I was eating lunch recently with partners at a mid-sized Northeast firm and the conversation turned to sales.

Many mid-sized firms have incorporated marketing and sales into their strategic planning, and when this firm recently offered sales training to its partners -- they all signed up!

What a difference a few years makes, huh?

Sales used to be a dirty word at accounting firms, where partners prided themselves on unsolicited referrals to generate new business, and their strong personal relationships to retain current ones.

But as the business landscape becomes more competitive, generating new business and learning how to close deals, is fast becoming a key evaluator at firms across the country. And managers and partners who know how to prospect and make sales are being handsomely rewarded.

To do it right, sales must be treated as the art form and discipline that it is. Good salespeople don't appear to be selling anything -- they're simply helping clients conduct their businesses better by offering them a vital product or service. And professional training is essential -- even for those who are natural rainmakers.

Once the training is done, however, the learning process begins. Practically no one starts out as a top revenue producer. But there are a few guidelines to follow.

Good salespeople are prepared -- they don't practice their pitch on the ride to the prospect, and don't write Cliff Notes on their palms (it's been done). They do their research and learn as much as they can about the prospect's business and how their products and/or services fit into that business.

Good salespeople are amateur psychologists. They know how to read a prospect's mood, and adjust their pitch to match that mood.

Good sellers are good listeners -- they truly hear the prospect's concerns, don't step on the ends of their sentences, and adapt their pitch accordingly. And a good sales pitch, stripped down to its essence, is an interesting conversation between two professionals who can help each other.

Sales is the lifeblood of accounting firms and is finally being given the stature and attention it deserves. Those who want to succeed should learn this skill well.

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