Phil Sayers | The Top 5 Selling Mistakes That Accountants Make

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The term “selling” has a bad reputation in the accounting world. Sales people are seen by accountants as pushy, a pain in the neck, individuals who aren’t genuinely interested in the accountant’s firm, but just interested in making the next sale or, worse still, only interested in getting the accountant to make the next sale for them. With the huge growth in cloud accounting software, accountants are consistently bombarded with emails and calls from sales people all promoting their particular piece of problem-solving technology. It’s all a huge distraction from the real job in hand of looking after their clients’ financial affairs.

The vast majority of accountants have never had any training in how to sell effectively. They go through years of intense technical training becoming experts in helping their clients comply with legal requirements, helping minimise tax liabilities—all the key areas of accounting knowledge that their clients expect them to be experts in. Accounting training simply doesn’t include any reference to the soft skills required to build rapport with clients…it just assumes that the individual can do this already.

Because the years of technical training encourages a mind set of expecting questions to have right or wrong answers (a trial balance should actually balance, a particular service either is or isn’t subject to VAT), it can be a challenge for some to have conversations with clients or prospects where there may not actually be a right or wrong answer.

That’s not to say that all accountants can’t sell… of course they can.

If they didn’t sell at all, then they’d be out of business pretty quickly. It’s really a question of degree; some are naturally good at selling, others are truly awful, and many get by but could definitely be more effective. This was something I found out pretty quickly when I set up Proten Sales Development and went looking for an accountant to work with.

Now I’ve been selling and running sales teams and businesses for my entire career, I analyse the sales skills of people I meet as a matter of course, so it was easy for me to see how different these approaches were, and more importantly, how effective or otherwise they were. It’s no surprise that I chose one of the two “different” accountants, and the working relationship has proved to be just as supportive and constructive as I hoped it would be.

I’ve been working with accountants for years and there are five recurring mistakes accountants make in selling:

1) Assume that clients and potential clients know what help they need

There’s a fundamental difference between what clients (or customers) know what they want and what they actually need. Often, they don’t know what they need because no one has ever asked them the right questions. Unless you take the time to explore what’s going on in a client’s world (professionally and personally), you’re unlikely to uncover all the opportunities to provide additional services.

R&D tax claims fall perfectly into this category. Many SMEs are unaware that they may be eligible to claim and may indeed have been fed misinformation about R&D tax by the large number of service providers in this busy market. By understanding the opportunity for value-add yourself, and asking the right questions, you will be able to position your service affectively and maintain your position as a “trusted advisor”.

2) Assume that clients understand the value of the services being provided

The value that we provide our customers is not what we do… it’s why we do it. For example, the value in completing and submitting an R&D tax claim for a client is not the process of doing this, or even the price that we charge, the value is the peace of mind we provide to the client in knowing that they’re not going to get a brown envelope from HMRC, and that they have accessed an appropriate tax benefit that they are genuinely entitled to. If we don’t explain the value of what we do to our clients, they’ll only ever see us as a cost.

3) Fail to differentiate from the competition​

Most businesses, especially accountants, operate in a competitive market. Potential clients have multiple options to choose from and will have done their basic research before they ever make contact with us. If their research doesn’t identify anything that’s different between us and our competitors, what are they going to focus on to make their selection?…cost!

4) Believe that Pitching = Selling​

Explaining a list of your services and your fee structure isn’t selling, it’s pitching. Professional selling is the process of identifying problems that our clients have, understanding the impact of not resolving those problems, and then offering solutions to those problems. If you start to think of selling as “helping” and you’ll make a bigger impact and get better results.

5) Think that accountants shouldn’t or don’t need to sell

You might have a steady stream of new enquiries but its important to remember that every firm loses clients… whether that’s because they move to another firm, or they cease trading, retire or sell their business. So in order to just stand still, we still need to find new clients and in an ideal world, we’d want to be working with the right type of clients for us. If we sell professionally, we get to choose which clients we work with.

Selling isn’t an “art”, effective selling is a set of skills and techniques that can be learned and improved over time.

About Proten

Proten Sales Development’s founder is Phil Sayers. He helps Accountants and B2B business owners improve the effectiveness of their selling activities and ultimately build a better business. He has worked for, run and owned small businesses, and has worked with Accountants for many years, so he understands the mind set it takes to be successful, and understands the pressure that Accountants and Business owners have to handle every day.

Proten Sales Development provides 1-2-1 and group sales training and there’s even an online, on demand sales training programme “EPIC Selling”. For Accountants who want more intensive support, we also provide 1-2-1 coaching and Mastermind Groups.

For more information go to or arrange a free exploratory chat at or by calling 07776203431

How to write an R&D tax relief technical narrative

With HMRC’s new mandatory requirement for project descriptions on all submissions, we wanted to share our experiences to help others to write their best possible technical narratives.

Available to download here.

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