If you’re a new firm owner, you might start by handing everything from prospecting to customer service to the actual accounting. As a firm grows, these roles have to be given to other people if you want to focus on future products and growth. Hiring another accountant is easy, but what about hiring a business development specialist?
In this episode of Grow Your Firm, we talk with Len Petracosta, COO of Peak Performance. He helps develop training programs for salespeople and executives. We have been talking with him for some time and invited him to speak on the podcast about this problem. We went over a lot that can help you grow your firm to the next level, so check out the full show below.
- Len’s background as a restaurant entrepreneur and President of Sysco
- How to create a system where firm owners can hand off closing new prospects
- Why “Can I make a suggestion?” is a powerful conversation technique
- How to qualify an engaged prospect
- How to train your lead qualification hire
- And more!
- Len Petracosta’s email: len.petracosta (at) sandler.com
- Len’s LinkedIn
- Peak Performance by Sandler Traning
- Interview with Jackie Meyer
- Interview with Brandon Hall
Stepping Back As The Rainmaker Of Your Firm
It’s a rare accountant who has both the technical knowledge and qualifications and who also enjoys running a business. Accountants don’t go to school to learn sales techniques. They get that training somewhere else.
As a firm grows, it’s fairly simple to hire more accountants to do the technical work, but what about handling new prospects? If you’ve gained a client base, you probably have a brand presence and style you follow when you talk with a new client. Giving that up to someone else can be a scary proposition.
Our talk with Len Petracosta goes into how you can remove that fear and get someone trained to take over talking with new clients so that you can focus on being more of a CEO than a salesperson.
What Is Their Role?
If you’re going to hire someone with the sole responsibility for bringing in new work, you need to focus on that skillset. Many firm owners want to find a copy of themselves, someone who has both the technical expertise and the sales expertise to do what you do.
The approach that Len suggests is to find someone who can tee the ball up for you. Whatever you choose to call their position, like customer liaison or business development officer, their job is to simply ask potential clients questions about their situation, assess whether your firm can help them, and then convince the contact to talk to you for the more technical interview.
By doing this, you’ll find far more qualified people who can take on the role. Of course, it will help if you have a workflow and client management system in place for qualifying candidates before you bring in someone to train them. Many business owners have an unconscious qualification process for new clients and that has to be documented.
An Ideal Interview
In the podcast, Len and David do a roleplay to show how your new hire might qualify a candidate. According to Len, you can qualify someone in about 45 minutes of talking and if the right questions are asked then the client will talk for 2/3rds of that time.
But what qualifies a candidate? In the sales training offered by Peak Performance, they teach people to seek out the pain inside of a potential client. Not just the technical problems they’re facing but the underlying emotions that make them painful. If these root causes can be uncovered, then it’s a matter of whether or not your firm’s services can overcome those pain points.
Focusing on this is a much better approach than spouting off the years of experience and the number of qualifications you have. Every accountant can do that. But there are only a handful of pain points that get people to search for an accountant or switch accountants. These include:
- Lack of communication
- Feeling like they’re paying too much in taxes
- Lack of transparency (e.g. chasing documents down)
- Worries about compliance
The needs will vary depending on your clients and niche, but there’s usually just a handful. That makes it easy to train someone on what to look for.
Training The Hire
It should be simple enough to train someone to just do qualifications in about 60-90 days. That gives them enough time to understand your firm.
However, if your firm is only getting a few calls each year, say 1-2 a month, that may not be enough to get them trained in time. Also, if they are very new to the field, you might have to have them on the calls with you and learn at your knee about how you interview new prospects. Some firm owners don’t want to go through that hassle. How do you overcome these hurdles?
First, understand that most salespersons can be classified as either hunters or farmers. Hunters go out and seek new clients. Farmers like to develop existing clients and upsell them over time. While there are salespersons who can do both, most fall into one of these two buckets.
If you already have a large book of business that’s bringing in a lot of referrals, you’ll probably want a farmer. But if you only get a few calls, look for a hunter and have them look for new business.
Second, if you want your salesperson to be independent one day they will have to pick up some of the technical pieces by osmosis or through training. If you have a qualification workflow in place, that can be used to bootstrap what the salesperson needs to know about and guide training. If you have other accountants on staff, they can assist with training.
Your salesperson should be at a point where they can operate independently within two years. That gives them enough time to see the entire accounting year and get enough experience to feel comfortable qualifying and onboarding new clients.
There’s lots more about this topic that we discuss in the interview. If you haven’t taken a listen to the full show yet, you can find it linked at the top of the page.