The difference between sales tasks and production tasks

Ed ChanFounder & Non-Executive Chairman, Chan & Naylor

Do you often find yourself being controlled by the expectations of your clients? It’s a challenge that all accountants are faced with on occasion. Failing to overcome it means you risk neglecting the work (and clients) that truly matter.

The secret to overcoming this is to know the difference between sales tasks and production tasks

Sales tasks can be likened to walking into a car showroom and sitting with a salesman. They’ll walk you through the type of car you want, the color, whether you prefer an auto or manual transmission, and more. Although someone is spending time with you, you’d never expect to be charged at this point.

However, once you have decided on the car you want and have placed an order, things change. Then, the production tasks start.

This is why any price that’s quoted, whether it’s for a new car or a service, needs to factor in the time spent on sales activities. Even an hourly charge-out rate should allow for the sales time to service your client.

Here’s how we keep control of this at Chan & Naylor:

We provide five minutes for free, and then inform the client that if the task is anticipated to take longer than five minutes it will be chargeable. We then provide an estimate of the time taken.

In other words, we manage the client’s expectations first before committing time on their behalf.

How is this done in practice?

If I was to receive an email with 10 questions on it, I would answer it very quickly or within 5 minutes. I provide “yes/no” answers, or “need more info”, “need to research the answer”, or “will need to spend more time on this”.

Then I conclude with this statement:

“I hope that addresses your concerns, but if you want me to spend more than the free 5 minutes I will need 2 hours at $250 per hour. Please let me know if you like me to go ahead?”

In this exact scenario, which I have carried out thousands of times before, I find roughly 50% say “No, that’s OK”.  For this half, it was just a thought bubble not a serious question. And they certainly weren’t prepared to pay for it. The other 50% are serious and they are prepared to pay for it.

This way, you are managing them and not letting them manage you and drag you into a complex back-and-forth nightmare.

We look at it as good leadership to let them know what the rules are, as they can’t be expected to know.

Clients just ask questions as thoughts come into their heads and if we allow them to keep taking advantage of us, then they will. In this situation, the response is usually “Well, he should have said something. He should have managed my expectations”. Bottom line: they were waiting for you to lead.

Everyone in your firm who are involved with “sales activities” (in our firm we call them Client Managers who have interpersonal and sales/communication skills) should follow this procedure. Nothing should be worked on without the client having been provided with a cost proposal first. Only after the cost proposal is accepted should any work begin.

In other words, discover exactly what the client wants first and a cost proposal is like a cooling-off period in case the client was not serious. This will save you from committing your time and not getting paid for it later. You will then be able to separate those who will cost you money, and the genuine clients who are willing to pay.

And what about the 5-minute free procedure? This is a gesture of goodwill. Extending some help, because they are a client after all. But at the end of the day, time is money and it needs to be paid for, and that’s what you are saying to them subliminally when you offer 5 minutes free.

After that, get your cost proposal signed so there are no surprises. There is a cooling-off period and you can confidently go ahead with doing the work knowing for sure there won’t be any arguments later and you will get paid.

Once the cost proposal has been signed off, it goes to the production division where the accountants produce the work. Their productivity should be 95%, as they are purely production and they do no sales activities. So these team members should just be 95% production with no distraction of “sales tasks”.

The sales task should only be performed by your Client Managers.

Now is the best time to do some training. It doesn’t need to take lots of training. It’s the persistence, frequency, and consistency that will change habits and make it permanent.

Ed Chan
Founder & Non-Executive Chairman, Chan & Naylor

Ed started Chan & Naylor from a small home office in Sydney and grew it into a National Financial Services Organisation that now works without him, with offices in most capital cities around Australia, servicing more than 10,000 clients.

In 2018 he co-founded WIZE Mentoring, a network for accountants who want to know how to successfully grow their firm and have it run without them.

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