Article researched and written by Charles M. Vaughn
It is widely known that accountants are big-time number crunchers, while this is true it is equally important for accountants or for the partners of firms to be more than number crunchers. An accounting firm is like any other business. While its core activity is to provide financial services, it still requires to focus on other key areas that are vital for running the firm like a business enterprise. One such area is the sales process, which unfortunately in most accounting firms is one of the most underlooked areas.
The sales process is a set of repeatable steps that starts with pitching or conveying the idea to the customer and ends with closing the deal. The sales process can be considered as a funneling process for the customers. For an accounting firm, the sales process funnels the customer and leads them to the service plan that they came looking for.
Without a sales plan, a firm would find it extremely difficult to convert all leads into happy customers. This is one of the mistakes that many accounting firms and even freelancers make. As long as they are getting business, they focus on working diligently, making sure that they provide the best service possible. But as soon as the business or orders dry up, they realize that the stroke of luck has ended and they now have no functional sales process, to keep a steady stream of customers trickling in at all times.
Accounting firms can have a number of steps in their sales process, depending on their size and preferences. At the time of designing the sales process, it is important to remember the services that the firm provides. Knowing your ability will help to cut down any leads that are irrelevant. This will also help the firm define its niche and target market, both of which are very important.
Let us now start by looking at a simple and small accounting firm. A typical sales process for an accounting firm looks like this.
- Lead generation: Client reaches the firm.
- First contact: Firm sets up a meeting to understand the client and their requirements.
- Proposal: The firm uses the information generated in first contact, to draw up a proposal with terms and conditions.
- Acceptance: The client accepts the proposal and work commences.
This is a typical sales process. It can be changed, based upon the size and preferences of the firm. It is important to remember that time is not a limiting factor when it comes to the sales process. Usually, people say that the sales process should be fast and swift. In reality, it should be slow and measured. The firm should take its time to get to know the client in the first meeting.
For a small accounting firm, the first meeting can be anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour. This is the amount of time it takes to understand the average client and what they want from the business.
Alternatively, many accounting firms automate their client funneling process at step one. Such firms usually have a form that the clients fill on their site. This form gives preliminary information to the firm. Firms dealing with small clients and freelancers, usually do not even need to arrange a meeting once the automated form has been submitted. They can usually send a proposal based on the requirement and start working as soon as it is accepted.
Firms can however consider whether they need to arrange a meeting with the client, if the requirements are complex or not understood through the automated form. This takes us to the case of medium sized and large firms. They usually have a sales process that has five or more steps.
Large firms have the first meeting to gauge the client, followed by a second meeting that involves various experts for instance from the tax, legal and IT departments to understand the client better.
This is followed by a team meeting, to design the service plan and proposal for the client. The proposal, consisting of terms, conditions, time required, fee and any other details is sent to the client. Upon acceptance and delivery of signed documents, the work can commence.
Some large firms prefer to hold a third meeting to deliver the proposal and agree upon it. In this manner, if the client has any objections to the proposal, they can be addressed then and there without any delay.
Thus, having a properly formulated sales process in place, can help a firm funnel the clients and streamline the pitching and client onboarding process, resulting in increasing customer satisfaction and better value creation.