David Wilde, CSR for Ken Russell
This month we are featuring CSR David Wilde as a companion piece to our interview last month with the CPA he works, Ken Russell. David’s story is fairly unique as far as NCI storylines go. David’s father used the NCI program to grow his accounting practice while David was growing up. David decided he wanted to pursue a career in sales and marketing and, upon graduating college, he asked if he could attend NCI’s Practice Development Seminar as a graduation gift. Talk about a go-getter! He attended the seminar to learn the sales techniques we teach and, also, with the hope that he might find an opportunity to go to work for someone as a CSR. He made some contacts, but nothing concrete materialized until about a year later, when he went to work for Ken Russell. I’ll let him tell the rest.
Please tell me about your sales background before you joined NCI’s program.
My sales career started my first year out of college. I got an outside sales job with a kitchen exhaust cleaning company. We cleaned the hoods for restaurants. I was the only sales guy there. It was my first experience. My boss gave me a phonebook and said to use it and go online to find your own leads and start selling. Pretty direct. So, I went out door to door to restaurants and hotels and would walk in and see if they needed a free bid for their hood cleaning service.
It looks like NCI added some structure to what you were doing at your first sales position.
Exactly. It was an outside sales job and going door to door and keeping that proactive mindset. It’s similar to my job as a CSR, where, as I’m driving around, I keep my eyes peeled for a new business or a grand opening sign so I can stop in and make my presence known.
How valuable was the training that you received from NCI at the start of your employment as a CSR?
Pete Borrelli was the person that trained me. I owe a lot of my success to him because that first week, when he was out here training me, I really only had a year of sales experience under my belt. I was very young and he took me under his wing and gave me all the right information and put me on the right track for moving forward. And the first couple months as a CSR, I reached out to him quite a bit to ask him questions about the job.
Okay, so you would call him if you needed something or if something came up and you weren’t sure how to handle it, or whatever the case may be, and he was available to support you that way?
Exactly; and he was a sounding board. He was very honest with me and I would call him with a different idea or a different question on something going through the sales cycle. I still talk to him to this day. We are in touch probably once a month.
That’s great to hear and that’s what, about two years later now?
Yes, two years later.
So it sounds like you attribute your success in the program largely to that training you got from Pete. And his ongoing help and support?
What else to you attribute your success to in the position? Obviously, Pete can’t have all the credit.
Well, there are a few different people who have helped me; one of them would be my CPA, Ken Russell. Since day one, he has been willing to work with me. And there’s always a fine line between the marketing and the business side of the program. He would allow me to give different discounts; if someone signed up in a certain month, we could waive the first month’s fee or we could give a discount on installation fee. Other than that, he just helped me get my feet on the ground, allowing me to take over the whole marketing aspect of the business. When I had questions or ideas, he was willing to listen to my point of view rather than just looking from a strictly business standpoint.
What about yourself? You’re obviously a young guy without a lot of experience coming into the CSR position, which is fairly rare, but you’re doing a great job. So, what about you personally do you attribute your success to?
Ah, that’s the big one.
That is the big one. When you’re doing outside sales, a lot of the time is spent out on the road, and having a strong work ethic and being able to put in the amount of hours needed to make this successful has been a big point of emphasis for me. Everything in sales is fairly small. I mean, when you wake up in the morning, you’ve got to make a certain amount of phone calls that day, a certain amount of walk-ups that day, and if you look at each one individually, it’s a very small part of the whole day, but you need to do those every day. When you do more than you don’t do, that’s when things start to add up and you become a successful salesman.
Work ethic is huge, as a sales rep you have to be a self-starter. Obviously, you have some support from NCI and from your accountant/owner of the business that you’re working for, but largely it’s up to you – or the individual who’s out there in the field selling – to make things happen.
So you’ve been a CSR for 2 years now. In that time, approximately how much growth have you added to Ken’s practice?
I think Ken said it was around $250,000 in annualized billings for this year.
What’s the largest monthly client that you’ve been able to secure through the marketing program, in terms of just the monthly fee?
For the monthly fee, it would be $395. We’ve had several hourly clients and those vary each month, depending on what the workload is.
What about back work? What have the larger back work numbers you’ve been able to secure so far?
For back work, I think it’s about $8,000 to $10,000.
Can you talk a little bit about how you approach pricing back work and getting back work clients in the fold?
For back work, we normally charge our hourly fee to go back through. If it’s only going to be a month or two of back work or if it’s going to be under six months of back work, then we try to do the monthly fee – whatever that’s going to be—for each month of back work. For a lot of our clients, though, the back work goes into the previous year. Or if they have eight months of back work, for them to pay the monthly amount for that many months is hard to do, so we charge an hourly fee to get that caught up. Then we move forward with the monthly fee.
So, then, it’s based more around the time required to do the work. I remember that when talking with Ken a couple weeks ago, he said that basically you make a promise to the client that it won’t eclipse what the monthly fee would be anyway. In a lot of cases, it sounds like comes in even a little bit under that amount. If you cap it at what the monthly fee would have been, the client can’t lose.
Exactly, and that’s a selling point. When I’m talking to the business owner, I’ll let him know what we normally for back work, and then I gauge his reaction and if that number is too high – which oftentimes it is – then I don’t want to lose the client because of the back work. I don’t want to lose the ongoing relationship because we tried to charge a few extra hundred dollars for back work.
Right, that’s a good point.
So, I bring up the other alternative, which is that we do everything hourly and, as you mentioned, we wouldn’t exceed the monthly fee, but just to have that number in mind for them of what it could be if it does take as much time as we think.
You have a pretty unique story as to how you became involved with NCI and our marketing programs in the first place. Could you tell me about that?
I don’t know if you know the background of how I got in to NCI. My dad was a CPA for 30 years and he actually used the NCI program in the early ’90s. He attended the seminar and my mom was actually the CSR. That is how I first heard about it. Then, NCI actually sold his practice for him three or four years ago. For my senior graduation present, he actually sent me down to LA to attend the seminar.
And that was at your request, wasn’t it?
What did you study in college?
I studied management. I always knew I wanted to do some sort of sales, and I had grown up in an accounting family. I definitely tried accounting in college, and I wasn’t bad at it and I enjoyed doing it, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I wanted to meet a CPA at the seminar that was looking for a CSR.
So you were hoping it would lead to a job opportunity.
That’s a pretty unique approach. You might be the only one who’s done that at this point – but I like it! Did that actually lead to anything?
I met a few CPA’s that were out of the state of Washington that were looking for a CSR and we made a good connection. At the time I wasn’t ready to leave the state. I had just graduated from college, and I was settled into a new living spot in Seattle, and I wasn’t ready to leave Washington state yet. So I decided to come back and try again later. But there were some discussion – not job opportunities, but some people who wanted to talk to me more and at least interview me to see if I would come on and help them out.
So the potential was there.
So how did you end up actually connecting with Ken Russell?
I got to know Todd Steinberg at the Practice Development Seminar and told him a little bit about my situation and what I was looking for. I’d asked him to keep me in mind if there were any CSR openings in the Seattle area that might be a good fit and he said that he would. I found the hood cleaning company about a month after I got back from the seminar and after I got a year’s sales experience under my belt. I just fell in love with sales. Around that time – it was about a year later – Todd called me and said there was a CPA in Bellevue, WA, who was going to start the program and was looking for a CSR. He suggested that I schedule an interview and send over my resume, so I did and I ended up getting the job.
And the rest is history. What advice could you give to other CSRs that are out in the field right now to help them sign up more clients?
Be proactive. Cold calling works great and that should always be the number one way to get leads. In addition, there are also referral partners, centers of influence, and other people in your area you could partner with to get more leads. You have to be proactive; you should be actively looking for businesses when you’re driving down the street or if you go to one of your appointments and you look next door and there is a business strip next door, just be proactive and meet with as many business owners as you can. The more proactive I am, the more leads we get.
These are many of the topics we cover at the Practice Development Seminar. Are you involved with some networking groups? Can you expand on that a little bit?
Sure. I attend chambers of commerce meetings in the surrounding cities, and if you look online, there’s actually quite a few business networking opportunities out there. The one that works great lately is where I started a golf networking event with a colleague of mine and what we do is we target small business owners and other business professionals to come out to the golf course once a month. In Seattle, we only get five to six months of good weather each year, but during that time, we invite as many people as we can to the golf course. We network for an hour prior to playing and then when we actually go out and golf, you have three to four hours with the other people in your group. We’ve found that it’s a great way to connect with business owners.
Yeah, that’s a great idea. What advice do you have for other accountants that are running an NCI program from your CSR perspective?
It’s been a joy to work with Ken; for other CPAs, the biggest advice I would give would just be to work with the CSR, but also trust him to do his job. It’s not to say CPAs aren’t good salesmen, because many are, and my CPA, Ken Russell, is great and when he gets in front of a client, with his personality and the way he interacts, he’s very good. It’s just important to trust the salesperson. I bounced quite a few ideas off of Ken about bringing online marketing and social media and other lead referral sources into play. He listens to me and makes the best decision for the company, but at least he’s working with the marketing team. And he’s allowing me to make a lot of decisions and he’s also trusting me that I’m looking out for what’s best for the company from a marketing and growth perspective.
Communication is important, but communication does not mean micromanagement. What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
For the first six months, the most difficult part was trying to find good appointment setters. When I first started, we were cycling through appointment setters at a high rate.
We did find one that is working out; one we’ve had for over a year and a half, almost the full two years. He has been very consistent and part of the reason he stayed is because we’ve been able to offer him a higher commission rate, something Ken was okay with because he knew the value was there.
What’s your favorite thing about the job?
My favorite thing about the job is meeting with the business owners; that’s actually what brought me to NCI in the first place. I knew that as a CSR in an NCI program, I’d be able to meet with different business owners every day; when you go in there in the morning you might meet with an auto shop and in the afternoon you might meet with an IT consultant. There’s always something to learn from them: how they run their business, what difficulties they are dealing with, and for me to see firsthand how we are able to help them out with their problems is very rewarding to me. It’s about building strong relationships with the business owners in your community.
Do you have a particular NCI closing technique that you prefer to use or have found to be more successful than others?
The first would be the post-dated check close. When I first started out, I realized very quickly that when you leave that first meeting, the chance that they sign on goes down substantially. The reason I like the post-dated check is that it gives that prospect a chance to think it over and, in some cases, it allows them to come meet with our CPA. So for people that are interested in signing on, but their business partner is not there or for one reason or another they’re not ready to write the check right then, I’ve been able to get them to post-date a check for a week out. This gives them a few days to think it over and oftentimes I have them come in for a meeting with our CPA. Ken brings that check to the first meeting and if they’re not happy after that meeting then we’ll give back the check, but if they are happy, then we’re further along in the process and we can start working with them right then.
The other one I like is the assumptive close. It took me a little longer to become comfortable with the assumptive close because I needed to become more confident with my sales skills and also in the work that we provide. Once I got to a point where I’m very confident in both I started using the assumptive close right in the middle of my presentation because I expect them to sign on. If they need our service, and it’s a good fit, I’m talking like they’re going to sign on the entire time. The prospect can pick up on the fact that I believe in the service and I know it’s going to work which helps puts them at ease and they’re more likely to sign on as well because that confidence shows through.
Can you talk about specific wording you use to get them in that mindset?
Yeah, the first question I ask is, if we were able to take away the stress and the hassle of you doing your own bookkeeping and worrying if your taxes were done and filed on time, what would that open up for you and your business? That gets them thinking about what they would do with that extra time each month and what they’d do without that stress. From there it’s just using words like, “when you sign on” and “when you have a chance to meet our CPA, here’s what we’re going to do for you.” It gets them in the mindset of thinking like we already are their CPA.
Please sum up your feelings on the NCI program.
I can’t speak highly enough about the NCI program, I’ve seen it work for my family and now I’ve seen it work again for Ken and our CPA firm, and it’s not to say that there’s not going to be hard times, it’s tough getting started, to find the right CSR and appointment setters. It’s been a great experience; there are tough times but if you work hard, when you do get through them, you’re in a much better position. If the marketing is set up correctly, it keeps working and it keeps the ball rolling, so I cannot speak highly enough of NCI and I’m glad that you guys were willing to do the success story on us.
We’re very glad and appreciative that you and Ken were willing to take the time to sit down for these interviews and provide your insight. We wish you and Ken the best of luck moving forward and congratulations on your hard- earned success thus far!
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.
CEO Post Script:
When I read this article, I was extremely impressed with David’s can-do attitude. He knew what he wanted and he didn’t let his young age or lack of experience stand in the way of reaching his goals. When things at first didn’t work out as planned, he didn’t give up. He found another sales job to gain experience and at the same time connected with Todd Steinberg to let him know his goal of working for an NCI client as a CSR. I am also amazed with his grasp and use of some of the simple, yet effective, sales techniques we teach at the seminar. We see far too many people who return home and try to reinvent the wheel or doubt the effectiveness of a closing technique such as the Post-Dated Check close and try it once or twice before giving up, if they try it at all.
I’d also like to acknowledge David’s parents and thank them for their past business and for raising the fine young man David has become. This reminds me somewhat of my Dad and the positive influence he had on my career.
David, you are an impressive young man and if you ever sell yourself out of a job with Ken you’ll have a home here with NCI. Congratulations on a job well done and continued success to you, Ken, and the rest of your team.