None of us want to think about it, let alone admit it, but each and every one of us is a salesperson. If you are professional service provider, then you must first sell your services to a new client before you can ever put on your CPA, EA, or attorney hat.
This is why I always say that that most successful tax professionals study marketing and sales just as much, if not more, than they study their actual profession. Your Masters in Taxation or your LLM Tax is all and good, but to be quite honest, it doesn’t matter one bit if you’re in private practice and a high school dropout is outmarketing and outselling you. And yes, this happens. In fact, it could be happening to you without you realizing this.
This week I’m going to be talking about sales every day. We talk a lot about marketing to generate leads, and marketing to those leads over time to build a relationship with your prospects. But this week we’re going to delve into what happens after they actually come to visit you or they contact you on the phone.
Due to the fact that I consider tax resolution services to be the most difficult thing to sell within the tax and accounting sphere, I’ll be using that as the example.
There are dozens of different selling schools of thought that exist and that are taught via courses, books, and seminars. Personally, I am a firm believer in the “needs analysis” method of selling. This method has recently started to fall out of vogue in the guru universe, with a move back towards 1970’s style methods of selling in some respects, which tend to push the prospect in one particular direction and is based on creating agreement to options of the widget as you move towards making the big sales decision. For professionals services, I believe this method to be overly pushy, and would leave a prospect feeling as if they didn’t make the buying decision themselves (because they didn’t, we did). So for now, I am remaining a firm believer in needs based selling.
Needs analysis based selling also fits in perfectly with your existing concept of the “consultation”. We all know that the initial consultation is also a sales appointment, and so using needs analysis sales techniques tends to feel much more natural for most practitioners.
So what exactly is needs-based selling?
Well, have you ever talked to a salesperson that immediately launches into their sales pitch while knowing absolutely nothing about you, your business, your goals, or anything else?
That was a person that did NOT exhibit needs-based selling.
Needs based selling goes by several other names, including “consultative selling”, “question based selling”, and “needs analysis” selling. Needs based selling is pretty simple in concept: In order to be an effective salesperson and provide the best possible solutions to a prospect’s problem, you must first fully understand that problem and have enough information to formulate a solution that meets their needs. Consultative selling takes away the one size fits all approach to sales.
If you only offer one very specific service, then this may sound like an odd scenario to you. If that service happens to be tax resolution, then you think, “I offer tax resolution, I don’t have any other service to sell.” With needs-based selling, however, you’re delving deeper into the prospect’s issue, define their objectives, and put together a specific program just for them that is going to meet their objectives. In other words, every prospect gets a personalized tax resolution plan, not the identical boiler plate service agreement or bland, non-specific engagement letter that most practitioners are using.
So yes, you only have one specific service to offer, but you can tailor that service to the needs of your prospect. When I conduct an initial consultation with a new tax resolution prospect, it’s not a 10 minute conversation, which is the norm for unlicensed sales staff (for whom the real job is to get the proposal, Form 2848, and payment form in the prospect’s hands). As a licensed tax professional, you have the technical knowledge and the legal authorization to dispense actual tax advice, so do so. For me, it takes an average of 45 minutes to conduct a thorough tax resolution consultation, at which time the prospect leaves with an actual understanding of what will be done.
In tomorrow’s article, we’ll delve more into the needs analysis process, and how to turn a Q&A session into a sale.