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Accounting rainmakers need new sales skills

The accounting, medicine, law and engineering professions are realising they can no longer rely – or survive – on referrals and reputation alone. And the money these firms plough into marketing and advertising isn’t providing the returns it used to, either.

While marketing (such as events, sponsorships and brochures) and advertising can stimulate awareness and interest, these activities are not generating the levels of new business needed to cover the costs of running a professional services practice. The marketplace and the clients have indeed changed.

For many years in the last century and before, these professionals relied upon their network of referrals. Going to the ‘right schools’, being seen at the right events, contributing to various causes, making themselves visible to the right people and then developing a reputation among a select group of friends and colleagues brought business to their door. Those days, if not long gone in most circles, are fading fast. Why?

Much to the chagrin of many in professional services circles, changes were introduced in law around 2004, allowing professional service providers to advertise. It wasn’t long before many lawyers, accountants and other professionals turned to radio, newspapers and magazines to promote their capabilities, and this became the norm for attracting new business.

Then things changed again. The explosion of advertising on the internet and social media gave prospective clients access to so much information and choice that professional services firms found they had to invest more heavily in advertising to try to create a clear point of difference.

So, now we arrive at a point where the ‘old school tie’ network and advertising are not nearly as effective as they used to be. Added to this is the fact that, these days, accountants, doctors, lawyers and the like are exposed to the same challenge that any other business or service provider has: competition for more business. This increased competition means these professionals now have to go out and sell – for real.

With universities producing hundreds of skilled professionals in all walks of life, this means advertising has simply made the potential client base aware of the alternatives and has added pressure on professionals to offer better services, lower fees and more. And because very few professional services have learned anything about the art of selling, many are finding that this is jeopardising their practices as ongoing business concerns.

The matter is made more complex because many professionals find that being referred to as a salesperson is somewhat of an anathema. Yet the unique challenge of selling professional services means that only truly consummate professionals are able to be effective ‘rainmakers’ – a person in a professional practice who has the ability to consistently find innovative ways to represent the profession in a way that encourages new clients, without crossing ethical lines.

In the next issue we will focus on what makes a successful rainmaker in professional services selling.

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