Independent research confirms that people make a series of five buying decisions whenever they are being sold to.

Central in the prospect's decision-making process is the question: "What will it do for me?" An accounting professional should imagine this question emblazoned across the forehead of every prospect, because it is this question above all that must be answered satisfactorily in order to win the engagement.

To answer the question, accountants must first understand the sequence of buying decisions. Prospects will make value judgments in this order: the accountant; the firm; the product or service; the price; and time. There are seven steps that parallel the five buying decisions: approach; qualification; agreement on need; sell the company; fill the need; act of commitment; and cement the sale.

STRUCTURED, NOT CANNED

Having an exact procedure to follow, without doubt or hesitation, is crucial to your sales success. One reason this seven-step process is so popular among accountants is that it's an easy-to-follow procedure that works.

1. In the first step, "approach," you are selling yourself - your professionalism, your integrity, your good judgment and your trustworthiness. People buy because they like you, so wear a sincere smile, use positive language, develop a genuine interest in your prospect, use their name, compliment them, listen to their needs and make them feel important.

2. During Step Two, "qualification," you will work to maintain the positive rapport established in the approach step as you shift your focus to the specific business reason for your sales call. This is your information-gathering period. During this time, you will determine if the prospect has a genuine need for your service, if they are the person with the buying authority and if there are adequate funds available for the fees. You will qualify the person as a genuine prospect by asking open-ended questions to uncover their problems and needs.

3. Moving into Step Three, "agreement on need," you will summarize the information you gathered in Steps One and Two to verify these facts and ensure that you and your prospect are in agreement. Your prospects will buy not because they understand your accounting service but because you understand them. Therefore, you must determine their specific needs and effectively demonstrate that you fully grasp them.

4. You will "sell the company" in Step Four. A prospects' second buying decision is about your practice. Does it operate with integrity? Does it have the competence and capability to perform as promised? Focus on the key points that distinguish your firm from the competition. Familiarize your prospects with your firm, its products, its customers and its reputation.

5. Now you can "fill the need." The next two buying decisions are about the accounting service you sell and the price. In Step Five, you will show your prospects how your service solves their problems or fills their needs precisely, as well as the value they will receive for their investment. Ask questions to uncover what fears, uncertainties or doubts your prospects might have and prepare ahead of time to address each one as it comes up. It is crucial that you unearth all of the prospect's concerns prior to discussing price.

6. The only decision left is when to buy. During Step Six, the "act of commitment," it is time to ask for the engagement. Summarize the features and the benefits you agreed on, quote the investment or fee, and ask for the order. If an objection arises, acknowledge it with a neutralizing statement such as, "I understand," or, "I can appreciate that." Then, re-establish areas of agreement by citing three features they liked and add an additional feature-benefit-reaction, then ask for the order again.

7. Finally, in Step Seven, you will "cement the sale." Since people buy emotionally and then justify their decisions logically, it is important to take time with each of your clients to cement the sale. Develop a summary statement you can use to review the sound and intelligent reasons for their choice.

To be effective, these seven steps must be followed in the precise order we've presented here, because your prospects' five buying decisions are made in a precise psychological order.

Out of order, the seven steps aren't very effective and aren't likely to produce a sale. They will only result in a confused prospect and a frustrated, self-doubting salesperson.

Ron Holm teaches the Track Selling System sales training workshops for accounting professionals and accounting software resellers. Roy Chitwood, CSP, CSE, an author and consultant on sales and motivation, is the president of Max Sacks International, in Seattle.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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