CSR Success Stories: Krystal Johnson, Houston, TX
This is something you don’t see every day--an appointment setter promoted to the CSR position who then went on to be first runner up in NCI’s National CSR Sales Race. I would like to state that Krystal Johnson is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to using an appointment setter as a CSR. Generally it’s not a good idea, but what an exception Krystal has been! A few highlights from our interview: she has brought in single back work amounts of $35,000 and $20,000. She came in second place in the CSR sales race despite only being able to compete for nine of the twelve months that the competition ran. She developed an appreciation of what her firm does and the value it provides while doing her job as an appointment setter. It wasn't long before her employer, Susanne Mariga, took notice of Krystal's diligence and was willing to take a chance and promote her to CSR. That risk has paid off big time as Krystal has been phenomenal. Here is her story in her own words.
To start off, tell me a little bit about your sales background and what was your sales experience before becoming the CSR for Susanne Mariga?
I really don’t have that much of a sales background. I’m ex-military, I was in the army for three and a half years. I served in Iraq for a year and I got hurt over there so I came home and went to school full time working towards my bachelor’s degree. That’s when I went to work for Susanne as a part-time appointment setter. Within three months I went from the bottom to the top and became the CSR. It just kind of happened that way but it has become a passion. I never knew that I liked sales and never thought I’d be involved with it. I didn’t have a very good view of salespeople, I had a pretty stereotypical view. Think of the typical used car salesperson. I knew that wasn’t me. I knew the only way I could sell something is if I really believed in it and I had a passion for it. That’s what I developed as an appointment setter. I gave my 300% as a part-time appointment setter and really learned about our services and how we can help business owners. So when I stepped into the CSR role that helped a lot.
In the beginning I spent a day going out on appointments with our CPA, Susanne. After the previous CSR left the firm I went through all the appointments we had scheduled looking for really good appointments for the two of us to go on. So we went out on three appointments back-to-back. The first one, Susanne did the presentation and they signed up. That was an appointment I had set previously. The second one I interjected a little bit, but was still observing and learning. The prospect was kind of stalling on making a decision and Susanne got up to use the restroom. The prospect was taking his time and asking questions and I thought to myself, we have another appointment to get to, so I ended up doing the “silent close” without realizing it. I just turned the agreement around so it was in front of him and I said, “Just sign here so we can get started” and he signed it. When Susanne came back, he was writing a check. The third appointment we went on together, I did the presentation myself and continued to follow-up with him and signed him up a few months later.
You’re a natural! That’s great. I’m sure Susanne was thrilled to come back to a check being written on that second appointment. Can you tell me a little bit more about how your experience as an appointment setter helped prepare you for your role as a CSR?
As an appointment setter, and this is just part of my personality and work ethic, but if I was working as a janitor or anything else, I give my 300%. Now that I hire and train new appointment setters, I realize that most of them view it as a part-time job and they try to set their appointments and that’s it. For me when I was doing that job, I really wanted to know what our product was, I wanted to know what I was setting an appointment for. I wanted to go below the surface of just setting appointments. I wanted to develop rapport with these people and I followed up with them. I’ve gotten so many comments about my persistence, they call me the “follow-up queen” because I always call people back and keep in touch.
I remember one of the appointments I set as an appointment setter that our previous CSR went out on. That business owner had several years of work to catch up on but he wasn’t ready to sign up at the time of the first meeting but I followed up with him and followed up within him. About a year later with me now being the CSR, I was able to sign him up. He actually called me back and said, “Okay, I’m ready.” He said it was because I had followed up with him and he thought of me when he was ready to get his accounting taken care of. That ended up being five years of work that we’re going back and doing. So I put forth a lot of effort into doing my job well and I really wanted to know what we do and understand the value we provide. A lot of people that I had talked to as an appointment setter I’m now closing as a CSR. So that’s going on two years as a relationship with some of them.
Well that explains a lot of your success. Three common attributes shared by pretty much all the successful CSRs I’ve interviewed is a strong work ethic, persistent follow up and belief in their product. With your background as an appointment setter I’d imagine you still set a good amount of your own appointments.
Yes, it’s hard to find good appointment setters, it really is. I would find some good ones here and there but I went through a lot of appointment setters. I found that they just set appointments to meet their quota but I would qualify the appointments and confirm them and I felt like I needed to be involved because they had me driving all over creation going on these appointments and they weren’t quality appointments. They were going for quantity over quality and I needed more quality.
I think we’ve covered most of this already but is there anything else to which you would attribute your success as a CSR?
I would also attribute my success to our CPA, Susanne, she’s worked closely with me. She’s been there to answer my questions and she’s been a mentor to me. She’s been awesome, she really has. I'm so grateful that she has afforded me this opportunity. Not in a million years did I ever think I’d be in this position. It has really developed into a great partnership and we work together to grow this firm. I attribute a lot of my success to her.
That’s a great point, it’s very important to have a good relationship with your employer as the CSR, you’re in it together. How long have you been a CSR?
I’ve been a CSR officially since January, 2013, so coming up on two years.
Approximately how much growth have you been able to add to the firm?
I doubled the number of clients we service in about a year on the job. I actually didn’t work for three of those months because I had a baby! When Susanne promoted me I said, that’s great but I need to tell you something! They always laugh at me because I made a sale while I was literally going into labor.
Wow, talk about putting in your 300%! That is going above and beyond.
I was going over old emails recently and I was sending emails from the hospital bed after having my daughter. That’s just me. Also, you started the CSR sales race in August and that’s when I had my baby so I was out for August, September and October during the race. So I came in second place in the CSR sales race after only selling for nine of the twelve months and it only came down to a difference of about $4,000 in sales between first and second place. I spoke with Victor [Romandine, the winner of the CSR sales race] during the race and we compared notes and encouraged each other throughout the contest. I’m very happy for him.
That’s excellent, Victor is a great guy, I interviewed him a few months ago and he mentioned that he had been talking to you off and on. You reached out to him when you saw that he was in first place of the sales race, correct? I know you both were in first place at different points during the race.
Yeah we had a healthy competition going on there and we’d check in with each other. It was all very positive and supportive.
That’s something we hope comes out of the CSR sales race, some of the top firms and CSRs interacting and sharing ideas and encouraging one another. What is the largest monthly client you’ve signed up through the program so far?
The largest monthly client I’ve signed so far is $2,100 a month. That was one of the ones where I set the appointment as an appointment setter and then closed it as a CSR. I followed up with him and he kept telling me to bear with him and I did. After about a year of follow up, he signed on.
That’s certainly an instance where your persistence paid off in a very big way! What about back work, what are some of the larger back work amounts you’ve been able to collect and how do you approach collecting it?
One of the biggest ones that I signed in terms of back work was the one I mentioned earlier who came back after about a year. We did five years of back work for him. From what I remember that came out to around a $35,000 bill. That was not a discounted amount, he works in construction and he was very behind on his taxes. When he contacted me he was ready to get right and do things correctly moving forward.
As for how I approach back work, I like to give them options and I really stress the fact that they want to have good, clean financial statements from the starting point so they can secure working capital, or get a bank loan, anything with the city, anything with the government, they’re going to want to see financial statements compiled by a CPA. Having them can help you get investors later on or expand your business or even help you sell your business.
That $35,000 figure is very impressive but probably more of an outlier, what are some other large back work amounts you’ve brought in?
Another one we did three years of back work for and the total on that one came out to around $20,000. I’ve also had several in the $3,000 to $5,000 range for about a year of back work.
What about the NCI closing techniques, you mentioned the silent close earlier, do you use any of the other closing techniques and have you had success with them?
Yeah, I’ve used the post-dated check, I’ve used the results assurance program, the silent close, the assumptive close.
That’s most of them, glad to hear you are getting good use from them. Krystal, what advice do you have for other CSRs who are out in the field right now?
I would say one of the most important things is to be genuine and be sincere. Every client is different, everyone has different needs. Building rapport is very important and you have to be sincere about it, not just going through the motions. You have to really care about their issues, make them feel that they are not just another number and you are not there just to sign them, you’re not there just to get your commission. It’s a partnership and we’re there to help them. I’m very close with my clients, I follow up with them all the time and they know that I’m available for them at all times.
That’s the definition of a solid consultative/relationship based sales partnership which is exactly what you should be going for. What advice do you have for NCI’s accounting clients who are running a Plan 2 or Plan 3 program or considering doing so?
I think it all boils down to the relationship the accountant has with the CSR. You need to have enough trust and confidence in your CSR to take and build the marketing and sales side of the practice. At the same time, be available to answer questions and for mentoring. Susanne and I meet about once a week and we bounce ideas off each other and do some strategic planning and take a look at the pipeline. We’re in constant communication about that because our goal is the same; bring on new clients every week.
What is the most difficult aspect of the CSR position for you?
The most difficult aspect for me is that it’s a roller-coaster; it’s not necessarily consistent. You can put in all kinds of time with a prospect and be sure they are going to sign up and then they give you the run around and stall because it turns out they’re not ready to decide yet or they need more time. I’ve had signed agreements and checks from a client who we never heard from again which is frustrating. It comes with the territory but I’m also the kind of person who wants to evaluate myself and look at what I could have done differently to get a different outcome. Sometimes I do that and I realize that there’s nothing I could have done differently and it comes down to them being ready on their end.
I can relate to that. I worked in sales and you have really high highs when you make a nice sale and a nice commission to go with it but on the other side of that you have your droughts and that can really affect your psyche if it goes on too long. It takes a certain type of person to really embrace and accept that aspect of sales. What is your favorite part of being a CSR?
My favorite parts of being a CSR is the challenge of the position and all the people I get to meet. I am a people-person, I love being in the field, talking with people. I really value connecting with my prospects and clients and developing rapport with them and establishing a good relationship and a good partnership. I enjoy the challenge of it as well, I like setting different goals for myself and having Susanne set goals for me and having her push me to get to the next level because she believes in me and I believe in myself and that’s really important.
That concludes our interview, as always I’d like to thank Krystal for taking time from her busy schedule to sit for this interview. Congratulations on your success and keep up the great work!
Chris Clark, Executive Editor, New Client News and Client Support ServicesChris is the oldest son of NCI CEO and founder, Bruce Clark. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA in 2005. He has worked for New Clients since April 2006 filling a variety of roles including Senior Account Executive, client support specialist, editor of and contributor to the NCI newsletter, New Client News, appointment setter evaluator, seminar presenter on web and email marketing, and playing the prospective client during seminar role play sessions. Chris also helped Bruce edit his first book, The NCI Effect which came out in 2011. In his leisure time Chris is an avid reader of fiction, graphic novels and the internet. He enjoys film, video games, science and technology. He lives with his wife Kathy and their two dogs Charlie and Daisy, in Southern New Jersey.