Why being an outstanding number-cruncher is no longer enough

Why being an outstanding number-cruncher is no longer enough

Roy Sheppard explains why it is no longer enough for accountants to leave networking skills to sales and business development teams

Why being an outstanding number-cruncher is no longer enough

Did you put all that effort into qualifying as an accountant, in order to become a sales person?  Almost certainly not.  But as every successful partner will tell you, the more senior you become, the less you tend to rely on your technical knowledge and accounting skill.  You are expected to know that stuff. But what’s the difference for stellar performers?

It’s often down to how well connected you are and how much new business you bring into the firm.

Young, newly-qualified accountants in particular still hold on to the misguided belief that their qualifications and expertise are all they need for a successful career. They are quick to argue that bringing in new clients isn’t their job anyway.  That’s what account managers, marketing and “new business” colleagues are for.

But is it, anymore?  It has increasingly become a team activity in which everyone must play a part.  That message is now being shared more widely throughout forward-thinking firms.

Predominantly introverted accountants of all ages and experience levels loathe doing that stuff because it can feel so awkward. So, they find any excuse not to.  They’ve seen so many others come across as a pushy, double-glazing salesman.  They don’t ever want to be perceived in that way. In any case, they argue, if they’re great at what they do, clients will automatically flock to them!  But they don’t.  Not anymore.

The importance of networking skills

From a career perspective, professionals (of all ages) who avoid networking opportunities like the plague, are far more likely to get side-lined in the future. Especially in the volatile business environment we are operating in today, and increasingly tomorrow.  Traditionally, accountants do not develop business development skills until they have to.  That’s a strategic mistake for the individual and for their firms.

Professionals who have developed these priceless networking skills know that it’s absolutely not about pushing themselves on unsuspecting strangers. Instead, they are proactive about building their network with a focus on seeking out opportunities for others: their trusted colleagues, clients and contacts.  Every time they accurately identify an opportunity for someone else, they enhance their own reputations and integrity by adding value to those contacts. It’s never about trying to sell themselves.

Once you identify opportunities for members of your trusted network (including your accounting clients) you will start saying: “I know just the person you need to speak to”.  Crucially, when your network knows what opportunities you and your firm are looking for, those contacts will also start to say the same – and they’ll include your name!

Push v pull

This increases the quality and number of people who contact you because they want to talk to you and find out how you can help them.  This creates the shift from being “pushy” to being “pulley” – you start “pulling” opportunities towards you and your contacts. And just like an actual pulley, it provides you, and your firm with massive leverage.

These “pulley professionals” seem to know everyone, and crucially everyone knows them and is prepared to speak highly of them to those they know and trust.  They are brilliant at drawing others towards them because of who they are as people. Everyone, regardless of personality and temperament can develop these skills.

Of course, most firms already receive new business through introductions and word-of-mouth.  Professionals pride themselves on the robust systems they have in place to provide exceptional service for their clients. But in too many firms, business development is left to chance. It’s far too passive.

Accountants need to learn how to be proactive and develop their own system for encouraging more conversations with people who want to talk to them. With fewer conversations with strangers who don’t.

There is a huge opportunity for those who can figure out how to attract new business whilst maintaining and enhancing their professional reputations as trusted advisors.

This may require accounting firms reinventing themselves and developing an all-inclusive approach to business development.  But you can’t do that whilst stuck behind your desk.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you brighten a room when you walk in, or when you leave?”
  • What do your contacts, clients and colleagues currently say about you ‘behind your back’?
  • What else would you want them to say?  And why?
  • How well do your contacts understand how to describe your unique skills and expertise?
  • Why should anyone recommend you?
  • How much and how well do people currently know and trust you – as a person, not just as an accountant?
  • How much do you trust your colleagues in other disciplines?

Suppose you’re a tax specialist who meets someone who needs M&A expertise. Your firm offers that service. How much would you need to trust that M&A colleague before you’d be prepared to put your own reputation on the line to recommend them?

Referrals and introductions expert Roy Sheppard of PeoplePortfolio.com said: “Tomorrow’s business development is ALL about a proactive approach to every aspect of trust. I’d even say that leaving it to chance is a crime against your firm, and your future career. Obviously, you need to be totally trustworthy yourself, but it’s also about getting to know your internal and external contacts at a much deeper level. Are they more interested in what’s in it for them, or is the result for the client what really drives them?  Then only ever recommend those you are prepared to stake your own reputation on. There’s lots of brilliant technology around today but in my view, its best used to keep in touch with those you’ve already met face-to-face.”

It’s clear.  Successful firms in the future will need a far more integrated approach to their own business growth.  And everyone has an important part to play.

Roy Sheppard’s online video course “Referrals: The Classy Way” is available with a 25% discount until 31st July 2019 to you, your colleagues and your favourite clients. Enter this 25% discount code at the checkout – accountancy19

Visit: https://tinyurl.com/y6qmfnps

(Course duration approximately 2.5 hours)

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