Networker: Things to love and, er… hate

DID YOU ASPIRE to be an accountant because of the glamour of business development? I suspect not. Do you routinely find fee earners within your practice whose career has stalled because of their reluctance to take on a new business target? So, what is it that makes accountants shy away from selling, the very thing we need to be good at if we are going to keep our practices growing and healthy?

Here are five reasons that I believe lie at the root of the problem.

1. Selling accountancy services is hard. Let’s be honest, combine long sales cycles, an inertia with clients which prevents them from wanting to change their professional advisor, the need for credibility and trust to be present, procurement departments and so on: it’s enough to give even the sharpest and slickest salesman a headache.

2. Negative stereotypes associated with selling. When I ask you to think of a sales person, what comes to mind? A pushy used car salesman? In fact, when people in our firm are good at selling, we never talk about them as a great sales person. We talk about them as a great marketing person or good at business development or a rain maker. Never a sales person.

3. We are very rarely trained to sell. I don’t want to have a dig at your firm’s policy on learning and development but I suspect that your fee earners are regularly prodded to keep their technical competence high (CPD points anyone?), yet there is significantly less active support to help them improve their ability to sell. As we climb the career ladder in a practice, at some point we are expected to have miraculously acquired the ability to develop new business as we are given a new business target, without any formal or informal sales training. It’s sink or swim time…

4. We are conditioned to expect to make the sale in one phone call or meeting. It all goes back to the stereotype of a sales person; we see them at the first sales meeting, pushing for a yes to close the deal and not leaving without one. We have been conditioned to try to make the sale on the first meeting rather than seeing sales as a process and focusing on getting to the next stage in the process.

5. We fear rejection. If you push yourself into a sales situation, there can only be three outcomes: yes, no or maybe. Deep inside us all, we all have a little person in us who just wants to be liked. It’s this little person who tells us that if we have to do some ‘selling’ then there is a chance it might end badly for us, and they wouldn’t want to be our friend. This is all codswallop in reality but something not too dissimilar to this is often going around in our heads when we approach a sale. Have I missed anything out?

This is the latest in a series of columns from Heather Townsend, author of ‘The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking’ and a specialist in working with Accountants. Heather regularly blogs at Partnership Potential and Joined Up Networking.

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