Learn From a Superstar CSR—Four Times Over!
“I spent the first 10 years of my career learning how to talk and the last 15 learning how to shut up.”
Our interview this month is with CSR, Kevin A. Fortner who works for a CPA firm in a Texas market. Kevin has actually worked for and had success with several different accounting firms in Texas. His current firm is the fourth firm that NCI has placed him with over a fifteen year period and he is doing a phenomenal job there, bringing in over $350,000 in new billings in only his first seven months! In the interview Kevin and I discuss what makes him a great CSR, his approach to managing appointment setters and some of his amazing accomplishments in the position to name just a few.
Tell me a little bit about your sales background prior to becoming a CSR.
I’ve been in business-to-business sales for at least 25 years doing various things. Actually, I was a full-time minister but I had to pay the bills so I’m bi-vocational. About 15 years ago I answered an ad in the paper for accounting sales. Originally I was thinking of doing that as a supplement to being a minister and it turned into a career. I’ve worked for a few accounting firms since then.
When you were originally hired and trained by NCI, how valuable was the training you received on selling the accounting service?
My initial training from NCI was extremely important. I was used to the “talk and show” approach to selling, but the training focused me on listening and consulting. That was a huge paradigm shift for me, it took me a few months to get it. I spent the first 10 years of my career learning how to talk and the last 15 learning how to shut up.
Kevin, you’ve been selling accounting services for a long time and you have a great track record, what would you attribute your success in the position to?
This might be kind of corny to say, but God has really blessed me. I think my faith has grounded me to stay with it during the peaks and valleys of the position. So that perseverance has been the number one reason for my success. A secondary reason for my success is that I really do believe I’m helping business owners. For me, it’s more of a crusade than a job. I come across as more genuine than people expect in a salesman. Third, I’ve worked for some really visionary CPAs who weren’t afraid to try new things.
With your current firm, how much business have you been able to bring in so far?
I’ve been working for my current firm for seven months and I’ve gained 60 clients, $230,000 in recurring billings and $122,000 in one-time billings. I actually sold more than that but some people ended up not being a good fit for our firm and our services. All together I’d say I’ve averaged about $250,000 per year over the years I’ve been selling accounting services.
Impressive. What is the largest client you’ve been able to secure?
The highest client I’ve signed is $3,400 a month and they are still with the firm. More recently, my biggest client is $750 a month. I’ve found it’s better to have a lot of medium priced clients rather than a few high priced clients. High priced clients demand more and if you lose one or two of them, you’ve lost big.
That is definitely the NCI philosophy when it comes to smaller versus larger clients. What is the largest back work amount you’ve brought in from a client?
A lot of people get behind on their accounting or taxes, the question is, are they willing to pay what it takes to get current. Last week I brought in a client with $17,000 in back work. She knew it was going to cost her some money and time since she didn’t get into that situation overnight. I’ve brought in some pretty big ones in the past as well. I don’t remember the exact numbers but I had one sale where the guy hadn’t filed a tax return in 27 years. Normally you wouldn’t file all of those years but he wanted to get a house and he needed tax returns. His business was also tripling in size and opening up new locations and he could no longer fly under the radar. This is the worst part, I had to go up into his attic and pull out box after box of receipts. I remember another client who had six years of paperwork in garbage bags that we charged $10,000 to take care of.
Quite the track record! I know sometimes CSRs will struggle with quoting and collecting large back work amounts, how do you approach that type of situation and come away with the sale?
I try to find out as quickly as possible if there are any past issues and how far back they go. If you can begin building the value of the back work during the probe it doesn’t guarantee they won’t get sticker shock, but it goes a long way. It depends on the firm and how flexible they want to be on pricing the back work because someone has to do it. I always want to get some kind of payment up front, I ask them how much can you afford right now? If it’s not the full amount I want to make sure we have a plan for how they will pay out the rest and I try to keep that period of time as short as possible.
I imagine you also stress the fear factor of not wanting the IRS to come down on the client and their business.
Let me give you an example on that. My father-in-law owned a service station. He wasn’t a great business man but he was a nice guy. He used to boast that if the IRS ever came around he’d chase them off his property. He got behind on his taxes and he had tied his home to his business. One morning there was a padlock on the door of his home. He had to sell the business and sell his home. I don’t want any business owner to go through that.
What is your most successful NCI closing technique?
I’m most successful when I’ve done a thorough job of probing and using trial closes. The sale is won or lost during the probe and doing a good job there makes the final close easier. To answer your question, the close I use the most is probably a combination of the assumptive close and the action close.
You definitely sound like a student of NCI when you emphasize the importance of the probe. What advice can you offer to other CSRs out in the field to help them sign up more clients?
My advice is to get in front of more prospects and never give up on them, even after they tell you no. Make the most of your time and be willing to meet anyone, anywhere, anytime, any day to make a sale. Don’t be afraid of a “think it over.” These days some people like to think it over, it takes the pressure off. When you get a “think it over” make sure to secure a time to get back with them and make sure they have something to remember you by. Then, be relentless with your follow up.
Use a diverse marketing approach but remember that 97% of my appointments come from telemarketing so everything you’re doing should support that. Be active, always be doing something that contributes to making more sales. I treat my telemarketers right and I work with them. I don’t call them telemarketers by the way, I call them business counselors. This type of sales takes a more sophisticated approach than it did 15 years ago. Take ownership of the marketing department but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Can you expand on how you manage your appointment setters and how you keep them producing appointments?
Anything I can do! The ones I’m working with now have been here for seven months so I’ve been very fortunate. Sometimes when you first start out you have to play musical chairs until you find the right people for the position. That can really set you back. The thing that wears me out the most is interviewing. You want to make sure that you spend time with your appointment setters, maybe five minutes each day focusing on training them and improving their performance. If you can pay a little more to appeal to a better caliber employee for that position, offer more. I do have contests now and again for the appointment setters but it can be difficult to come up with new contests.
One thing I ask during the interview process is, what motivates you? The two I have right now are highly motivated by money but there are also other things that motivate people. I had one telemarketer- the money she was earning in the position was going towards buying shoes because she loved shoes. I took a nice color picture that featured a lot of different styles of shoes and put it up at her desk where she made her calls. If someone dared to cancel an appointment she’d say, “You’re messing with my shoes, man!” Different things motivate different people. I’ve had pizza parties before. A paid day off is always welcome. Find out what motivates your appointment setters and use it to your advantage. Don’t assume that they think the same way you think.
Do you do a lot of your own prospecting as well or do you leave that up to the appointment setters?
Honestly, I used to but the two appointment setters I’ve got now are keeping me so busy I don’t need to do much of my own prospecting. Although sometimes you want to show them how it’s done and they want to know that you are in the trenches with them.
Absolutely, you want to lead by example. Do you have any advice for accountants running the NCI marketing program and managing a sales team?
I talk about salespeople and accountants as oil and vinegar. They don’t exactly mix well but in the right proportions they can make a great salad dressing. I would say be patient, sometimes it takes some time for things to develop on the sales side. Let your CSR manage the telemarketers and make sure they are spending enough time with the telemarketers. The key is getting enough quality appointments and that can only happen when all the pieces of the marketing program fit together. Find people who are money motivated and people motivated. If you have a good team, do everything in your power to keep them.
Leverage your technology and make sure that all the parts of your marketing machine are working and fine-tuned like your target market and your lead lists. Know your message and your product and your limitations. Be aware of your telemarketers and their process along with the selling process, the on boarding process for new clients and the servicing process. At the same time don’t micromanage, but let the CSR run the marketing department. Tweak the system to fit your firm. Also understand that you might need to expand your bookkeeping capacity at any time because the NCI marketing system can produce explosive growth.
Great points. What is the most difficult part of being a CSR for you?
I would say getting through the first few weeks and making sure everyone from the telemarketers to the CPA to the clients are all happy.
What is your favorite aspect of being a CSR?
There are several things. It’s neat to see the varied things that people do to make a living. I also get a lot of satisfaction when I hear from clients that we are much better than their previous accountant ever was. Finally, payday is always nice.
That concludes our interview and I’d just like to thank Kevin for taking time out of his busy schedule to spend time answering my questions and giving some great insight into the mind and workings of a great CSR, several times over.
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.