Sales & Marketing

How to Handle Prospects Who Want to Wait Until January to Get Started

Here's a strategy I've used late in the year for those "let's wait until January" people. I've used this effectively as a CSR myself and have taught other CSRs this as well, many of whom were able to secure deals they might not have otherwise:

If they are really serious about starting January 1st, first acknowledge the logic of doing so, but then say that we want to gather their basic information and approval on the agreement form, AND get their check for the installation and first month's fee. It would be indicated on the agreement that the first month's fee represents January, so they wouldn't have another monthly fee payment until February. What's in it for them to do this now? First, they have their initial meeting with the accountant now, and it's a great opportunity to set everything up to hit the ground running come 1/1. More importantly though, the accountant can do year-end tax planning which could save a lot of money come filing time. On top of this, from the time they sign on, they can take advantage of the unlimited consultation feature. The firm won't prepare financial statements, sales tax returns, etc. until after 1/1, but the client has some real incentive to get started now, and not after the first of the year.

This strategy would probably work best with someone who's not working with an accountant, but I've signed on people in spite of that--what's wrong with another set of eyes when you're at year-end?

If they don't have an accountant, or only use the accountant for tax preparation, the client oftentimes will have the firm do the tax return for that year as well. If the business hasn't kept books, all that backwork gets incorporated into the fee to do the return. They'd have to pay somebody to do it!  The firm gets backwork fees without even mentioning the word "backwork". The installation meeting would be a perfect time for the accountant to discuss with the client how to organize their records so as to minimize the tax preparation fee. If they're on QuickBooks, the accountant can start looking at their file.

Bottom-line, if the CSR gets the installation and first month's fees, the client has skin in the game. If they only get an approval on the agreement form, it's far easier for the client to renege after January 1. Of course, this won't result in a close right then and there each time, but it certainly helps secure a few more clients this time of year.

Time Management for Salespeople

The best time management tip for sales people is to qualify prospects more effectively. Let’s say a salesperson has ten prospects. It is standard procedure for them to present a sales proposal for each prospect that takes four hours to prepare. That’s 40 hours of work. However, in reality, maybe only two of those prospects are genuinely qualified prospects. Preparing proposals for these two prospects will take only eight hours. This approach saves 32 hours of time. How many sales calls can that sales person make with 32 hours more time to work with? Manage your time better by working harder to qualify prospects and then limit your efforts to closing the deal on those qualified prospects.

Ask For Referrals From People Who Don’t Buy From You

Ask for referrals after the prospect says “no”. This is a very powerful technique. Why not ask? You have invested a great deal of effort getting through gatekeepers, getting to know the prospect’s business, and building a relationship. They know alot about your strengths and solutions. Why walk away with nothing? Ask for a referral. Perhaps they were forced to choose a competitor’s proposal because their hands were tied for various reasons by senior management and they had no other choice. Who knows? You might be the preferred vendor in their mind anyway. Ask for a referral from prospects who don’t buy from you.


What NCI Looks for in a Stellar Sales Performer: An Insider’s Perspective


The following is an interview I conducted with Pete Borelli who has been a Senior Account Executive with NCI for about 16 years.  He is a recruiter and trainer on our Plan 2 programs and during the interview we discuss what makes a good salesperson. Pete consistently gets high marks from our clients and is a priceless member of our team. His insight into hiring and training salespeople for accounting firms is second-to-none.

Pete, tell me briefly about your background in selling accounting service and how you eventually came to work for NCI.

In a prior life I was a Human Resource guy and had worked for a couple different businesses in Syracuse, NY and here in Rochester, which is my home. I went into sales in 1982, selling for a company that accountants are very familiar with, Commerce Clearing House (CCH) a tax and business law publisher. I was with CCH for about 12 years. I then moved on to Paychex. I worked with them for a couple years selling payroll, they are a great company but it was the wrong place at the wrong time.  In late 1999 I was recruited by NCI to be a CSR for a local CPA firm in Rochester and that began my association with New Clients, and selling accounting services. I worked with that firm for about a year and then the possibility of coming on board as a Senior Account Executive with NCI came up. That was a tough decision with all the travel involved, but I decided to do it and really never looked back. I’ve been involved with it now for about 16 years, although I took a hiatus for a couple years, going back to work with another accounting firm because there were some family health issues here. I eventually went back to being a Senior Account Executive and in July it will be two years that I’ve been back.

Can you just give a little overview of what it is that you do here?

As a Senior Account Executive, primarily what I primarily do is implement the Client Acquisition Programs (Plan 2) out in the field. The onsite process encompasses two separate weeks.  A recruiting week, where we go out and put the staff together for the accounting firm which includes the outside sales person (or CSR) and the appointment setters. In that first week we also train the appointment setters. Then there’s a week in between, where the appointment setters start their job and set appointments for the third week and beyond. I return that third week to field train the Client Service Representative where we go on the appointments that the appointment setters have arranged. So the second onsite week is devoted mostly to field-training but there certainly is a classroom element to that as well. Over the first day and a half, I do one-on-one classroom training where the CSR and I discuss in considerable detail how the presentation is done. I also impart a lot of product knowledge throughout the week.

Speaking of the hiring and training of the CSR, what are some things that you look for in a person that would qualify them to sell accounting services to small and medium sized businesses?

First and foremost, in order to do this job effectively, I think that anybody needs to have some experience. I don’t think that somebody directly out of college or someone looking to make a career change to go into sales for the first time, can do this well. So at least two to three years of sales experience and preferably business to business sales experience, is required. I also prefer that business to business sales experience to be in selling some sort of intangible service (like accounting or insurance) as opposed to them selling a physical product. White collar, retail, Brooks Brothers type of selling where that person isn't out there pounding the pavement probably is not a good fit for CSR position. We also look for somebody who is well spoken and they need the ability to work with a great diversity of businesses and business owners because that’s what they will encounter in the position. So I think that’s important to be able to speak to people at various different levels of business ownership.

What are one or two things that you’ve noticed in doing this for so long that helped to separate a mediocre CSR from a great one?

I think it’s their dedication and their commitment to doing what’s necessary to make the program successful. I always like to point out something my colleague Todd Steinberg says “Only 20% of the CSR position is actually making presentations across the table from a business owner.” The other 80% of the time it’s following up on pending deals in the pipe-line, it’s prospecting for new business opportunities in various ways, it’s networking and it’s overseeing and managing the appointment setters. There are a number of ways that prospecting can be done in this program, whether it’s good old fashioned walk in cold-calls, or setting their own appointments over the phone. I especially like to see CSR’s developing networking opportunities. Activity is really the answer, activity is what separates a mediocre CSR from a really good CSR. A good CSR always make sure that their business day counts and that they keep their day productive.

That makes a lot of sense, and what do you look for in appointment setters? What’s that part of the process like?

Let’s face it, finding successful, long term appointment setters can be a real challenge. With the appointment setters and the CSRs as well, I would look for a somewhat stable work history.  If someone interviewing for the position has been hopping jobs every two or three months, that’s a real negative for me. That doesn’t give you an indication that they’re going to be at the accounting firm very long, especially in a challenging position like appointment setting. So of course you look for experience, you hope that they’ve done some kind of dialing before and have been able to experience all the rejection that comes along with it. I like to see that they are well spoken.  During the interview we have the applicants read the script out loud to see how they sound. I like to see that they deliver the script in a way that’s non mechanical but at the same time faithful to what is scripted, that they don’t improvise in any dramatic way but still have their personality show through. 

 What are some of the tools that you utilize to help you make a decision on the CSR position?

 One of the things that we always do in the midst of CSR recruiting is to conduct an internet-based sales test.  I don’t consider it the end all be all, I don’t think there’s any psychometric test that’s going to be a 100% accurate predictor of success.  None the less, it gives us an indication. So we look at that and we certainly give it some weight. We always do reference checking and while someone wouldn’t give you a bad reference, you can sometimes pick up on a less then stellar reaction from certain references over the phone.  We do a criminal background check as well.

Talk a little bit more about that sales personality profile, what it tells you and how it plays into the decision making process.

What it attempts to measure is whether the candidate would display the personality characteristics that would determine success in the CSR position. So it speaks to behaviors like; prospecting ability, closing ability, sociability and attention to detail.  It looks to measure a set of behaviors that would lend themselves to success in the CSR position. Closing and prospecting are two areas of particular importance so anybody who didn’t score well in those areas I think I would have concerns with.  That said, there are people who didn’t score so well on the test but ended up being the selected candidate and have done very well, and the reverse is true too. A lot of it comes down to work ethic in the end.

Switching gears a bit, you are the only trainer that we have that can install the Client Acquisition Payroll Program.  Could you tell me a little bit about that program, give me an over view of it?

Well, Bruce wanted to start up a Client Acquisition Program for payroll because In light of many accountants recognizing that payroll is a good source of revenue, what Bruce wanted to do is a program specifically geared toward the ability to secure payroll clients. 

You have some unique experience in the arena of selling payroll, having worked for Paychex in the past. What are some of the advantages of an accounting firm offering payroll services to their clients?

There is tremendous opportunity for accountants to grow their firm and build their revenues by offering payroll preparation.  Many times small business owners, even though they are small, they don’t want to get involved in payroll at all.  So they’ll outsource it to some kind of a payroll provider such as Paychex or ADP.  With new developments in software and the internet however, accountants who for many years avoided payroll because of time constraints and a perceived lack of profitability are now looking to offer that service. It’s a bit of a different animal from accounting clients. Payroll tends to be thought of as a commodity, so there’s more price sensitivity towards it.  At the same time service is an important element to it and I think accountants can provide a greater breadth of service than the payroll companies can. Particularly in terms of developing more of a personal relationship with that payroll client than they’re going to get at one of the national or regional payroll companies. Payroll preparation can be extremely profitable and even if a client comes into the firm strictly as a payroll client there’s the ability for the firm to be able to cultivate that client over the years and provide additional services.

It’s fundamentally about the ability to have a one-stop shop. Here you have all your accounting and tax services under one roof, doesn’t that make sense? Where as an accountant may be doing that business’s books months by month and if they’re using an outsourced payroll provider, the accountant has to get that information from the payroll company and they have to obtain that month by month in order to do the financial statements. You can see how seamless that is if the firm is doing the payroll. The client has one source for any questions or concerns they may have. Think about this, if I pose a question to a payroll company such as “How often should I pay myself?” “How much should I pay myself/how much should I withhold in taxes?” they’re going to tell me “Well you need to speak with your accountant.” Now if I’m working with an accountant, here I’ve got one source to address those questions

What are some qualities that you’ve noticed that help an accountant to be successful with our marketing programs?

That’s a very good question Chris. In a word I would say they just need to be involved. What I mean by that is they need to meet with the CSR every week, they need to monitor results, and they need to offer whatever support the CSR might need. Many times, new CSRs especially may find themselves with appointments that for whatever reason are sort of outside the box of the typical mom and pop business, whether it be a multi-entity situation or something that’s going to be a whole lot more complex than what is typical. The accountant may want to accompany the CSR on those types of appointments. So it’s involvement, support, but most importantly they need to deliver on what the CSR promises. Now the CSR should never over promise, but the accountant needs to be responsive to the clients and get work done on time. As long as the client is holding up their end of the bargain and getting records in, in a reasonable time frame. If the client has a question and makes a phone call, if that phone call can’t be taken right away then it needs to be returned within a very reasonable period of time. Many times accountants in the program will pick up clients for the simple reason that the accountant doesn’t return phone calls for three, four or five days.

Thanks for the all insightful information, Pete. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Only that I know that I speak for my colleagues, who do this as well out in the field, when I say that we’re all dedicated to whatever program we’re assigned to. We’re absolutely dedicated to doing whatever’s necessary, whatever we can do, to ensure they’re a success. We’re always available for support, when anyone contracts with NCI, it’s not only about getting the marketing team in place and doing the training, it’s also about the ongoing support. Never in my sixteen years have we been in a position to be of more support than we are now. I’m thinking in terms of our online webinars, in terms of our personal support with our clients, just in terms of all the support that exists at NCI to ensure the success of a program. So when people make an investment with our company, that’s a big part of the return that they get on that investment.

How to Confirm Appointments Properly

In recent conversations with accountants and client service representatives I have heard complaints about prospects who fail to show up for their scheduled appointments. No-shows are frustrating; they represent a waste of your or your CSR’s valuable time and burn through gas budgets as well. There are actions that can be taken to minimize these no shows. In this article we will review some of these actions.

First of all, if you have participated in NCI’s training program, you know that you should confirm all appointments one hour prior to the appointment time. Some CSRs tell me that they hesitate to do this because they fear that this confirmation will give the prospect an opportunity to cancel. My response, when I hear this objection, is to ask whether it’s better for a prospect to cancel before or after you have driven to the appointment. My point here is that if the prospect is unwilling or unable to give full attention to your message it’s better to know this before you spend time and gas traveling to their location. It might be a better idea to reschedule or have your appointment setter reschedule the appointment for a time when you can have the undivided attention of your prospect. Another way to help combat appointments cancelled at the last minute during the confirmation call is to change the nature of that call. I recommend calling from your cell phone right before you leave the office. Tell the prospect you are in your car heading for their business and you are just calling to confirm the directions, not confirming the appointment itself. There is a guilt factor at play here. If you are already on your way over for a preset appointment, it doesn’t exactly look good for them to cancel at that moment. Don’t give them an out if you don’t have to. Some will still cancel, sure, but others will hesitate to do so thanks to using this method.  

If you find that some of your prospects are simply forgetting that they have an appointment with you it may be a good idea to confirm a day ahead of time as well as an hour ahead of time.  Some CSRs have their appointment setters perform this confirmation, others prefer that the prospects hear their voices when confirming. I personally recommend sending off a quick reminder email the day before the appointment. However you choose to do it I have personally found that this extra confirmation saves a lot of appointments that otherwise would have to be rescheduled without it.

Always insist that your appointment setters get an alternative phone number when booking appointments. The prospect’s cell phone number is preferred. Some prospects spend a fair amount of time out of the office and the only way to confirm the appointment is to call them on their cell. Another thing the appointment setters can do to firm up appointments is to try to get the prospect to note the time and date of the appointment in their own schedule books or software. In addition, have your appointment setters leave your office number with the prospect with the request that if something comes up requiring a reschedule they call as soon as they know this will be necessary. Finally, have your appointment setters send out the appointment reminder card provided by NCI whenever the appointment is scheduled more than three business days in the future.

The script book that NCI provides to appointment setters has a full page of “qualifying questions” that can be used to effectively gauge the interest and quality of your prospects. You should encourage your appointment setters to learn and use these questions and to note the prospect’s responses on their appointment report. A byproduct of these qualifying questions is that they can often pique the prospect’s interest thus increasing their urgency to meet with you. 

Some appointments will have to be rescheduled no matter what you do, for example when a family or business emergency occurs. It’s also important whenever someone cancels an appointment to find out why. Try to find out what happened between the time they scheduled the appointment and had an apparent need and now when they are cancelling it. What changed in that (usually) short frame of time? Sometimes this will lead to a conversation in which you can salvage the appointment and turn a cancellation into a reschedule. Anytime someone wants to reschedule set another appointment for a specific date and time. Don’t leave it open ended as in “you’ll hear from me next week” because the reality is you probably won’t. Hopefully, by always following the above steps you will be able to minimize cancellations, reschedules and the time and money wasted on no-shows. 

Ian Shumaker is a retired Senior Account Executive was with NCI for over six years. Prior to that he was Sales Manager of a utility consulting firm for ten years, he sold computer software for many years and is a Retired Army Infantry Officer.


Respond to Emails With a Phone Call

Respond to emails with a phone call. Let’s consider for a moment what a true conversation is like. People in a conversation bounce between topics and go off on tangents. They brainstorm. Thoughts are triggered and memories are shared. A conversation that began at Topic A finishes at Topic Z. Throughout the course of the conversation, voices have tone, faces have expressions, and bodies speak their own language. As a result of such interaction, the prospect may reveal another pain that your services may have a solution for. A world of opportunity can be revealed simply by getting the prospect on the phone. Emails do not offer such conversational opportunity. Emails are a way in which a sales person can avoid talking to a prospect. You cannot sell by email. The next time you receive an email from a prospect, hold off on hitting that reply button. Pick up your phone!

From The Optimal Salesperson

Tips for Closing the Sale

Closing a sale -- getting your prospect to say yes -- can sometimes be as easy as asking for the commitment. Once you've laid the foundation by qualifying your prospect, discovering their needs, and showing how your product/service meets those needs, it's time to ask for the order. These tips can help you make this process easy and natural.

Lay the proper groundwork

During your sales process, if you have found out what the prospect’s needs are and have helped them to recognize that what you are selling will meet those needs, a "close" in the traditional sense should not be necessary. If you are frequently wondering how to close, you should probably examine your methods for uncovering your customer's needs and demonstrating the benefits of your firm’s services in response to those needs.

Reach the decision maker

Make sure you are speaking with the person who makes the buying decisions. Sometimes a person won't say "yes" to your product or service because they're not authorized to do so. If this is the case, find out if there is anybody else that gets involved in this decision that your prospect recommends you speak with. It is best to uncover this in advance and make sure all decision makers are present during the sales presentation, whenever possible.

Provide a deadline

If you have a customer who is vacillating, one way to close is to tell them that your service will not be available past a certain date. For example, if a client says they are interested in hiring your firm but cannot make a commitment, set a deadline date or say that you will be unavailable for a certain amount of time. This is high risk because it can mean that you won't work with this client in the near future. However, it will also separate live prospects from prospects that are likely to drag on forever without making a decision. Forcing a decision, one way or the other, is good for your business. If they decide not to buy, it frees you to pursue other opportunities instead of chasing a dead-end.

Work back from the date they need it

Find out when your customer needs the product or service you are selling and then work back from that date to make a case for why closing now is important. For instance, in your accounting firm, you would want to know when your prospect needs to file the proper state and federal tax returns. You could then explain why they would need to hire you now to ensure they do not end up paying more in penalties and interest for late filing if they delay. Also, if they have back work and back taxes that need filing, remind them that those types of problems only get worse with each passing day and the sooner you can help them get their issues sorted out, the better for them and their business.

Use the threat of a price increase

If your firm plans to raise prices in January, start calling people in October to get them to buy before the price increase occurs. Positioning here is critical - remember that you are calling to provide a service to your prospect, not to intimidate them into buying. Avoiding the price increase is a nice bonus that will motivate people to sign up for your service when they might not have done so otherwise. Not only will this help you close, but your prospects and clients will appreciate the advance notice of the increase.

Talk about the implication of not moving forward on a sale

Ask questions in order to get your prospect to say what it would cost them if they didn't buy your product. Cost doesn’t necessarily correlate to money, it can also mean time or reputation, among other things. Fear is a powerful motivator, don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage, within reason. Many business owners fear the IRS and what they can do to a business that is not properly paying taxes. Ask the business owner what keeps them up at night and then use that information to your advantage by offering one of the best benefits your service can provide, peace of mind. Doing so will go a long way towards helping you sign more clients and grow your business.

By Todd Steinberg

Todd Steinberg, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Todd Steinberg offers more than 20 years of experience emphasizing sales, marketing and business development in the industry of marketing accounting services. The scope of Todd’s experience has spanned virtually all aspects of the accounting practice marketing industry. A respected leader in the industry, his experience includes developing new marketing strategies, NCI program sales, integrating financial planning and payroll services into accounting practices, providing sales and marketing support to NCI’s 4,500+ clients, hiring and training of marketing personnel for accounting firms nationwide and speaking at regional and national conferences as an authority on marketing accounting services. His career includes leadership roles such as serving as the National Seminar Director at NCI’s Practice Development Seminar, Director of NCI’s Practice Development Coaching program and Director of Monitoring and Support. He is also responsible for leading NCI’s accounting practice sales division and has been personally involved in the sale of over 125 firms nationwide. Todd is Series 7, 66, Life, Accident & Health Licensed. In his spare time he enjoys working out and spending time with his wife Jessica and three young children Sydney, Ben & Brooklyn.

What To Do When You Have A Financial Problem

Sell your way out of problems you encounter. Are you short on cash? Are you struggling financially? Sell! When faced with financial adversity, individuals who are not in the sales profession are forced to cut costs or work additional over-time or part-time hours, if such work can be found. They are not likely to generate a significant infusion of cash in a short period of time. Salespeople, on the other hand, have that opportunity. If you double your sales efforts for a short period of time, your income will rise proportionately. Statistically, if you generate 1 sale every 20 calls, you know you will generate 2 sales if you make 40 calls. You can generate 3 sales if you make 60 calls. How much income do you generate per sale? Let’s say it is $ 2,500. You are financially struggling to the tune of $ 4,000. You need two additional sales to eliminate that financial burden. That’s 40 additional calls. When can you find time for 40 additional calls? Can you cut out your golf game this week? Can you chat in the office a little less about the weather for a few days? Can you make phone calls while you drive in the car instead of listening to music? Salespeople have opportunities to overcome their financial hardships in a short time span unlike any other profession. Double or triple your effort this week!

Local Search and How It’s Affecting Your Accounting Firm

Remember the commercial that repeatedly interrupted your favorite television show last week? Chances are you don’t – because we’ve trained our brains to tune out what isn’t relevant to our immediate surroundings and needs. It’s estimated that we are bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of data a day. If we didn’t filter out most non-essential messages, we couldn’t function.

Does this mean advertising is dead? No, but it does mean that service providers, including accountants, need to change their traditional marketing approach. By using internet searches to your advantage, there is a way to get in front of prospective clients in that fleeting moment where you’ll be seen as a solution and not an interruption. The key is search engine optimization (SEO).

Simply put, SEO brings visitors to your website by helping your practice appear high on the list of results when prospective clients search for an accountant online. Over 85% of searchers do not go past the first page of results, so where you appear is critical. As far as SEO is concerned, if you’re not on the first page, you may as well be on the last.

CPA Site Solution’s latest publication, Local Search and How It’s Affecting Your Firm, breaks down SEO and all that goes into it. From search engine crawlers and algorithms to keyword density and metadata, this whitepaper outlines the basics in a manner you can understand. Looking for a quick overview? Read on for some highlights.

Keywords are at the core of SEO. These are the terms search engines use to find and rank your firm. Though your services are important keywords to include on your website, don't forget to include your firm’s location. Since the average client isn’t going to travel hundreds of miles to visit an accountant, chances are they will limit their search to providers in close proximity. Therefore, to attract local prospects, your website must be associated with your geographic location. This type of SEO is known as local SEO. And the backbone of successful local SEO is optimization, both on-page and off.

Just as the name implies, on-page optimization refers to changes made directly to your website. The most visible area for on-page optimization is website copy. When writing copy, remember to use phrases that prospective clients would use in their online searches. This allows search engines to correctly categorize your website, increasing the number of times your practice comes up in relevant searches. In addition to copy, on-page factors include HTML tags like page titles and meta descriptions. (Did we just lose you?  Don’t worry, our whitepaper includes a handy glossary.)

Backlinks and business listings are two off-page optimization strategies that take place outside your website but still impact your search engine ranking.

Backlinks are hyperlinks on other websites that connect back to your site. This may seem like a quick way to bump your ranking, but beware – Google considers context when giving you points for backlinks. This means that backlinks on irrelevant sites negatively impact your ranking.

Business listings are another type of off-page optimization that can not only drive traffic directly to your website, but also affect your search ranking. While it may seem obvious, consistency and accuracy are the two most important elements to optimizing your business listings. Your practice should be in a number of professional directories so be sure your NAP data (practice name, address, and phone) is correct and identical across all listings.

Creating an SEO strategy for your firm may seem overwhelming, but neglecting it can be hazardous to your professional health. A good place to start is by downloading Local Search and How It’s Affecting Your Firm. Written for busy accounting professionals, this free whitepaper walks you through the basics of SEO and provides tips you can put to use today.

Still not sure you’re ready to tackle SEO on your own? CPA Site Solutions has you covered. Let our in-house team of SEO experts handle it for you. For more information, call (800) 896-4500.

If You Want To Sell Better, Buy Better


If you want to sell better, buy better. We expect our buyers to buy the way we buy. If you are the type of person who shops around for the right deal, asking demanding questions of sellers, doing research, and comparing features and benefits, you are going to expect your buyers to do the same. If you tend to buy things on instinct, “feeling good” about a product or service without investigation, you are going to expect your buyers to purchase intuitively as well. If you believe your customers should buy from you after a careful analysis, make it a habit to become more analytical in your purchase decisions. On the contrary, if you believe your customers should buy from you based on the emotional appeal of your solution, allow your emotions to become a greater factor in your purchase decisions. Avoid sales frustration by aligning your purchase methodology with what you expect of your prospective customers.