[IMGCAP(1)] It’s highly unlikely you went into accounting because you really wanted to learn how to sell. Yet, the simple truth is that the success of your career is likely to be profoundly impacted by your ability to bring in work, perhaps even more so than the advancement of your technical skills.

There are things you can do now to begin developing your selling skills, even though you may not be in actual selling situations. For starters, it's helpful to understand that selling can and should be viewed as a form of service, as opposed to an opportunity to get someone to do what you want them to do, i.e., “manipulation.” When we choose to engage in selling as a means to serving others, it is aligned with our values and integrity as professionals.This allows us to be more comfortable and effective, not to mention bringing greater value to those we engage in conversation with.

The first step in selling as a form of service is to make sure we understand what their problems are, as well as their objectives. Doing this effectively requires two fundamental skills. First, the ability to ask good questions and second, the skills for active listening. Questions are a powerful tool in the sales process, as well as in your work as a professional. They allow you to discover what is important to the client, what the underlying issues or concerns are, and as a means to obtaining information needed to fully understand the situation and formulate relevant solutions. Questions can also help a client become more aware of problems and their impact, which can often serve as a motivation to act.

A great example of the power of questions in action are those asked by doctors who are trying to determine the cause of a patient’s symptoms. Rather than jumping to conclusions, a good soctor will ask questions, some general and some specific, before reaching a diagnosis, which would then be followed by treatment plan. In the same way, we must take our time and ask the right questions to determine the underlying causes of the client's problem before we propose solutions.

Here's a simple way to develop the skill. When you approach any professional situation, such as a meeting with a client, colleague, firm manager or partner, etc., think about what questions you could be asking.Your goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the person or situation. Do so with an open mind, let go of preconceived ideas, and see what you can discover. Try this, and let us know the results.

In my next post I will talk about how powerful a force active listening can be.

As a consultant and trainer for the past two decades, Rick Solomon, CPA, both challenges and empowers accountants to reach higher levels of success. Making more money in fewer hours, doing more enjoyable work, and having an awesome life/work balance are just part of how he defines success. He is chief executive of RAN ONE Americas.