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By Thomas M. Murphy

Selling is one of the most daunting tasks facing many CPAs. Outside of Marketing 101 in college, very few accountants receive formal sales training. At best, they're told to join the right organizations and clubs in order to make the contacts that will eventually produce new business. Beyond that, most accountants are on their own when it comes to business development.

In my position as a marketing director for an international accounting firm, I was surprised at how few selling skills many of the partners and managers possessed. Instead of actively participating in sales and marketing activities, they waited for the magical appearance of RFPs, most of which were mere formalities to naming accounting firms that had been courting the company for some time.

In my experience, there are two basic ingredients professionals must possess to be successful in selling: proper attitude and appropriate action. By "proper attitude" I mean two things: how you view your personal selling ability and how you perceive the selling function. "Appropriate action" means using your strengths and not trying to be someone other than yourself.

Let's face it. Many accountants, just like other professionals, possess a number of personality traits we usually associate with introverts. They tend to be more quiet, less aggressive, more studious, less spontaneous, and more detail oriented than people whom we think of as extroverted. And while these traits may make a good accountant, these are not characteristics usually linked with people who are successful in sales. As a consequence, accountants doubt their own sales abilities.

Having spent the major portion of my career in the advertising business, I know how important it is to portray a product in its best light, to look at a product from a variety of angles and decide which one best shows the ultimate benefit to the buyer.

With that in mind, let me offer a different perspective on CPA introvert traits. Instead of looking from the inside out, I suggest a look from the outside in--from a potential client's viewpoint.

What I am suggesting is that instead of a person considering his or herself to be quiet, why not emphasize listening skills? A good listener can't be constantly talking. The very best salespeople spend 70% of their time listening, so being quiet is an asset, not a liability.

Those who are less comfortable in groups should concentrate on building one-to-one relationships. They can put the individual buyer foremost in their minds and concentrate on discovering his or her needs and providing a solution. After all, selling is really one-to-one.

Some may be less spontaneous than their extrovert counterparts. They should think of themselves as being measured in their responses. In other words, they think before they speak. When this is recognized, they will be valued and their opinion sought out.

Continuing with this new perspective, studiousness can be viewed as a devotion to professional knowledge; attention to detail will certainly be appreciated; and a not overtly aggressive personality will open doors to communications, as potential clients see this as nonthreatening; and tempered characteristics can be seen as level-headedness and not being prone to overly enthusiastic optimism.

This is a much more positive self-image to present to the world. Now the accountant has attractive benefits to offer potential clients and, even more importantly, the result is a self-image that is prepared for success instead of disaster. The accountant can begin to see him or herself as a successful salesperson.

I said there were two components to having a positive attitude about sales abilities. I've talked about the first, its self-image. But the other component can be just as important. And that is your image of selling. It continually amazes me how salespeople are portrayed so negatively in popular culture. As outdated as it might be, the image of the sleazy salesperson, usually a car dealer, is a mainstay of television, newspapers, and movies. It's no wonder very few CPAs and other professionals want to see themselves as having any selling responsibilities.

A more accurate picture of professional sales today is that of hard working men and women trying their best to fill their customers' needs. It is a necessary aspect of the CPA profession. A positive attitude about sales is especially critical for the more introverted of CPAs because they are more self-directed and have a much more difficult time doing things they feel to be wrong or offensive to some. Until sales activities are viewed in a positive light, success will not be attained.

The second basic ingredient for CPA sales success is taking action that is appropriate for the particular personality and professional interests of the person "selling." I like to use the analogy of sales farming vs. sales hunting. More extroverted professional salespeople tend to be sales hunters. They spend a lot of time prospecting, making cold calls, and quickly going from one sales call to another in hopes of finding new customers. As can be imagined, this salesperson type usually has a more traditional, outgoing, aggressive personality, not the more reserved personality found in most CPAs and other professionals.

A more suitable approach for CPAs is that of a sales farmer, who selects a plot of land very carefully, then sows seeds appropriate to the soil and climate, finally harvesting a rich crop of sales.

The sales farmer's selection of a plot of land is analogous to targeting. The successful introvert salesperson needs to know which companies present the best probability of success, based on industry expertise, existing relationships and desirability as a client. While all successful salespeople need to target, for the CPA it is even more important because the preparatory efforts will be more involved and time consuming. Besides, time should not be wasted on unlikely targets.

The seeds are the lead generating activities such as cultivating referrals, putting on seminars, advertising, instituting public relations programs, becoming active in industry associations and other groups, speaking, and writing. All these activities are designed to generate interest among target audiences and give them the opportunity to become acquainted with the firm and the expertise of its CPAs.

The harvest is analogous to the actual face-to-face selling process. Now, the sales farmer is at a distinct advantage over the sales hunter. Because he doesn't make use of targeting and lead generation tactics, the sales hunter must create an awareness and interest in the prospect before a sale can be made. On the other hand, the sales farmer has already accomplished these steps and can concentrate on substantive issues like exploring the prospect's needs and finding solutions. An introvert personality can be put to good use by showing professional knowledge, building personal relationships one-to-one, being meticulous about details, and consequently, having opinions and views valued. In other words, being somewhat introverted is a great asset, not a liability. *

Thomas M. Murphy is a sales and marketing consultant in Portland, Oregon (thomasm@m.al8.com).


Michael Goldstein, CPA
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