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The Consultancy Growth Network

The ultimate consultancy sales strategy – a guide for 2024

Over half of consulting firms do not have a clearly documented sales strategy, leaving them significantly exposed. What’s more, 2 out of 3 lack an ongoing sales improvement plan while only 1 in 3 say they are ‘very confident’ in their existing sales strategy*. That’s significant room for improvement – and a huge opportunity.

Read on to discover the five actions that will deliver the ultimate sales strategy for your consultancy.

*Consultancy BenchPress 2023

Setting up for success

First things first, it’s important to ensure that your consulting firm has certain foundational building blocks in place before you start (if you’re not sure you do, access a handy sales maturity assessment framework at the bottom of this article).

These include:

  • having a clear understanding of your target market (geography and sector)
  • identifying the attributes of your ideal client
  • articulating your value proposition
  • defining the services you offer
  • developing lead magnets to attract new clients and capture contact details.

Let’s dive into the five key actions you need to develop the ultimate sales strategy:

1. Identify where your revenue will come from

It’s surprising how many consulting firms struggle to answer a seemingly simple question: where will your revenue come from? While having over 50% of your revenue contracted or on a weighted pipeline for the year ahead is a good sign, that means there is still a significant ‘black hole’ of unidentified revenue. This is where you should focus your attention to accelerate your growth and make more informed decisions.

The missing revenue can only come from two places: existing clients or new clients.

To gain visibility into existing clients, each account needs an owner who can identify gaps and assign a RAG status to indicate confidence in achieving the account plan. By doing this for each account and making assumptions about how to close the gap, you can gain a better understanding of part of that ‘black hole.’

For new clients, gather and analyse data on three KPIs: average client value, conversion rate, and sales qualified leads – from the last 1-3 years. Allocate by channel (more about these below) and make assumptions based on where you are investing the most to forecast where you will achieve leads. While there may be some guesswork involved, being able to forecast and achieve your forecast is important, particularly for any potential investors you may want to influence at some point in the future.

With these steps in place, the ‘black hole’ should start to become clearer, but it’s still just a paper exercise until you …

2. Build a solid business development plan

The question is, what business development activity will you undertake to close that gap?

A solid plan will enable you to achieve more leads and monitor the returns for each of your key channels – for consulting firms these are typically network, outreach, 3rd parties and portals.

Building a comprehensive structure that encompasses these channels is the first step. Consider key factors such as past performance, available resources, and cost per lead to develop an effective plan for each. Here are just a few suggestions.

  • For your network action plan, consider ways to incentivise your serial referrers. Take them out to dinner and introduce them to influential people in your industry.
  • For outreach, ensure that you’re targeting specific pain points or roles, rather than using a blanket approach that could turn potential leads off.
  • When it comes to third parties, strategic alliances can be a valuable tool. Look for businesses that share your target audience and consider joint promotions.
  • Finally, portals can be a time-intensive channel, so make sure you’re measuring the time involved in responding and accurately tracking your cost per lead.

Your action plan will give you a clear idea of where your revenue is coming from and help you be better equipped to achieve your goals.

3. Define your sales approach

We’ve all heard the adage ‘people buy from people.’ Developing relationships is a critical component of a successful sales approach, but I would take it one step further, “People buy from people, but they’ll buy from you more if you give them value and insight.”

“People buy from people, but they’ll buy from you more if you give them value and insight.”

Your sales approach should consist of four key components:

1. Develop a challenger-led sales approach

According to the Sales Executive Council, there are five different sales styles: Relationship Builders, Hard Workers, Lone Wolves, Reactive Problem Solvers, and Challengers.

While these all bring valuable attributes to a salesforce, a study of over 6,000 B2B salespeople revealed a surprising result: only 4% of high performers in complex B2B environments were relationship builders, while 54% were challengers. It seems those who challenge the client and share insights get results. So, if you want to improve your sales effectiveness, what are you doing to adopt a more challenger-led approach and offer valuable insights to your clients?

2. Find your optimum pricing strategy

To determine the optimal pricing strategies for your services, clients, and context, the key question is: What mix is right for you? Our research shows that performance pricing boosts the growth outlook of consultancies: 68% of UK&I consulting firms that use this pricing method expect to see 26%+ revenue growth in the next 12 months, compared to just 40% of firms that don’t price on performance [source: The Consultancy BenchPress 2023]

Additionally, consider using a one-page proposal with a video voiceover. It can differentiate your offering and save valuable time.

3. Set your qualification criteria

Document clear qualification criteria that outline ‘we will only work with clients if…’ For example, ‘the organisation is financially viable, in one of our target sectors, and has the potential to spend at least XX in a 12-month period at our target margin.’

Additionally, include criteria for outlying opportunities that can be considered on a case by case basis, for example ‘non-competitive pitches with specific requirements where we have the right resources available and the relevant sector experience’.

4. Define your discounting strategy

Consider this: If your company is generating £1m in revenue and earning a net profit of £200k (20%), and you are consistently offering a 10% discount on your fees, eliminating the discount altogether could boost your profits by 50%. That’s pretty powerful.

Here are some effective ideas to kickstart your discounting strategy:

  1. Give to receive: If you’re giving something away, make sure to get something in return such as a video testimonial or early payment terms.
  2. Set formal approval for a second tier of pricing and consult with your team. Ensure that they believe in the value your business provides to clients.
  3. Standardise and make your pricing transparent, offer micro-discounts in steps, and benchmark your prices against competitors in line with your unique value proposition.
  4. Sell on value, not on price.

For more alternatives to discounting, read ‘Discounting strategies for consultancies

4. Get organised

So, we’ve established our targets, identified our clients, and determined where our new business will come from and through which channels. However, it’s not always easy to get the entire team on board or to have a clear understanding of who is involved and owning each stage.

The consultancy sales process

This is where the sales process comes in. Documenting the sales process is crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page, from qualification to contract. Each stage should be planned out with clear deadlines and designated team members, including meeting preparation, sales meetings, think tank sessions, proposal development, pitch meetings, follow-up, and contracting.

Documenting the sales process is crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page, from qualification to contract.

Documenting the sales process is crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page, from qualification to contract.

I explain each of these approaches, along with their respective pitfalls, in my article ‘How to structure your sales organisation

Whatever you do, clarity is key in assigning roles and responsibilities, even if only one or two people are handling multiple roles.

Sales ownership and capacity planning for consulting firms

Sales ownership and capacity planning is essential to ensure the right people are involved in selling and not too caught up in delivery. There are three ways to approach this:

  • you ‘eat what you kill’
  • you sell it and ‘throw it over the fence’ to the delivery team
  • you take an integrated approach with an Account Director who retains the relationship for the client without the responsibility for the delivery.

In short, clear roles and responsibilities, a well-documented sales process, and committing to client time are all key factors in achieving your targets and growing your business.

Creating a ‘perfect pie’ can help with clarity, determining how much time is spent on new business, management, delivery, and internal processes. Committing to client time is crucial for hitting targets and growing existing accounts.

This ‘perfect pie’ approach has been successful with all the 50+ clients that I have personally worked with in growing their businesses.

This ‘perfect pie’ approach has been successful with all the 50+ clients that I have personally worked with in growing their businesses.

5. Evaluate your sales performance

Now that you have set your strategy, identified your revenue sources, organised your team, and documented your sales process, it’s time to focus on improving performance. This is not a one-time task, but a continuous process. Shockingly, two out of every three consultancies lack an ongoing improvement plan that evaluates each stage of their sales process.

Boosting revenue is not rocket science. There are three ways to do it: Generate more Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), increase conversion rates, and raise the value of client engagement over a relevant 12-month period.

So, what’s the plan? What strategies do you have in place to achieve these goals?

For SQLs, consider using outreach through your network, third parties, and portals. To improve conversion rates, actively listen in on client calls, create a feedback culture, role-play, and establish a ‘best answer’ manual to overcome obstacles. To increase client value, extend your proposition for longer-term engagement, and address your team’s reactive (rather than proactive) sales mindset. These are just a few suggestions.

I would encourage you to dedicate proper time to answering these five crucial actions and crafting the right sales strategy for your business.

Great! Where do I start?

If you’re just embarking on defining your sales strategy and feeling daunted that there is a lot to do (and, frankly, there is!) I suggest beginning by focusing on the numbers. Ask yourself where you currently stand, what you think is achievable, and where the revenue will come from. This will provide the foundation for your overall strategy.

Ready to start? Assess the effectiveness of your existing sales against the Consultancy Sales Excellence Framework

How long will this process take?

Well, that will depend on the size of your organisation, the number of people involved, and the available resources and bandwidth for both you and your team. While it is a continuous improvement process, a lot can be accomplished in just one day if you take the time out and book it into your schedules. Start the process, ask the right questions, and your plan will develop from there!

Can I get some help?

Yes! It’s what we do.

The Consultancy Growth Network is an exclusive global community designed for consulting business owners and their teams. We provide members with valuable insights, introductions, and practical advice to help them achieve success. At our heart is a panel of Growth Experts, all of whom have grown and sold at least one consultancy. The network also includes specialist providers in key areas such as sales, marketing, and people. With over 250 participants, members enjoy a variety of benefits, including access to online and in-person events, a supportive Slack community, and a dynamic library of learning videos, tools, and templates, all designed to help you grow your consulting business.

Article | Strategy and leadershipSales and marketing

Written by

Marc Jantzen

Founder

The Consultancy Growth Network

Follow me on LinkedIn for more insights specifically for consultancy leaders