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 consultants great at managing projects yet find it challenging to apply the same skills to helping them win business?
SBR Consulting believe that many of the skills any good consultant uses on a daily basis are synonymous with professional selling; questioning, understanding, listening, challenging, providing valuable propositions whilst building relationships across teams to ensure take-up and change. Why is it however that so many consultants still fail in their business development (BD) endeavours? In this article we will look at the real issues and 3 top tips to overcome them.
If you have been reading our previous articles and are part of SBR’s online sales community, by now you hopefully accept that “selling” in the consulting world is not a “dark art” but much more of a process with structure and rigour. The perception of defining someone who makes a good salesperson as saying, “He has the gift of the gab” or, “She could sell ice to Eskimos,” should no longer be in your phraseology.
Professional Selling should be based on SBR’s Habits Triangle© framework which addresses 3 major competencies:
1 – Your Skills / Knowledge
This refers to: having strong knowledge of your services/products, the market and its current trends, the competition and the client, understanding the buyer’s cycle, recognising the sales process from beginning to end, communication (verbal and written), knowing the questions to ask to elicit a client’s true understanding of their situation, knowing your value propositions, negotiation, closing, follow-up, etc
2 – Your own sales motivation
At many grade levels, consultants are not necessarily financially incentivised to win work yet they are still expected to help introduce new clients so your motivation needs to be about something more intrinsic. Thinking about your own motivation as to why being involved in BD is right for you, I would hope you would come up with things like; helping others solve problems, enjoying success, adding value, being naturally curious in your industry, finding the best projects to work on rather than always being fed projects from others. There are many more possibilities but each consultant needs to understand their own motivation to get involved if they are to be successful.
3 – Your Self Management
This is about making the time to do the right activity at all stages of the sales pipeline; prioritising time, planning, teamwork, knowing your sales ratios and building your personal network. Most firms know their ratios around proposals to wins but very few can tell you what behaviour is happening above this part of the funnel. Surely the only way to know if you are spending your time wisely is to firstly know how you are actually spending your time.
We would expect to see the above in a consistently high performer. When we share this with consultants the vast majority say that everything above makes sense, is doable and relates very closely to their current role running client projects. However they really struggle with keeping the BD habit alive. This could be for a number of reasons:
- There is no job order number attached to BD work and so it’s hard to justify on the time sheets
- There may not yet be a company wide culture of BD
- Already close to full-time on client delivery
- No CRM tool that tracks who is doing what, or if there is most do not fill it in
Baring this in mind, it is not surprising that consultants find the habit of BD work a challenge. In our opinion even if it is tough, you have to make the decision that you can do it and will actually enjoy it. Einstein said that, “Simplicity is genius.” My interpretation of this is that too many of us make BD overly complex and ignore a few basic rules that we use to be successful in our client work. Below are 3 tips that many of our clients have started to apply in order to develop the right habits.
1 – Treat BD as a “Project”.
By deciding it is a project in its own right, giving it a name, treating it with the same commitment and accountability you apply to your client projects, you automatically change its priority in your mind. If you have 2 client projects, decide you now have 3 and one of them is a long term project around winning work. Each week block out time (even if it is 1-2 hours or more depending on your role) to work on a sales activity, e.g. researching your industry for names, trends, having coffee with relevant people, contacting past clients, contacts, etc
2 – Take care of the top of the funnel
Admit in your own mind that a key part of your role is BD and that it is a long term project. All the best revenue generators we know have consistently over their career built up their networks and kept in touch with key people. Realise that what you put in at the top of the funnel ultimately results in what comes out at the bottom. So decide as part of your project that you are going to build, cultivate and take care of the top. Having hundreds of business cards in a desk drawer, allowing past client list to have been archived by your computer are unacceptable behaviours if you are going to take BD seriously. Refill the top of you funnel and pick up the phone.
3 – Remember the Hope-Hear-Ask Model
Finally remember the sales continuum whereby many consultants live in the “hope” stage, “If I do a really great job then hopefully, the client will give us more work”. Of course, this is the ideal situation but in today’s climate is not always the case. Whilst you are working extra time, or overtime someone else is building a relationship with other parts of your clients’ business and being given work that should come to you. More frustratingly, when you become known as a niche expert in an area, the client does not always think about you for other projects even though your firm has real capability elsewhere. From now on live in the “hear” and “ask” stages. You have earnt the right to help your clients in other areas so make time to have coffee with them, to grab lunch with them (we all need to eat) and let them talk about what else is going on.
In conclusion, decide that building key relationships with people so that you can have the good conversations that lead to winning work is what you do. Make it a project that you make time to work on every week. The more this becomes a habit, the more you will enjoy it and realise that you are using many of the skills you already possess.
This article was published at Top Consultant.