Client Service Representative – Dan Duvall, VA
For this month’s interview I spoke with one of the longest-tenured Client Service Representative in NCI history. His name is Dan Duvall and he has worked for Arun Sareen, CPA, at his practice in Virginia for 16 years. Dan is one of several CSRs who Arun employs to grow his firm since starting the NCI Plan II program in March of 1993. Now Arun bills 4.5 million dollars annually and continues to grow using the NCI program.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to work for Arun back in 1994?
Sure. I spent about a dozen years in the commercial banking industry. I went through branch management into the commercial banking area for a large regional bank and ended up being a VP in the business development area, mainly sales. Just like accountants and attorneys are never salespeople and you never had a sales department, you had to have sales. So that was my specialty area. I ran the group for a while at a major bank, trained people and managed them. Unfortunately, I got merged out of a job — actually twice — and moved out of the banking field because I thought it would be in a continual state of merging, which it has turned out to be. Then, I went with a national payroll service called Paychex. I spent three years with them, so I’ve got a thorough understanding of payroll.
I’m sure that’s been helpful in your current job.
It’s been very helpful. In the banking industry, I analyzed financial statements. It gave me a good background, and even though I’m not a CPA, it gave me a good background for selling CPA services. In January of 1994, Arun hired me and I went to Atlantic City to train with you guys.
Okay, so you attended the seminar in Atlantic City?
That’s correct, and ended up in an ice storm on the way home, so I’ll never forget that trip.
How important was that training for you?
The training was very important. It was an eye-opener to me because I had never been in the accounting business. It was also good because it involved all the accountants. I would estimate 30 or 40 people attended, and out of them maybe three or four were marketing and sales people and the rest were accountants. So I was really able to get involved with the accountants. It was a good thing for me. Other than just the basic training, which was also good, I spent a good two or three days I up there and I enjoyed it.
You’re one of several people that go back quite a while in the company. There are a couple sales reps and some appointment setters that have been there well over a decade at this point, some closer to two decades now. Can you tell me a little bit about the sales staff at the office?
Sure, I was the first and Ken Tibbs came in after me, and he’s been there almost as long as I have. I’ve been there 16 years. Dutch is our number three guy and he’s been with us for almost 10 years, maybe more. So we’ve all been here for a while now.
And there’s an appointment setter, John, who’s been there since 1993. Is that right?
He was the original employee at the firm. He did appointment setting for about ten years.
That’s a pretty lengthy career for an appointment setter.
Yes, and we have another one that’s been here for about that long; the last ten years or so.
You mentioned Ken Tibbs, I interviewed him not that long ago for another edition of the newsletter, and you and he are two of the longest-employed CSRs in NCI history. You’re right at the top of the list.
Do I get a gold watch or anything?
Yeah, it’s in the mail. [laughs.] I was wondering, to what do you credit your success and longevity in the position?
I enjoy what I’m doing, which I attribute to my success. I enjoy what I’m doing and I enjoy my clients. If you don’t enjoy people or your clients, you won’t be here long. That’s the way it is in any business. If you don’t enjoy selling or meeting people or the people you work with, it really gets dry after a while. I enjoy the financial side of the industry, the people that I’m dealing with, and the clients that I’ve been able to bring in. My original client from 1994 is still with us. That’s just how I work with my people and that’s what I enjoy so much about it. That’s what’s kept me going.
That explains a lot: the fact that you enjoy it and you’re building good relationships like you said. That client has been there since you have.
I’ve always been a relationship seller, and if you’re not a relationship seller you might succeed more than I have, but at least I enjoy it as much or more than a lot of other people.
What’s the biggest client that you ever signed in terms of annual fees?
Oh, wow. Let me think here. Well, I guess it was about 10 years ago, when a local company was funded to send civilians into space on a rocket. I think they still actually exist under a different name now, so if you want to spend 2 or 3 million dollars, you can go up with the astronauts and take a trip around the moon.
I’ve heard about that company, where they’re trying to put civilians into space. Were they successful?
I don’t know, our relationship ended because they moved out of the local area and moved out to Florida to be near a launch site. So, we didn’t have them for long, but for the first year the annual fees — the original sign-up was about $18,000 and I think we made at least $50,000 on them in the first year. Those are big fees for me, because I’m usually involved in monthly clients, and there are a lot of other clients that Arun becomes involved with that don’t involve me because they’ve got severe tax problems. A lot of the time I’m not able to benefit from that. That’s probably my largest, but over the last couple of years I’ve been able to sign up $2,500-a-month clients, $1,800-a-month clients. Those are always very nice.
I know Arun overall has 15-20 clients in the $50,000 plus yearly range, which is pretty amazing, and I believe most, if not all, of them have come from NCI’s program, from you sales guys going out and signing people up.
Do you have a favorite closing technique? If you do, would you mind sharing what that is?
I don’t have a favorite close because, as a salesperson, you have to adapt to each situation differently, so I don’t do any sort of canned presentation and I don’t have a closing technique that is more consistent than any other technique. I’m generally very patient with the prospect, which I think you have to be. This used to be a one-call close business and it is no longer that. I think business owners are savvier these days. They do a lot of cost-comparisons and they also want to think about it overnight or for a couple of days before making a decision. What I like to do when I’m near a close is to just stay quiet and let them make the decision for themselves. That generally works for me. Once I had made my presentation, I would say, “How does that sound to you? Is there any reason we can’t get started?” And I’ll just be silent until they break the silence. Usually they’ll come up with something, and once they do that, I can counter it. The main thing I don’t like to do is be too pushy. You have to be pretty aggressive to close people but sometimes you can also kill your chances if you overly aggressive on a closing.
That’s a little bit more of a silent-type of closing. That’s very effective when used properly. I think some salespeople are uncomfortable with silence during their presentation because, naturally, we’re uncomfortable with that in a normal conversation. As a salesperson, you start to understand the value of silence and letting people digest the information that you’re giving them and things of that nature.
I think as salespeople we have a tendency to be overly talkative during appointments. What I like to do is let the prospect talk because, after a while, they are going to open up to me and tell me all of their problems.
People like to talk about themselves and their problems.
After they speak for a while, I can identify their pain and whether that’s pain in business or financially or with their current accountant. Those are types of things I look for.
Yeah, the pain comes out. That’s the whole reason you’re there: to identify that pain and offer them some relief.
What’s your favorite thing about being a CSR?
Closing a sale is always the peak. It’s meeting the people, being able to help people out, and then closing the sale and knowing that you’ve done something for both the client and the company.
What do you like the least?
The thing I like least is spending time telemarketing. I don’t like that very much. I’m just not a telemarketing type, that’s why we have telemarketers here, thank goodness. Cold-calling, I like that because I can get face to face with some people. That’s the most unpleasant part: trying to make cold calls over the phone. It does make me appreciate the telemarketers’ job, though, because they’ve got a tough job, and they’re good at it and it amazes me how good they are.
What words of advice could you offer, Dan, with all your experience and time in this position, to any other CSRs who are out there doing what you do or anybody who’s looking at that position?
The number two guy at Paychex, who is, unfortunately, no longer with us, was somebody I got to know very well. He had a philosophy, which I’m sure didn’t originate with him but he espoused it all the time: “Plan your work and work your plan.” I think if you plan out your day and your month, you’ll be much better off. Once you’ve planned it, follow the plan.
Always make contact with people. I never shy away from going on an appointment with somebody unless it’s an absolute bust. If it’s a marginal situation, I’ll try to determine whether there’s a possibility this might be a prospect in the future. Don’t pass up an opportunity to be with a prospect, because the more you’re out there, the more possibilities there are that you’re going to get some business. I’ve been very successful at not hitting-and-running from clients. There’s the old philosophy — the high-volume philosophy — that if you see 100 prospects, you’re going to get more business than when you see 50 prospects, and I think that’s always true.
You have to be careful not to lose clients in the stampede, though. I think there are a lot of prospects out there who did not buy the first time but if you stay in touch with them, they’re going to buy at some point in time. There’s some reason they agreed to the appointment, and I’ll never forget that. I’ll keep them on my list. I’ll follow up three or six months later, and I’ve been very successful at getting business six months to a year after the initial call.
Like you said, you’re patient and that’s so important. You can’t just do a one-and-done approach; you have to stick with people. Circumstances change. It’s a numbers game; we all know that but sometimes people lose sight of that. Plan your work and work your plan. That’s good; I like that.
That way, you’re at least going down the right road. If you can start out on that road, then you have better chances. If you never get on the road, you’re never going to get anywhere.
Exactly. Or as my father is fond of saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” which is from a George Harrison song.
That’s right, I like that, too.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me, Dan.
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.