your firm having to lift a finger. Nice, huh?

And the cherry to top it all off… imagine if all the invoicing and payment processing for the initial and ongoing payments were all automated off the back-end. Imagine the time you’d save. Imagine how quickly and efficiently your sales and onboarding processes would flow into each other. Your new client would be impressed.

If, however, you’re still doing the old school sales process where at the end of the meeting with the prospect you say something to the effect of, “Okay, I’ll get the proposal to you in the next day or so…” you then run into the next fatal flaw…

3. Sticker shock:

This term means “shock or dismay experienced by the potential buyers of a particular product on discovering its high or increased price” and—for accountants or advisors—it happens if the first time your prospect sees the fee, it’s in the proposal that they get after the meeting. You want to provide the price to your prospect in the meeting, face-to-face (which includes web meetings if you have webcams on and can clearly see their face). That way you can read the all important non-verbals. The silent flinches. The body language that tells you, “Okay, it looks like the price is reaching a point that might be uncomfortable for them or above their expectations.”

If they feel that way, you want that to happen in the meeting so you can then discuss it and potentially adjust the scope. (Note: You never discount. But you can adjust the scope. For example, if you had included monthly management reporting accountability sessions with them to review their performance, you could reduce that scope to be quarterly sessions instead of monthly.

4. Waiting… waiting…:

This Is where not only did you not instantly provide the proposal in the meeting with the prospect, your promise of getting them the proposal in “the next day or so” bloats out to be a week or more.

Worst case—and sadly I have heard so many stories like this from prospective clients of accounting firms—you take so long they end up having to chase you just to get the proposal from you.

By this time—if they even bother to do this—they lose interest because they’re unimpressed by your inability to even meet your first promise to them. You give them the impression right from the outset that you don’t follow-through on time on promises.

5. Bespoke, custom proposals:

If at this point you’re thinking, “But creating a good proposal takes a lot of time. I need to craft a good proposal and do a lot of work to clarify the scope, do the bottom-up costing and the top-down pricing of the engagement,” then this is a symptom that you are suffering from a lack of clarity and structure on your services, packages and pricing model. You’re probably still selling that ’ticking clock’ which—not only do people not want to buy—is difficult to scope, difficult to price and difficult to sell.

I’d go so far to say that if your firm does highly bespoke, labour-intensive, fully custom proposals then you don’t have an effective business model. You’re selling time not value. You’re not selling outcomes. Your business model is a dinosaur.

There are other causes which lead to you becoming a frustrated proposal chaser. Like not BAMFAM’ing at the end of every meeting: BAMFAM stands for Book A Meeting From A Meeting so you never cut a proposal loose with no defined next step or appointment.

Sales process is crucial. Sales skills are crucial for accountants and advisors. You might be a great advisor with a great team and whole raft of business advisory tools and apps at your disposal, but when it comes to optional value-add services, you don’t get to deliver what you never learn to sell.

We have ‘inch wide, mile deep’ expertise in sales process and sales skills and have a range of training and facilitation processes available to you, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or experienced when it comes to selling advisory services. We can deliver training on-site, face-to-face or via the web.

And the results we achieve for firms are often quite dramatic. Just watch the webinar recording, Accountants Guide – The New Rules for Creating and Converting Proposals, Fast on our YouTube Channel. You’ll see my interview with Ben Walker from Inspire CA who—within the space of a month—we transformed from being a proposal chaser, into an effective advisor who can sell value-add services. You’ll also get a snapshot of how Practice Ignition works, too.

If you’d like to have a chat with us about your sales process or proposal process, get in touch with us here.

(7) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Dom Papaluca -

    August 3, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Great Article MC. We have 100% of our fees go through Practice Ignition, it is a fantastic tool for us…and has streamlined our client onboarding and engagement process. However, we are guilty of not being clear about our service offering…and sending the proposals out too late…AND that leads to chasing proposals (as you have outlined here). This is great food for thought…and I’ll be doing it all face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) with clients from now on…and I’m glad we have Practice Paradox in our corner – giving us these insights. Thank you!

    • MC Carter -

      August 3, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Thanks for your comment and feedback Dom! Looking forward to helping you eliminate proposal chasing from your life. You’ll love doing your scoping and pricing live and collaboratively with your prospects and clients. It’s works so well. And with your new, simplified, structured way of describing your services, it will all flow well, consistently and conversationally. When you hit hurdles doing it live, let us know and often there are steps that can be done prior to such a meeting, to avoid that happening.

  • Kirsten Barrie -

    August 5, 2017 at 8:26 am

    This is really important for firms of the future to grasp! It’s much easier on the client and makes everything go smoothly! Thanks for the great article!

    • MC Carter -

      August 16, 2017 at 7:46 am

      Thanks Kirsten! Glad you liked the article. Yep, having an effective sales process can transform a business. We’ve seen many businesses double and triple their revenue in the course of 12 months—nit by generating more leads—but by having a sales process that converts better, converts faster, and at higher dollar values (due to the the ability to sell value-add management accountant and advisory services in addition to tax and compliance.

  • Sanelisiwe -

    September 20, 2017 at 5:27 am

    Wow I wish I had meet this blog 3 years when we started the practice. I guess it’s never too late. I would like to know more about your services. Interested client ….South Africa

    • MC Carter -

      September 20, 2017 at 6:57 am

      Hi Sanelisiwe. Thanks for your comment. I’ll drop you a line.

  • Gloria Akpata – Nigeria -

    October 23, 2017 at 2:48 am

    Very insightful and educative. thank you