Selling in the Consulting World – tackling the issues consultants currently face as they embark the business development arena. Each month Lars Tewes, MD of SBR Consulting shares a challenge / issue he is working on with his clients, and looks at how it is being addressed.
Client Sales Challenge of the Month: Why are we still ignoring the most important ingredient when it comes to learning best practice in selling within our firms – Practice Makes Perfect
Without exception, revenue growth is a major agenda item (if not the No. 1 item) for all Board discussions at present, yet it feels that many are still paying lip service to the activity and behaviours required by their people in this area. In this article we will get to the heart of the matter.
Many firms still treat the selling and business development function with a mixture of admiration and disconnection, as if it is an art without a process or methodology. At SBR Consulting, we come across a large number of senior managers who all admire those who bring in the business and then proceed to explain why they are not good at it but are much better at the technical / project delivery side.
Keep it simple, realise that professional selling is a combination of 3 things:
- Truly listening to understand a client’s situation to see if you can add value
- Building a relationship so there is trust between both parties
- Having the confidence to help others make decisions that are in their best interest
Most successful consultants we meet are very good at the first two, since this is what a consultant does and whilst they may find the third aspect awkward, they did not when they were a child. As a father of three, I have still not met a child under the age of seven who is not a natural at negotiating, closing and bouncing back from rejection! That must mean we all have the third in us somewhere, it has just been knocked out of us over the past 20, 30, 40 years. Let’s find a way to bring some of this spirit back.
If you are going to encourage a sales culture then it boils down to 3 things:
1 – Sales Improvement is often treated without the real commitment required
People are often sent on a sales course in the same way that they are sent on a technical course such as Excel or PowerPoint training. I have nothing against those courses as they are important skills, however Sales and Business Development Training is different to other training programmes for the following reasons:
- Off-the-shelf sales programmes rarely deal with the issues each firm is experiencing. Some form of knowledgeable tailoring has to take place beforehand.
- People enter sales courses with a perception of what selling is which is, often based on bad sales experiences they have had. They use this perception to filter any new behaviours and techniques trained which can become a block to receptivity.
- A sales course should be a behaviour change programme and so is going to feel awkward for anyone who embraces it correctly. As W.C. Howell and E.A. Fleishman showed us in their book, “Human Performance and Productivity”, we all go through four stages of learning: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competent. The two stages in the middle are uncomfortable for most of us and so require real desire and commitment from the individual and company.
- Rejection is inevitable. Depending on what you sell, if you are doing your job properly the conversion ratios from conversations to sales will be at best 60% (probably more like 90+% and that is okay). That is a lot of rejection and it requires an emotional resilience not needed in most roles. A standard course rarely prepares you for this part of the future experiences.
2 – Take time before any sales training / development to run an audit on what is required
Learning the right type of questioning, listening and understanding skills is all well and good but it is hard to be a credible sales professional without fundamental knowledge about:
- Your Services and Products
- Your Market / Trends
- Your Competition
- Your Value Proposition to the client
In addition to the needs above, the real problem is not in the individuals, but in the lack of process and methodology for each consultant to follow. The sale starts well before any proposal is written and this needs to be simple and effective to implement.
This assessment has to be conducted by someone who knows what they are looking for. All too often it is given to human resources as a needs assessment and it is almost impossible for someone, no matter how talented they are in another field, to know what they are looking for and therefore to assess the correct sales needs effectively. I feel for many good HR professionals who are asked to do this. You would not expect them to audit the financial accounts of the firm and neither should you expect them to audit the salesforce effectiveness unless this is their background and strength.
3 – Practice Makes Perfect
These three words have probably led to more success across all professions than any other three words, yet we like to think that “the sales profession” is different. Well it is not! One of the main reasons people are not as confident and natural as they should be in winning business is that they do not do enough of it. When learning a new language, a new hobby, a new video game, a new technical skill, the only way we get better and become what we like to call “natural” is to practice and fail a lot. The Aristotle quote sums this up wonderfully; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”.
Experiential Learning expert, David Kolb in the 1980’s developed the learning loop – a continuous cycle with no real short cuts:
- New Understanding
In conclusion, if revenue growth is truly as important as you say it is, what if, like a number of our clients, you decided to support and make time to practice, role-play, develop the type of confidence required at all key stages of the sales funnel so it becomes habit. Imagine how that could set your firm apart for the competition.
This article was published at Top Consultant.