Tim Kline, Client Service Representative
Our interview this month is with what has to be the most successful CSR working in the program over the past two years. He was so effective, in fact, that he sold himself right out of his job after adding $432,000 (not an annualized number but, rather, billings collected over two years) in new business. That can happen in the NCI marketing program; most accounting firms can only handle so much new business over the course of a few years. Tim worked for Joe Pancerella, CPA, who now teaches the NCI Advanced Processing Seminar, taking over for Duane Gravley. Joe recently decided he’s had enough growth and so Tim Kline, his CSR, was now on the market. We extended an offer to have him work for NCI given his amazing track record and intimate knowledge of the marketing program. Tim has accepted that offer. I got a chance to interview him about the vast experience he has accumulated over the past two years and also his keys to success. Read on to see how a true professional gets the job done.
Chris Clark: Please tell me a little bit about your sales background prior to working for Joe Pancerella, CPA.
Tim Kline: Sure. Primarily I was a principal in an equipment leasing and financing company and basically we secured funding from banks that underwrote for us in order to provide leasing and finance options for business owners who wanted to purchase equipment for their business. I was doing that for years. I also had a stint with Citizens Bank as a business banking officer. My responsibilities there were to form banking relationships with business owners; lending relationships. I would sell market loan products, checking and savings accounts, that sort of thing.
How was it that you came to work for Joe?
I had gotten back into the equipment leasing and financing arena after my stint with Citizens because there was some opportunity there. When the banks hit the crisis in ’08-’09 and stopped lending, I decided to look for other opportunities and came across the opportunity with Joe Pancerella, which I think was a referral from a salesperson I knew in another field.
How did you benefit from the training that you were given by NCI?
I think it was valuable for many reasons. It gave me a refresher course on some principles of selling in general, but it also gave me a clearer understanding of how to market the accounting service. I really didn’t have much of an accounting background even though in my other position with the bank I was able to read a financial statement. I think the training helped me understand the industry better and it also gave me some nice selling techniques. It was more a review for me where it helped to hone my skills that I had and helped remind me of things I was taught years ago but had not been using consistently.
That makes sense. Obviously, we always look for very seasoned salespeople for these positions and you had that experience and as an added bonus it was within the financial realm.
Exactly, it was a fairly easy transition and I had pretty much always been selling intangibles, and that, again, was pretty easy for me.
What was a typical day like for you when you were working as a sales representative for Joe?
Busy. A typical day would be a combination of starting off with the appointment setter calls and then following up with the appointments, going out and meeting with prospects. If I was in an area and had a little bit of time between appointments I would drop off some cards to local businesses that I thought might benefit from our services. I would keep an eye open for new businesses and grand opening signs when I was driving or walking. I also had a lot of follow-up – one of the things I had a nice success rate with was the TIOs [Editor's note: TIO stands for Think It Over] I’d look at the TIO as more or less a backburner sale that was going to happen at some point. I kept a pretty nice log of TIOs who I kept after: that was a benefit to me because I was pretty steadfast with my follow-up to them and I got a lot of those businesses to sign up at a later date.
That persistence is hugely important because people aren’t always going to buy right now but down the line things can change on their end. If there’s some interest initially, you plant some seeds, cultivate them, and you’ll more than likely get the sale down the line.
The key is staying with them. That’s where I thought I had a good strength: my follow-up ability, keeping up with warm leads consistently. Even if it was a lukewarm lead, I’d still stay on top of it and try to make sure I’d call them on the days they told me to call them.
It’s a balancing act, you want to be persistent but you don’t want to overdo it and you also don’t want to let too much time go by between contacts.
Yep, that’s a very important skill, too, to be able to do that. You don’t want to brow-beat people but sometimes I found myself saying, “You need this. Whether you decide to do it now or later, it’s going to be more beneficial to do it now and get your ship righted. The people I would see on these appointments were often disorganized. If a prospect has all their ducks in a row and has no problems and everything’s going smoothly, that’s not necessarily going to be a real good prospect. A prospect is one that is dissatisfied with his accountant because of certain reasons, whether it’s a lack of communication or poor advice, or their books are just botched up because they don’t have the time to do it. So you have to impress upon them that they need it, if they’re going to stay successful or want to become more successful they need to work on that. That’s something I always try to drive home.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear of losing your business, your livelihood, that certainly will keep someone up at night and you can provide them a solution and peace of mind. What was the most rewarding thing about the position to you?
Well, the compensation wasn’t bad, but when I walked out of the office of a client that I had just signed up, I would say “When I leave, you can take a deep breath and say, ‘I don’t have to worry about all these issues anymore. It’s under control.’” That made me feel really good, the fact that a lot of people who were having problems now felt that things were going to get better after signing up with me.
What was the most challenging part of the job for you?
Probably managing the pick-up week for the clients’ work was the most difficult. That week got to be very hectic for me. We had a lot of clients that I had to see, and with the way I am, I was probably my own worst enemy. I would accept appointments those days as long as they were in my area. I think the most challenging thing was keeping everything organized during this week.
What would you say is the single piece of advice that you could give to other CSRs and accountants who are going to be reading this that would help them to close more business?
I think they have to accept the fact that business owners do not have enough time in the day and, even though they want to be organized, they can easily lose control. It’s difficult for them to juggle all these balls in the air, and our service that we provide eliminates a lot of that problem for them. It organizes a disorganized person. Maybe they’re not disorganized by choice, but they get thrown into this newer business, they enjoy what they’re doing and they got into that business for that reason. But then they start getting notices from the IRS or the state and they lose control. That’s something the CSR has to understand; especially if the business is relatively new, they need this. They need what a good accountant can provide and it is a really good service for the price.
If you truly believe in the value of what you’re selling, it’s going to come across and have a powerful effect on your presentation. When you truly believe what you are providing is worth much more than the asking price, it goes a long way. For a relatively small fee, you can have that financial aspect taken care of. You’ve got the prospects with shoeboxes full of receipts, people who haven’t been keeping their books for a year, haven’t filed a return for a couple of years; they’re really just digging a hole. The accounting service is a helping hand to pull them out of that hole and guide them in the right direction. What would you say is your most effective closing technique that you learned from NCI?
The results assurance program [Editor's note: the results assurance program or the "west coast close" is an NCI closing technique that utilizes a money-back guarantee on the monthly accounting service.] is one that I brought out when I thought a prospect was on the fence. If I sensed that they were pretty close to making a decision but they weren’t committed yet, they were concerned about the outlay of cash or something like that, I would pull out the West Coast (results assurance) close. That one shows them that they have nothing to lose – you have to watch your words but I would try to imply that they’re foolish if they don’t at least give this a good shot, because they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
It shows you stand behind your product, too, with the money back guarantee. You’re going to be hard pressed to find another accounting firm that has that kind of offer.
Especially if they said they were interviewing other accountants and the one thing I would say is, “You can interview a hundred other accountants but no other firm is going to offer you this.”
I meant to say this before and you had hinted at it, but sometimes you have to be a little firm with certain prospects; they may not even realize the trouble they’re in. You let them know respectfully and professionally but you get the point across and sometimes it’s the only way to get through. You have to be matter-of-fact and show them what’s at stake. I wanted to bring this up, since you mentioned the West Coast close, but I know there are some accountants and CSRs who are hesitant to use it because they’re worried about all these clients wanting their money back. How many times did that happen with you, where people actually exercised that and said thanks, but no thanks, can I get my money back?
That happened fewer times than I can count on one hand. It’s very rare.
That’s what I figured. In our experience 99% of the time it just doesn’t happen. To what do you attribute your tremendous success in obtaining so many clients during a very difficult economic recession?
To put it in basic terms, I don’t take shortcuts and I work very hard. Being willing to work hard and being convinced that your program works for your client. Those two things are a formula for success: belief in your product and that it’s going to genuinely help your prospect and putting the hard work in.
What would you say to any accountants out there reading this who are thinking about doing this marketing program? What kind of advice would you offer to them?
I would say that if they truly want to get their business to the next level, then this is the way to do it. If they truly want to get to the next level, then this is a proven program that will get them there.
This coming from a man who lived it; you’re walking, talking proof of that.
You could say I’ve seen it work personally, yes.
So now you’re moving into a new chapter and you’ll be working with us here at New Clients Inc. We’re very excited to have you as a member of the sales team. How do you see the experience that you gained in helping NCI’s clients translate into this new role of selling that program to accountants?
It’s going to give me and any prospect I speak with an insider’s view. When they speak with me, they’ll be speaking with someone who lived it, implemented it recently and knows it inside and out. I was out in the street seeing people face to face, I know what they say and expect; I know what they want. They’re going to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. To me, a very important facet for an accountant to hear is how it works, from a person that did it.
Also, I understand you’re going to be contributing some articles for our newsletter as does many of our staff. I’m the senior editor of the newsletter and I’m curious, do you have any ideas for articles? I know it’s early in the process but I’m sure you have a wealth of knowledge that you can provide based on your experience and success.
I think I could help CSRs out there with a sales tip of the month to help them close more business. “Tim’s sales tip of the month” or something like that.
That would be great. Also, from time to time I’m sure we’ll have you lead or contribute to our weekly CSR coaching calls as well. That’s all the questions I have, Tim, thank you so much for your time and all of us here are excited to have you on board and look forward to working with you.
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.