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Brian Gunderson, Seattle, WA

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Three Owners and 18 Years Later, the Same CSR

For this article we are interviewing another CSR that was hired and trained by New Clients Inc. This Client Service Representative, Brian Gunderson, has a long and storied history with New Clients Inc. and with selling accounting services. He was hired and trained by the founder of NCI, Bruce Clark back in 1991. He actually did not get the job initially, but I’ll let you read how that played out. He gives a lot of valuable insight into the sales position and after reading this article you will understand why he has lasted 18+ years in the position, outlasting two former owners in the process.

Brian Gunderson

Brian Gunderson

Chris: Obviously you’ve got a long history with this job and this position, and NCI consequently. So can you tell me a little bit about how this all got started?

Brian: Sure, back in I believe it was September of 1991, I just saw an ad in the paper that looked rather attractive. And I went into the interview, and I remember walking into a room full of well-dressed guys. So obviously a lot of other people thought the ad was quite attractive. I got a phone call back [after the interview from] Bruce saying that I was number two. It was real close and they ended up taking the other gentleman. I was rather disappointed at the time, then I got a call back three weeks later from Marissa [the owner of the firm], and she said the first person was not working out very well.   She offered me the position and I took it immediately. And because we were in between seminar trainings in New Jersey, they sent out Joe who was a neat, neat guy, Joe Pastella I think it was. So Joe came out and I already had experience working with small businesses selling health insurance so it really wasn’t that difficult to walk in and present the services. It was a matter of Joe helping me get a little acquainted with the product/service itself. Then I flew up to New Jersey and went to the seminar training, which were very helpful of course.  It was a real informative meeting, I really enjoyed it. Then I proceeded to do my thing for Marissa and we grew very quickly, we grew like a weed.

Chris: I know the practice has been bought and sold a couple of times while you’ve been there, twice to be exact. And you were a part of that deal, a package deal if you will; a salesman and a growing firm. How did that make you feel or what was that process like?

Brian: That was pretty neat also, I was kind of sorry to see Marissa sell it after just one year but it was just getting too big for her to have to handle. And she was looking in the other direction. So a gentleman named Virgil bought it from Marissa after one year of being there with her, and I remember in the interview he said “Now you’re part of the deal here, so if you’re not going to stay with the change-over I’m probably not going to buy it” [Laughter]. So that was a nice compliment, yeah. And I said “No, no I love what I’m doing and whoever the next CPA would be I would hope to be a part of the program.” And sure enough he bought it and he then owned it for I believe about four years. Then the current CPA, Steve Wong, he purchased it. The business [continued to do] great, we grew even more and things went very, very well because I like my job. Eighteen years later I’m the still the CSR. 

Chris: Tell me about how learning product knowledge went in the early stages of the job.

Brian: I didn’t really need to have a lot of product knowledge because it was placed right in front of you and the clients [in the sales presentation manual included with the program.] So if I just followed the manual page by page and used my previous experience in sales and working with small businesses it was really very simple. And then in a very short period of time because you do it so much day after day, just by osmosis being around [the accounting services] so much you catch onto it quite quickly.

Chris: I’m sure the accountant probably helps out too in kind of putting some of it together for you.

Brian: Yeah, a little bit. In my case Marissa was rather new, she was not a super experienced CPA. She hadn’t been a CPA for a while and when she was she was a corporate CPA so she came out of running a corporate company of sorts. So she was kind of learning as she went along also. So I mainly just went with the material that was provided to me by New Clients Inc, and read it over and over. I went through it every single night to see what I was missing or if I could improve upon something.

[After an appointment] I would sit in my car and I’d consider okay did I miss this, did I miss that, and look back over my material. This was in the first few weeks that I did this, and I’d look back over my material and make sure that I covered everything in that particular sale that I could and if I didn’t I’d make sure that I added that aspect to my next sale. That’s kind of how I learned.

Chris: Speaking of being a good salesman, do you have any tips, anything that you want to say to the salesman out there that are just getting started, anything that was helpful or beneficial to you to help you do well with this kind of sales?

Brian: Sure, the number one thing I would say is that you’re dealing with small business owners. Most of which, in my case anyway, are pretty much your mom and pop store or people who really aren’t the Boeing executives or things like that they’re just normal folks and the last thing they want is some guy coming in there and selling them. So I think what’s really helped me over the years, particularly in the beginning, is I found a common ground with the people I was working with, because if they don’t like you they’re not going to buy from you. It does not matter what you’re selling as far as I’m concerned, accounting, cars, insurance it doesn’t matter. If you can’t find a common ground with the people that you’re selling to it’s just not going to happen. In particular because they’re going to be working with you and the accountant is handling their personal books, they’re business books.

I walked in very unassuming, I didn’t approach them as prey, I approached them as somebody I wanted to sincerely help and take care of them as far as their business accounting and I found that was really the number one overall reason why I was successful, and why I am successful: Because I care about what my clients and what I’m selling.

Chris: Can you elaborate a little bit on how you utilize this approach? Was it in the questions you were asking? I know you said in terms of your approach and your mindset you weren’t going in there looking to hard-sell or take down prey but rather build a relationship. But how would you go about doing that?

Brian: Well first of all, of course right off the bat I’d introduce myself and I’d try and get a smile out of them, try and loosen them up a little bit. Say “I’m here to help you, it’s a nice place you have here”. Try and find some way to compliment them right off the bat, because everyone likes to be complimented and talk about themselves.

So I would compliment them and I’d say “Hey Chris, could you tell me a little bit about how we’ve come to this point, why I’m here.” If they had a current CPA they were working with I’d say “Can you elaborate a little bit on how they’re taking care of you? Are they pro-actively coming to you with any tax changes or advice of any kind? Do you feel like you have a close relationship with your accounting firm?” And Chris you and I both know that nine times out of ten, they don’t. It’s through the mail, it’s “If I call them, I can talk to them.” And I would lead up to the fact of well “Being the fact that you’re an upholsterer Chris, I’m assuming you’re not an accountant.” And they would of course agree “No, I’m not”. So this is a leading question of course, “Would you find it helpful if we pro-actively contacted you and let you know about tax changes, new taxes and such that would help your business?” And of course they’re going to say “sure” and that way I find a common ground with them and at the same time without insulting their current situation I would find out the things that they were lacking. In doing so, I would never insult the current accountant because I would be insulting the business owner at the same time. So, in a nutshell, I still do this to this day. I have them talk, I listen to what they tell me so I have a lot of ammunition to come back with later in the presentation and I can say “Based upon this/based upon that which you told me”. I have all kinds of wonderful things to say to the prospect about what we can offer to them and how that is an improvement over what they get now.

Chris: What is a typical day like for you working as a sales rep in the accounting business?

Brian: A typical day… I would say first of all, troubleshooting in the morning. Making sure that I take care of anything that wasn’t taken care of the day before that I couldn’t get to, taking care of that first and prioritizing. To back up a little bit, I always schedule my day two days in advance. And I contact the appointments that I have at least a day, if not two days in advance to make sure that they’re confirmed and that they still do want to see me and that there’s a reason to see them. And if not, I still have time to refill that hole in my schedule, as opposed to calling them two hours before on that day and finding out that there’s no reason to see them or that the telemarketer made a mistake. These calls allow me to talk to them a little bit and ask a few questions to determine whether or not it’s a good appointment and if not it leaves me time to fill in the hole with someone who is a good appointment.

Then I go and try and see about three to four appointments a day, and because we have a good amount of territory to cover up here and because I’ve got a good amount of clients, there’s always people to see between my appointments. To either pick up people’s information that weren’t ready during the pickup and delivery or service some people that need some help face to face or that I feel I am losing because they’re unhappy or we’ve made a mistake with their services. And I go out and remind them mainly of the intangible things, people forget what they’re getting from us, if all they’re getting is a financial statement every month and that’s all they see and the money they’re spending with us, a lot of times I have to re-sell them the services of what they’re getting intangibly that they forget are there. The advice, the consultation, the audit representation, me coming out every month to make sure they’re taken care of, where as most accounting firms don’t have that etc. things like that. And I find myself doing that on a daily basis also, either on the phone or in person. That’s always a part of my day, to reiterate the value of our services.

Chris: We talked a little bit about your training with NCI but do you want to go into a little more detail about how you benefited from that initial training way back when.

Brian: I think seeing the support that NCI and Bruce of course had developed, that you weren’t just hired and forgotten about. There was a consistent support system set up at the time. If I remember correctly I had to send numbers back to NCI to let them know how I was doing. And if you were having difficulties I felt like there was a very strong support system clear across the country from me. I mean we couldn’t be any further away from New Jersey as Washington state. But I felt like Bruce was a phone call away and if Bruce wasn’t there, there was somebody else who would support me. I think the support of going back there, meeting the people, knowing that Bruce really sincerely cared about the success of his clients which directly had an effect on me as a sales rep for his clients which was a big influence on me. It created a real comfort zone.

Chris: And what do you find is the most rewarding aspect of this job?

Brian: The most rewarding aspect of this job is having high client retention. Knowing that I don’t have a lot of client turnover, which tells me a lot. It tells me that our services are taking care of our clients and that I am trusted by them.

Chris: And what would you say is the most challenging aspect of it?

Brian: I’d say lighting the fire under your own butt to get up all the time and continue to do it, you know? There are some days, obviously we’re human. But my boss, he expects me to do my job. I’d have to say to be very frank and honest with you that in this type of job you are your own boss, even though you’re an employee of a company. Getting up every morning, five days a week and being prepared, being motivated and wanting to go out there and do what you do. That would be probably the biggest challenge is to consistently light the fire.

Chris Clark is the oldest son of New Clients Inc. founder and CEO Bruce Clark. He has worked as a Senior Account Executive at NCI for the past four years. During that time he has presented at the Practice Development Seminar on Internet and E-mail marketing and he also plays the prospective client during the seminar role play sessions. Chris also edits and contributes to the NCI newsletter, New Client News.