Being able to sell is not a skill that is commonly associated with accountants.
Whilst the numerical and technical ability of accounting professionals is second to none, accounting qualifications do not explicitly cover sales, and regular accounting jobs do not give individuals the training or exposure to develop their sales expertise.
However, being able to master sales skills is likely to make you more successful in your career by getting buy in from stakeholders within your own company, making sure that your contributions are being recognised and being able to negotiate your true worth within the labour market.
We are all sales people now
The connotations of “sales” is in transition. Up until relatively recently it was common to think of sales as something inauthentic performed by overly opportunistic duplicitous people specifically tasked with aggressively selling goods and services.
However, in the knowledge economy many of us are spending large amounts of time and effort in our jobs negotiating with others to try and garner time and attention, as opposed to things which can be measured directly in monetary terms.
Dan Pink, author of “To Sell Is Human” conducted a survey of over 7,000 American workers, and found that they report spending 41% of their time performing tasks related to influence, persuasion and sales.
The key to selling in this brave new world is to demonstrate empathy with the person/people you are engaging with, and for them to come away feeling as if the outcome is a favourable one.
One way accountants in industry can benefit from influencing others is by partnering with other functions within their company.
It is often hard for individuals within the finance department to see eye to eye with their peers in the marketing and sales divisions. This is due to the latter two departments being more focussed on turnover and non financial KPIs. Correspondingly, accountants tend to be viewed as placing emphasis on cost control.
Taking a step back to engage with other departments, speak in their language and seeing things from their own point perspective is likely to enhance your influencing skills, build credibility with your peers and work towards holistic organisational goals.
Sophie Juliff, a recruitment consultant at Handle – a company specialising in placing finance professionals in retail, entertainment and lifestyle industries, believes that an effective way to partner with the sales team is to raise awareness of how promotions and offers can impact the bottom line.
“Take the time to explain how the margins impact the underlying business performance, and detail how much of each item needs to be sold in order to make a particular profit for the company.”
Making efforts to business partner across different functions is likely to make you aware of how the entire business operates and not just your own area.
It is often hard to get the experience you want in order to further your career and increase your earning potential. This is especially true to many finance related roles which can be process driven.
One way to combat this is by being proactive to undertake new tasks and identify efficiencies for the business you work in.
Juliff says: “Take on new responsibilities, and act like you are in a more senior role by adding value across the business. Key achievements include anything commercial such as saving money, time or implementing a new process/system.”
For accountants, arguably there has never been a more imperative and better time to do this. Technological changes including cloud accounting are resulting in routine tasks such as bookkeeping being increasingly automated.
If your company is using a desktop based product with manual data entry you may wish to consider putting together a business case for use of a new product. Rather than replace the entire accounting system this could initially just be a tool for automation of employee expense reports such as Concur or Expensify.
Being able to persuade senior management to implement your recommendations, is likely to give you more gravitas, as well as exposure within the business.
Increase your salary
Money shouldn’t be a dirty word for accountants. The easiest time to do this is when you are changing jobs.
When interviewing for new roles you should attempt to gain an increase from your current job based on the experience you have had in the interim period. Researching websites like Glassdoor to grade similar roles to yourself will allow to better gauge your current value in the open market.
If you are working with a recruiter they will able to negotiate on your behalf. However, it is a good life skill to have experience of doing this yourself. If you are made a higher salary offer by a new company you may be able to use this as a negotiating tactic to get your current employer to make a counter offer.
Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.