Improving Your Sales Skills – Part 3

This is the third article in which we explore how to improve your sales skills. In our last article at the end of May we looked at how to increase your new business by playing the numbers game. We then explored components of your prospects’ decision-making process before looking closely at the major differences between professional services and other service providers. Missed the article? You will find it here.

Let’s continue…


Remember Three Key Facts:

  1. The only things that are real to a prospect are those which he or she can perceive clearly.
  2. Most people cannot clearly perceive differences in your technical quality compared to other accountants. They think that your firm and your worthy competitors are all good. And for the most part — particularly when you consider the firms with whom you compete most frequently — people are right.
  3. In making buying decisions, people respond only to differences.

These three facts, taken together mean that…

Key Point: Marketing power does not lie in your technical skills, but in your ability to differentiate your firm and yourself from your competitors.


Even though you do more active selling, referral sources remain a vital and valuable part of your marketing activity. Especially if your personal selling skills are not too good. You need that extra advantage of getting that personal recommendation to grease the skids for the prospect.

Key Point: A good referral increases your closing percentage.

Developing effective referral sources increases your passive selling and thus your closing ratio.

Key Point: Effective referrals have the advantage of entering the marketing pipeline past the personal contact joint and sometimes even past the buyer interest joint. This short-cut the marketing process and reduces your marketing effort for that particular prospect.

Marketing through referral sources, like any marketing, requires some trade-offs. You must invest resources to develop referral sources, just as you have to devote resources to websites, brochures (maybe), advertising, blogs eshots etc. Marketing through referrals costs a lot, because the cost is in partner and manager time — one of your scarcest resources. Also, you cannot develop referral sources in a vacuum. You must reinforce the referral efforts with other marketing tools.


Selling is a numbers game. Active selling will not make a client of every prospect. You will not win them all, but then, you will not lose them all either.

The fear of failure prevents many accountants from trying to win new clients. Accountants are not trained to fail. We do not approach an accounting engagement with the thought that we might fail to complete it satisfactorily. We are not emotionally accustomed to failing in our professional endeavours. We look at selling as a similar professional endeavour to auditing, tax return filing or financial statement preparation: “If I perform these steps, I always gain this result.” When we try to sell, the steps and outcomes are unpredictable, and we often get told “no” or “not right now.” This can hurt some people emotionally. Thus, many times we have the attitude of: “If I never ask for the business, then no one can ever tell me No.”

The Dilemma: If you never ask for the business, you make it difficult for the prospect to say Yes.

You must overcome the fear of failure and approach selling with confidence. If a footballer does not take a shot on goal, he can never miss — but he can never score either. The successful shot requires willingness to try, knowing that you will not always succeed. You need not obtain every prospect as a client to succeed, but you do have to try to obtain a client when the opportunity exists.

Key Point: If you try to obtain a client and fail, what have you lost? You are still the same — you don’t have the client. But if you don’t try, you still do not have the client. You literally have nothing to lose.

Some people’s fear of failure overshadows their desire to succeed. They hesitate to ask someone for business and run the emotional risk of being turned down. They cannot confront the possibility of failure, so they do not even try. They don’t know how to market or sell. That is okay. Few of us had marketing courses while training, and almost none of us had sales courses. But they can learn, and marketing and selling have to be learned and put into practice, just like any other skill.


Whether or not you fail depends on what you tried to accomplish. You may not make a client out of everyone you meet. But you have other goals, too.

  • For example, if a person does not become a client, you should also have a goal of getting a commitment for another meeting to continue discussing their needs.
  • If they do not want to continue the discussion at this time, you could get a commitment for you to call them for lunch in 30 days or three months, or whatever.
  • If they do not agree to that, you can normally at least get them on your emailing list.
  • And if you do not accomplish that, you could also have a goal of leaving your relationship in such a condition that they will enjoy discussing business with you in the future.
  • And if that is not appropriate, you can at least make a friend.

Establish a hierarchy of desirable goals. Sometimes you accomplish all your goals, sometimes only a few. But at least every contact can make or improve a friendship. And every contact could have a favourable outcome if you learned something valuable from the contact.

Earlier, we mentioned the accountant’s role of serving as an assistant buyer. Salespeople do not really sell anything. Rather, they create a condition in a prospect’s mind that favours a buying decision.

A sale doesn’t just happen. Buyers follow a progressive thinking and communication process. Here is a map to guide you from your first step to your next and so on to your final destination. Knowing where you are at any time gives you a sense of direction and a feeling of confidence.

Key Point: Do not do these steps out of order. Trying to close too soon will blow the deal. You must develop trust before the prospect will take the risk of engaging you. That is why people perceive asking for the order before you establish trust as high pressure.


  1. Establish contact (make an acquaintance)
  2. Develop a personal relationship (interest in you)
  3. Create an interest (in your services as a possible solution on a problem)
  4. Interview the prospect to determine their needs
  5. Make a presentation or response
  6. Close, or “the natural conclusion.”

Conceivably, you could do all steps at a single encounter. Usually, a sale involves a series of encounters over time. The time to develop a satisfactory relationship varies depending on the prospect’s personality and your personality; some people just do not make friends easily or quickly.

You create interest throughout the development of the relationship. Any relationship involves exchange of information. Some information is personal, but some is about each other’s business. This creates some interest. Occasionally you do the interview, response and close in a single encounter — particularly with owner-manager businesses. That is the exception rather than the rule. Larger businesses mostly seek a more formal presentation.

In the real world the steps frequently run together or overlap.