A simple framework that will enable you to generate a sustainable flow of new projects, even in a challenging, volatile economic environment.
Having worked with more than 175 professional services firms over the last 21 years, it’s clear that business development is often not a priority for consultants.
Securing new projects falls to one or two senior members (and the rest of the team are happy to leave them to it) or are the result of reactive referrals and recommendations.
However, when you are reliant on select individuals, and word of mouth, you are putting yourself in a perilous position and materially reducing the value of your business.
What happens if the rain-makers that bring in most of the business get a better offer from a competitor, set up on their own or are on long-term sick leave?
And while it’s great that reactive referrals from successful projects are leading to new clients, how much control do you have over that process? Can you accurately forecast how many consultancy projects you are likely to land over the next quarter and what that looks like in revenue?
Only 19% of consultancy firms have a standard approach to business development
If the above sounds a lot like your consultancy firm, then don’t feel you are an industry exception. Research conducted by the Consultancy Growth Network reveals that almost half of firms (48%) don’t actively seek out new business, while just 19% of firms have a sales process that they regularly invest in and improve.
Source: Consultancy BenchPress Report 2023
In this blog we share a simple framework that will enable you to generate a sustainable flow of new projects, even in a challenging, volatile economic environment.
As well as drawing on our decades of experience working with consultancy firms, we’ll also include insights from Dom Moorhouse, Growth Expert at the Consultancy Growth Network and founder of Method Grid (www.methodgrid.com). Dom has 25 years experience of building high-performing consulting businesses and we had the pleasure of working with as he built Moorhouse Consulting.
We will cover 7 workstreams that give you greater control over business development, in a way that demystifies and democratises sales so that your people don’t feel that they’re being forced to become the caricature of the “salesperson”. We recognise that for many this carries many uncomfortable associations and in truth is far from the culture that most consulting leaders want to build.
Begin by calculating your revenue goals for the year or quarter. Then establish how many projects you need to land to achieve this goal.
Based on past performance, then calculate how many proposals you need to submit to land a project and, pre-ceding that, how many meetings result in an invitation to tender. Finally, you need to work out how many organisations you need to reach out to secure these meetings.
For example, it could be that 50 calls a week (or four networking events a month) results in 10 meetings, which results in 3 proposals, which results in landing a new project every quarter, which is what you need to meet your revenue targets.
It’s critical to clearly identify these targets and establish accountability – so each member of the team knows what their roles and targets are and how each activity feeds into landing a new client.
It’s also important to involve everyone in this process, to demystify and democratise implementation and ensure everyone is engaged.
So what do we mean by a sales toolbox? This is essentially a step-by-step process and methodology that describes what needs to be done and when, and shows how you take prospects on the journey from initial contact to become retained clients. Ideally this should be built from a combination of insights gathered from examining the wins that you would like more of and external best practices that are relevant to your organisation.
A codified process will help to ensure a consistent approach and enable collaboration – teams tend to win deals! It’s extremely important to establish this journey from the client’s perspective – a clear understanding of the buyer’s process should precede the sales process and the process should precede the configuration of the CRM – more later.
Over the last 21 years we have helped over 150 professional services and consulting clients adapt our consultative sales methodology – QUIS (Question, Understand, Influence and Solidify) to their context so that they can see how many of the core skills that underpin excellence in programme delivery can be adapted and applied to originating and winning work. The combination of process and methodology provides the guidelines that are needed to effectively progress opportunities to closure maximising sales volume, value and velocity.
A final point, don’t just adopt someone else’s playbook. Your playbook should reflect your specific context, culture and people, in the language and with the imagery that you and your customers use. Self-authorship is key, if your team has helped create the toolbox, then they are more likely to adopt it.
The next step is embedding a sales heartbeat into your consultancy. This is where management information is key and relates back to the ratios we discussed earlier.
You need to establish the information you want to monitor and design dashboards and reports that provide you and your leadership colleagues with the right data.
Put simply, whether it’s your lead consultants or a designated resource making those outreach calls, are they hitting their targets? If so, is this resulting in the ratio of meetings you’d expect?
This will help you identify where extra coaching and support is required but also means you can identify tactics and approaches that are particularly effective and then share them with the rest of the team.
You also need to establish how often you need to meet as a team to ensure the process is running smoothly, and everyone is in the loop with the sales cycle. So, this could be fortnightly catch-ups with the team and a monthly report with the senior leadership team.
Consider who attends these meetings, how regularly they take place, and what will be covered.
Obviously you don’t want to unnecessarily micro-manage but, in our view, visibility creates accountability and accountability creates results. The more you can measure your inputs, across the sales cycle, the more you can refine and improve sales performance.
Help those who are engaging in sales conversations be effective by developing content that demonstrates your expertise and previous successes. Good sales collateral will influence every aspect of the sales journey – from generating more leads to improving conversion, to reducing the sales cycle. This can include everything from case studies and testimonials to thought leadership pieces.
Whether you create blogs, white papers, webinars, or videos, this content highlights your experience and expertise, and addresses any early objections – establishing credibility and improving the buying environment.
At the very least you should review your website, which is your digital shop window. Does it clearly explain your value proposition and differentiate your business in the marketplace?
Once you have got your sales framework established, it’s time to get your team selling. But even with all the previous steps in place, you can’t expect every consultant to dive straight in.
Some will feel a lot more confident about this new approach than others. So, often the most important thing to change is the collective sales attitude, which is “the voice within”.
It’s not just about educating your team in the technical process of selling, it’s helping them develop a different mindset.
This is often where expert external facilitators are most valuable. It’s particularly important to use one with proven experience in the consultancy sector but also one who understands the intricacies of the industry you operate in.
Again, this shouldn’t be a “one and done” approach.
You should be constantly refining your process and, using management information, identifying where extra support is required, whether that’s from a process or individual perspective, and providing that coaching on a regular basis – not just an annual one-day sales workshop.
Recognition and reward are key to driving the right behaviours but this needs to be based on a clear understanding of your people specifically and consultants in general.
Again, this comes back to the principles we mentioned above – that sales is a team game. Creating clear targets, for every aspect of the sales cycle (“the inputs”) means everyone knows what they need to achieve and what the rewards are for meeting and exceeding these targets.
However, while sales bonuses are clearly an incentive, an emphasis on career progression can be equally motivating.
Building out a competency framework, so staff can see a clear path of progression within your firm, and explaining the expectations at each level helps fuel ambition and progression. Do your team know that they are expected to create opportunities, is the ability to win/extend work recognised as a key factor in career progression?
It goes without saying that by implementing the right technology, you can improve productivity and assess performance across your team.
With the right tech stack (and by monitoring the right metrics so that you can make data-driven decisions), you can manage your sales pipeline and track leads, deals, and customer interactions. However, you can also improve productivity by automating repetitive tasks, such as sending follow-up emails or scheduling meetings.
As noted earlier – this has to happen at the right time. We have lost track of the number of firms who have blamed their CRM for poor sales performance when the root cause is that they have never stepped back and codified the sales process that is relevant to their target clients so that they could correctly configure the system. The tail should never wag the dog!
📝 In summary
Ultimately a sustainable, scalable business needs a high-performing sales engine, not just a couple of deal makers and some luck. That means that the whole team needs to understand what they need to do and how to do it – and have the confidence and motivation to execute successfully.
We’ve helped many professional services businesses along their sales transformation journey. If you’d like to know more about how we could help your organisation please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +44 (0) 207 653 3740.
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