Keeping the sales funnel full and winning new clients is crucial to continued growth and the sustainability of any accounting firm. Yet, often, the sales process can prove to be a struggle for accounting professionals—specifically the ability to foster deeper conversations with prospective clients.
At the center of a strong sales process is getting your prospects to talk—to disclose their feelings around pain points, wants and needs. This level of conversation supports deeper discovery, and ultimately, sets you up for far more successful sales efforts.
The art of selling begins with understanding what your clients truly need. With this information in hand, you are better equipped to align your services with clients' needs. You are also better positioned to articulate the value of your services—that is, how you can help solve their pain points. Getting to this point, of course, takes patience and time. It requires you to invest in educating and nurturing prospects to build trust and dispel common objections.
To help you master the art of the sale, we were joined by experts from Xero, Jordan Cooper, Senior Accounts Manager and Tate Henshaw, Xero Ambassador. Cooper and Henshaw offer valuable insights into the sales process, complete with real-world examples to help you break through common objections and win the clients you want.
In Part I of this two-part series, you will be introduced to the discovery phases of the selling process. You will also be introduced to proven and tested tips on how to master the art of conversation to move prospects through the sales funnel and closer to conversion. In Part II, we’ll supply you with common prospect objections and ways to overcome them in order to capture the win!
Sales Made Simple
The sales process doesn’t have to be complex and convoluted. In fact, it’s quite simple when you consider it in two distinct phases—Discovery and Ongoing Sales.
The simplified sales process above offer the basics—from identifying prospects to ongoing value-add sales. This article focuses on the Discovery phase—the launching pad for successful client conversion.
The discovery phase is best represented as the communications portion of the process. It’s where you begin your conversation with prospects—where you begin to uncover their needs. It’s the “starting block” of the bigger sales race, and arguably, the toughest part of the process for many accounting professionals.
Discovery is critical to a successful sales effort because this is where you collect the bulk of prospect intel. This is the information you will use to guide the prospect through the sales process, to build credibility and trust, and to vet prospective clients (that is, are they a good fit for your firm?).
“If there's one thing to take away from today’s webinar, it would be to understand how important the discovery phase is to your success...to recruit new prospects and close new business.” - Jordan Cooper, Xero
The discovery phase is broken down into two key categories: Identify and Interview. The following sections detail both, supported by real-world examples.
Identify The Clients You Want
The key to long-term clients is making sure you convert the right clients in the first place. The identify phase of the sales process helps you vet prospects that are a good fit for your firm. Asking the right questions upfront will help you qualify prospective clients and ensure that what you offer aligns with their business needs.
The identify phase represents the highest level of discovery. This is where you will ask prospects about their business—who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Questions, such as: “Why do you operate the way you do?” or “Why did you start your business in the first place?” are good catalysts for detailed responses.
“During this phase [identify], the goal is to gather as much information about the prospect as possible, so you can tailor your value proposition to support the wants, needs and pain points of the prospect.” - Jordan Cooper, Xero
To gather the best information on prospects, you have to keep them talking. Jordan Cooper advised, “In the sales cycle, information is power. The better job that we do at qualifying our prospect at this phase, the fewer objections we will experience later on in the sales cycle.”
Tate Henshaw added: “You can’t identify, interview and close a client all in one phone call. That’s just not realistic. You have to take as much time as it takes to gather your identify phase information. Many of the objections I’ve run into in sales could have been mitigated if I had taken more time to listen to the prospect, instead of doing all the talking and trying to sell.”
To be successful in the identify phase, Cooper and Henshaw offered the following recommendations:
Listen—The more you listen, the more information you will collect. After posing a question to a prospect, let them talk as long as they like. All intel is good intel.
Do not make assumptions—Make sure you have a clear understanding of the prospect’s business. If there is something you don’t understand, ask the prospect directly to explain it to you. Making assumptions can potentially cause major problems down the line in your sales process in terms of helping to align your services with the client’s needs.
Take your time—Commit to investing the time. Gather the information you need, ask the questions you need to ask and let your prospects talk as long as they need to talk. Do the discovery work necessary upfront, and you will reap the benefits in the long run.
Interview The Clients You Want
Getting to the interview phase of the sales process means that you’ve collected the information required to move on to a more in-depth interview. This is where you land after you’ve qualified your prospect and identified them as a good fit for your business model.
At this point, you will continue to develop the relationship and build trust by offering prospects the right information at the right time. This means getting into a comfortable information-sharing cadence—educating clients, offering expert advice on ways to solve their pain points and clearly articulating the value of your services.
Another goal at this phase is to continue to build on the emotional connection you’ve made with your prospect. To do this, Cooper and Henshaw provided the following guidelines:
Ask open-ended questions—This is a no-brainer, but worth mentioning. If you ask a yes-or-no question, you’ll get a yes-or-no answer. Ask questions that encourage more thought and more emotion from the prospect. For example, if a prospect has revealed a major pain point in their business, ask: “Why do you feel this is an issue? Or “What is your ultimate goal for the business if this issue is corrected?” Asking open-ended questions will lead prospects to share far more information with you.
Take a consultative stance—This is the stage where you’ll want to offer your expertise. This is an opportunity to dig deeper into pain points and offer insight on real resolutions. Taking the stance of an advisor will help build on the emotional connection and further elevate your credibility.
Cooper offered the following example to help advance the emotional connection during the interview phase:
Prospect: “Our manual AR process is taking far too much of my time."
Firm’s response: Ask follow-up questions that make the prospect really face the pain of the issue—questions that will elicit a deeper, more emotion-fueled answer. Follow-up questions might include: "How does it make you feel to know that you're dedicating so much time to a manual AP process, and what would you do with that extra time if the process were more efficient?” or “How have delays and errors impacted your business relationships with your vendors and suppliers?"
It’s important not to take initial answers at face value. The interview phase is the time to dig deeper. This information can then be used to mold your value proposition and show the prospect how you can help them solve their issues and accomplish their goals.
Henshaw advised, “If we force the prospect to take a more holistic view of their pain points and your value proposition, it will naturally reduce the number of objections you will face as you move forward to win their business.”
“If we force the prospect to take a more holistic view of their pain points and your value proposition, it will naturally reduce the number of objections you will face as you move forward to win their business.” - Tate Henshaw, Xero
The Wrap (for Now)…
So far in Part I, we’ve covered the core elements of the discovery phase within the larger sales process. This is where you’ll make your biggest time commitment—and rightfully so. Discovery provides you with meaningful information and allows you to make a deeper emotional connection with prospective clients.
By truly listening to prospects’ wants, needs and pain points and asking the right questions to elicit deeper, focused information, you set yourself up to better combat objections later in the sales cycle and earn their trust. And all of this adds up to winning clients!
Be sure to come back for Part II of this series where we will cover the common objections of prospects and give you valuable, real-life insight into how to overcome them.
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