After recently watching Netflix’s ‘The Last Dance’ which chronicles the legendary career of Michael Jordan (a must watch for anyone that hasn’t seen it, basketball fan or not), I went on to read ‘Eleven Rings’ by Phil Jackson (Chicago Bulls Head Coach) and ‘Shoe Dog’ By Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. Both books I would highly recommend for their accounts on leadership and building businesses.
The latter included a segment on Phil Knight’s perception of sales when recalling his previous experience of selling encyclopaedias compared to his shoes.
“So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”
With a large proportion of our clients being in the professional service sector this phrase resonated. Growing and scaling the sales function is a theme we come across consistently, often where the owners / partners are the primary source of new business. Clearly, this only gets you so far.
Relating back to Phil Knight’s quote – after all, sales is a transference of conviction – it would be unfair to expect consultants to be able to communicate the ‘belief’ of an organisation in the same way as someone who has built the company from the ground up. So what can be done to diversify sales efforts?
A question often posed to us is, “is it worth us employing a full-time salesperson”. Whilst there is a school of thought for bringing someone in, the primary focus should be on enabling and empowering your team. HBR identify two types of individuals in consulting firms:
1. The professional salesman: This person thinks of himself first as a salesman; he sees his primary role as that of selling; and he sees his major personal strength as that of “being able to sell” . . .
2. The professional who can also sell: This person thinks of himself first and foremost as a professional. His / her intellectual interests and their emotional gratifications derive from coming to grips with substantive problems. . .
The service firms represented by true professionals (i.e., those who can do the work) are far more valuable to their clients than those represented by professional salesmen.
That poses the question, how to leverage “the professional who can also sell”.
Below are two thoughts:
Developing a culture of business development in the team is critical, recognising sales for what it is – helping clients achieve their objectives – and not what people see it as – having empty conversations and asking for business (a perception that is often seen due to the all too familiar poor sales practices we have all been subjected to!)
The Sale Continuum© showcases the value in creating a proactive culture. At one end of the spectrum is 100% focus on delivery, whilst the other end a proactive approach to BD is taken. Now, we are not saying you do not focus on delivering quality projects and programmes, however given the world and market we now operate in, it is not something that can be relied on to win business.
HOPE is not a strategy – “I will deliver brilliant programmes and hopefully the client will continue to work with us”. There are several risks taking this approach but given the current climate the one that is evident now is the client not seeing / understanding the value of retaining the services.
The minimum we can do is HEAR. This simply means taking a conscious approach to listening to the client’s challenges when working with them. A client we work with have deployed ‘HARBs’ (Hear And Report Back), where those on site are targeted on reporting back on anything they hear from the client, from which the account owners can leverage to open up conversations with the client.
Developing a culture where people are happy ASK client’s questions about their business, e.g. strategic objectives, initiatives, challenges etc., and not just specific projects will help develop the relationships required to leverage further opportunities.
Once done, we are then able to INFLUENCE due to the value and credibility showcased, providing ideas and insight based on the knowledge of the business.
Action: Plot your clients on the Sales Continuum, creating a strategy depending on where they sit
For any business to scale there needs to be a repeatable process.
As Salesforce.com state: consistency is key in ensuring your team is scalable . . . you should establish a best practice at your business for what tends to work best by analysing your team and the data in your CRM.
We have talked at length about the importance of having a sales process, with a webinar providing more detail here: https://sbrconsulting.com/converting-sales-activity-into-sales-results/
From a business growth perspective, the BD process provides everyone within the team a track to run on and ability to replicate best practices.
Documenting and codifying the process also increases the value of the business should you ever come to sell, as it removes key person dependency within the business and develops the sales operation into a tangible asset – we have worked with clients to develop their processes with the sole objective of increasing value to potential investors.
Action: Map your sales process, outlining business development responsibilities of the team.
Tim Hillier, Principal Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)