Jason Russell, CSR to David Shirey in Houston, TX
As accountants are quite busy this time of year, we are featuring a CSR for this month’s success story. Jason Russell is the CSR for David Shirey, CPA, in Houston, Texas. David originally attended NCI’s Practice Development Seminar all the way back in October of 1994. He and his wife successfully used that seminar training to grow their start-up firm to over $450,000 in gross annual revenue plus another $125,000 in annual financial planning profit. In September of 2010, David decided to upgrade to the Plan II Client Acquisition Program. Jason Russell has been having tremendous success since starting in the CSR position at that time, signing up over a hundred new clients in that time frame with astonishing client retention to boot. In our interview Jason gives insight into what has made him so successful at selling accounting services.
If you could just tell me a little about your sales background prior to becoming a CSR for Mr. Shirey, what did you do in a sales capacity prior to this?
I worked for Sheakley Pay Systems of America, a payroll company, and I was their national top gun. I won a top gun award for out-producing every rep in the country. Before that, for several years I was national top gun for AT&T Commercial Markets. I was averaging 500% of quota and I also won the award as the top rep in the country.
How did you get into sales initially?
Well, I started off working for a publishing company. They had a boiler room and they were selling advertising in the magazines. I learned all about the sales aspect by listening to these guys all day long, and they were making more money than I was just by being on the phone. I gave it a try and I was very good at it, so it wasn’t long before I was off to the races as the sales manager straight out of college in a boiler room raising advertising funds on the phone.
That makes sense for this position because you’ve got your appointment setters that you work with. How valuable would you say the training was from NCI that you received at the start of your employment as a CSR?
It was truly critical because in the first week we closed several accounts. It got me on the notion that two accounts a week is easy! We just walked in and cold-called two great big accounts like it was nothing, no big deal. It got me in the mindset of, ‘Shoot, this is easy. Once I’ve got a file built up, and start building some relationships and start getting references and referrals, this thing is going to take off.’ From Day One I got it in my head that this was an easy thing to do. I think if we had struggled and everybody was rude, it may have affected me mentally, but because we closed a couple of quick, easy accounts on Day One, it’s been that way since and I’ve never looked back.
So during the training week you brought in several accounts and that showed you what was possible. The goals were realistic and achievable and you took that and ran with it.
That’s exactly right.
To what would you say overall, you attribute your success in this position?
It’s the amount of work, the funnel I’ve developed and the leads that I’m generating. It’s just a matter of keeping that funnel going. As long as I’ve got stuff closing in the funnel and lots of stuff I’m working on, that’s the key. For instance, Mr. Shirey called me Saturday morning and said three clients from last week’s presentations had called him and said that I did a fantastic job representing the company. They’re interested in doing business and they want me to come back out and sign them up. That doesn’t happen a lot; to have it happen with three different companies in the same week felt pretty special.
That’s telling you something and certainly telling David something.
Every time we go out on a presentation, it’s the second or third time I’m there. It’s a closing and Mr. Shirey comes out to meet them and they always say I do a fantastic job representing the company.
I’m guessing you take a lot of pride in that. That’s phenomenal. Overall, it seems like it comes down to work ethic – you put in the time and effort with the clients, the pipeline and the follow-ups. I’m a big believer that to succeed in a sales position, especially one like we have through the NCI program, you have to have a very strong drive and work ethic. If you’re missing that, you’re not going to get very far. There’s a payoff, but you have to get there.
Every month it gets stronger and every year I’m going to be making more money. I can see the future and it’s a great structure in the sense that I know my hard work will be rewarded down the road. It’s a great system because it really is a motivational tool for me.
How long have you been employed as a CSR and in that time frame how much new business have you brought in for the firm?
I started in the position in September of 2010. How I’m tracking my progress is by number of new accounts signed. Not too long ago David Shirey took me out to dinner to celebrate the signing of my 100th account, which was a big milestone.
That’s excellent, congratulations.
Do you know the billing amount that has been added through those 100 clients?
Here is how we price. We start everyone out at $150 a month with the knowledge that we are going to revisit that amount after getting a better handle on their number of transactions over 90 days. A lot of my clients go from $150 a month to $200 a month at that point. The highest it’s gone was to $300. I was closing so much business that we’ve actually increased our monthly minimum from $150 to $250 starting this year. Our personal returns had also increased from $150 to $250 and since I’m signing up so many people, our personal returns are now $350, triple the original price. Our business returns went from $495 to $750. All as a result of the business I’ve brought in and the increase in pricing hasn’t slowed me down at all. And we added to the client agreement that, after 90 days, we will reassess the monthly fee based on the transaction count of the business.
That’s interesting. So you price the client low for a trial period. That gets them in the door but also allows for more accurate pricing to be assessed after that 90-day period. Plus, there are no surprises for the client since you are up front about the change in pricing after three months.
It makes it easier for me to close and I don’t have to be so focused on their documents and transactions counts and figuring that out. I’m just going to sign them up at the best price and that way I can close more sales. I think it’s helped a lot.
Now, after that initial three-month period, what typically happens when you have to raise the fee? Is there any resistance to that when it comes time?
Well a couple of things can happen. I’ll usually say something like, “this is going to be a $200 a month or $300 a month account but let me sign you up at the introductory rate of $150, that’ll give you 90 days to evaluate the service before we go to the higher fee.”
Does David Shirey have any issue with doing those first three months at a discounted rate?
Not at all. Plus now we’ve increased the minimum to $250.
You said that since making the change you haven’t encountered any resistance?
Not a one and I’ve only lost one client, and she was with us for over a year before moving to a different firm.
You’ve only lost one client to another firm of the 100+ you’ve signed up?
Yes. Mr. Shirey has been a tremendous help to me, as well. He is very committed to the marketing program and perfectly willing to come out and help me sign a client if need be. His 32 years experience is invaluable and does help to close prospects who don’t sign at the initial meeting or who want to meet with him first before signing. The three clients I’m meeting with today have already spoken with him on the phone and have agreed to come on board, so I should be collecting three checks today.
We make sure to provide whatever the client wants. We never forget that we are working for them; they’re in charge and we take care of whatever they need done.
What is the largest monthly client you’ve signed up thus far?
We haven’t gone above $300 a month. If it goes above that, we do hourly billing at $95 an hour. We have clients that we bill more than $300 based on that hourly billing.
What is the largest amount of back work that you’ve been able to collect?
That is something that we really are hunting for. Many of the clients I sign up have three to four years worth of back work. We bill that work at $100 a month and when they have many years of back work we just bill them $1,000 per year, plus they get a 50% discount on other work, like tax returns. We give steep discounts for someone with 4-5 years of back work and who is willing to pay for it all up front. To answer the question, the largest amount of back work I’ve brought in is around $6,000.
How many clients do you typically find who fit that description?
I’ve signed at least a dozen so far and am working on several more in the pipeline. There was a while there where I was bringing in $20,000 – $25,000 every month in new revenue.
I can’t overstate the importance of being a master of product knowledge: to be able to answer just about any question a prospect has and to competently present the package of service in a way that really encompasses their needs. I place special emphasis on learning that knowledge in any sales role and it has really helped me.
How did you go about learning accounting product knowledge in this job?
Well, because I have a payroll background, I had a basic knowledge coming in. When I first came on board, I focused on selling the accounting package and everything was nicely laid out by NCI to do that. It was a complete package with everything that I needed. All I needed to do was come in and close business, which is what I’m good at.
Can you tell me a little bit about your selling process and how you close these clients?
I use something called the LAQER technique. It stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Question, Explain and Review. Using that, I can keep the prospect on target and focused. Then I quantify expectations. For example, the prospect said, “If you provide these services at this price and within this time frame, then we can do business.” Then I’ll say, “Has anything changed that I can address that would keep us from doing business together today?” This can sometimes reveal a hidden objection that they have which I can then address, although in most cases they are ready to sign at that point.
What advice do you have for other CSRs out in the field?
The most important thing is the quality of your appointment setters. Our minimum standard is 150 dials in a four-hour shift, and to talk to roughly a dozen business owners and set one strong appointment every shift. If they can’t hit those numbers, I replace them. I give them a one-week probation period, if they don’t improve the second week, I replace them. And I’ve replaced a lot of them. So you can’t get emotionally attached to someone in that position because it’s a business and you have to get results. I need to make sure that I have good appointments to go to and close. I need consistency, as well. Don’t be afraid of initiating turnover in that job to find the appointment setters that will get the job done.
I agree. Not only do you need to hold them to a standard and make changes if they can’t achieve that standard, you also have to manage and work with them and, of course, train them well so they have a chance to do well.
We spend a full day on training a new appointment setter. All we do is read the script out loud until we’re just sick of it and I role play with them until they can sell me. We cover all of the objections and how to handle them until they have mastered that. When they can read the script and not have it sound like they are reading it off the page, then they are ready to get on the phone, which usually takes one full day. Occasionally, Mr. Shirey will have me pull up a chair and spend an hour listening to their presentations and providing constructive criticism.
What is your personal best for clients signed in a week?
Well I’m expecting to close the three today and I have a few others that should be closing this week, as well. I’ve been trying to close seven in a single week to top my personal best, which is six clients in one week. I’ve been able to do that twice so far. This could be the week I hit seven.
That’s excellent. Good luck on that, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to speak with me and offer insight into what you do and how you’re able to be so successful.
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.