In the early days (which often stretch into the early years), consulting business owners find it difficult to extract themselves from the sales process. Over-reliance on the owner, or owners, to sell your services significantly slows your growth down and makes achieving your broader objectives much more challenging.
Many owners think they have just three options available to them.
- share sales duties amongst your consultants.
- Separate out the sales role by removing resource from other areas
- Hire sales resource in.
There are major pitfalls in each of these options.
1. Not all consultants like selling
Bringing other people in to deliver a project frees you up to go and win the next client. However, if you don’t stay connected to the original client then you run the risk of not winning any follow-on work. Don’t assume all consultants will identify and follow through on opportunities to upsell or cross-sell additional work. They’re not as focused on business growth as you are. As a consequence, over time your average client value declines. In the long term you will find yourself either being drawn back into client work, or needing to win more and more new clients to maintain growth.
2. A potential net negative effect to the business
As your team grows, people tend to migrate to what they are good at and what they enjoy
You may well end up with a separate sales team and delivery team. There are positives and negatives to this structure. Some of the positives include:
- improved sales expertise
- sharpened sales collateral
- speed of response
- consistency of message.
However, these strengths are often counter balanced with a number of pitfalls.
- The sales team don’t sell a sufficient number of days to do a proper job.
- The work is not scoped correctly, so the handover from sales to operations doesn’t reflect the reality when the operational team land on client site.
- The sales team are too concerned about winning the deal at any cost rather than making sure the project can be delivered profitably.
- The sales team become distanced from the latest techniques within the operation and find it hard to ensure they are leveraging the latest thinking in their pitches.
3. Lack of experience of having done what you’re selling
People buy one of two things: people or insight. And more often than not, it’s both. So many consulting owners see sales as a dirty word, so they bring in sales people to do it for them. The problem is that if you put a sales person who does not have experience of being a consultant, in a room with a senior decision maker to sell non-productised consulting services, you will not win any work. The best people to sell consulting services are those who do the work.
How to avoid these common traps
Once your business has reached a certain size – typically £1.5m to £2m – then the ideal operating structure looks like a pyramid. You should have an Account Director (AD) sitting at the top, who is then supported by a consulting team tiered by experience.
The AD should be one of your most senior people, someone with both sales and operational experience. They are responsible for the on-going client relationship – but not the delivery of the project. Their responsibilities include understanding the findings of the delivery team, making senior connections within the client, and exploring additional opportunities to add value to the client – selling, in other words.
Before a deal is closed, the AD engages the most senior operational consultant who will be leading on the project to sign off on the deal. This safeguards the profit of the project. It also heads off the problem of your operational team claiming that the work was under-sold and can’t be delivered at the target margin.
For each new sector your business grows into, you create a new pyramid, with a new AD at the helm. Ideally, the AD will have P&L responsibility and a reward structure to reflect the level of autonomy you are giving them.
Go beyond structure
But the key to sales (and operations) success isn’t just about structure. Coaching and mentoring your AD is essential if they are to lead an effective team and deliver results for your clients. So spend some time understanding the behaviours and mind-sets you want your AD to display. Then polish up your own coaching skills and get to work.
Get it right, and you’ll free up time to do the one thing you need most for your business to continue growing: leadership.
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Article | Sales and marketing
The Consultancy Growth Network