What’s Changed in Professional Services Sales? (Part 2)

In our first installment of this thought leadership series, we overviewed the changing selling environment within the professional services market and the key challenges faced by firms within a business development framework that included the following elements:

  • Account Selection – How the organization determines which clients they will focus their efforts on; how they will segment these client (serving them differently by segment); and how they will deploy their resources accordingly.
  • Account Management – Developing long-term, increasingly profitable relationships with the firm’s current accounts and effectively penetrating prospect accounts
  • Opportunity Assessment – Effectively determining the best opportunities to pursue and deploying the optimum resources in these pursuits
  • Opportunity Management – Mobilizing an organization’s best selling resources to ensure success in the opportunities that you choose to pursue
  • Closing and Contracting the business – Ensuring that the business is closed but also, that it is business that can be profitably delivered for both your firm and the client.
  • Transition to delivery and future opportunities – Effectively delivering on your commitments and finding additional ways to expand the account relationship

In this installment we’ll turn our attention to some key success factors that all organizations should consider to improve their sales effectiveness and bottom line results.

Key Success Factors:

  1. Look at all elements of the Business Development Framework. Too many organizations attempt to attack symptoms or elements of this framework with no sense of where the biggest value can be derived. Once the priorities are established, you can then determine whether the issue is one of talent, training, or anything else that may be an obstacle to sales success.
  2. Qualifying the “right” accounts to pursue has become more critical. All accounts and opportunities are not created equally! How you deploy your limited resources against key opportunities often makes the difference between winning and losing. Firms who are careful to segment their clients and define the sales and service approach to these clients will be more successful in winning new, more profitable business.

  3. CRM is not the answer for most organizations that are intent on improving their sales engine. CRM, and specifically Sales Force Automation (SFA) can be an excellent way to capture information, disseminate the information throughout the organization, and even provide visibility to your pipeline activity. What it won’t do is help your sales teams to sell more business or win key opportunities that you otherwise would have lost. It’s simply not designed to address these issues. An opportunity management methodology is designed for this purpose and can integrate well to SFA, but they’re aimed at very different business problems.

  4. Consulting and professional services firms are often caught between the heritage of “partnerships” (where everyone is an entrepreneur and there is no “one best way” to sell within the firm) and the recognition that the new world of competition requires discipline and “best practice” selling to win new business against more formidable competitors. Every organization should be able to clearly define the “best practice” sales process for their organization. What are the steps in the sales cycle? What must be done at every step to increase the probability for success? What are the tactics we use to both compel the client and defeat the competition? If the answers are known, the likelihood of winning rises substantially. The chances are good that the issues your clients and prospects face are fairly common. The business problems they’re trying to solve and the messages your sales teams deliver can be proactively defined and, if used, can significantly enhance the sales team’s effectiveness. If these are not well defined, you’re counting on each person in your organization to “do their best” and hoping that each of them knows what is required to close new business – a tall order for the best sales professionals.

  5. Many organizations think they know why they lose new business and it isn’t uncommon for large pursuits to cost more than $100,000. Most don’t know the truth because either their clients won’t tell them the truth or they will filter the feedback they do receive to the point where it will not help them overcome their weaknesses. Firms would be well advised engage the services of an outside organization who specialize in this type of research to discern “the truth” – good, bad, or ugly. Armed with this truth, you can then put the action plans in place to address the shortfalls and stop repeating the errors to which your sales teams are falling victim.

  6. The sales methodology that your organization uses must be both simple enough to use and powerful enough to win. Professional services people have even less patience for long forms and administrative tasks than sales people because to them, time is money. I’ve seen far too many organizations attempt to implement labor-intensive, forms-intensive processes only to find that they aren’t used by anyone. The key for most organizations is to help change the way their sales people think, and this can be done if the tools provided prompt the thought process, not a detailed forms completion exercise.

  7. Competition continues to become more formidable. As covered in our first installment, the tough economy of the past few years has weeded out the weak players and what’s left are strong, stable organizations who know how to sell. It’s not enough anymore to simply compel the client to action. Your sales people must know how to assess the competition’s strengths and weaknesses, know what tactics will be used by the competition to undermine your sales efforts and then proactively use this information to pre-empt the competition and compel the client to action. This emerging competitive environment demands that consulting firms understand the competitive landscape. They must understand the  strengths and weaknesses of the competition (and themselves) and, through competitive intelligence gathering, must arm the selling teams with the tools and messages that allow the teams to effectively  distinguish themselves from the competition in the client’s mind.

  8. Demand creation is becoming more critical. In the decade of the 90’s – much of the business that was gained came as a result of “demand reaction” – because clients were calling us. That environment no longer exists. It is now imperative that firms create demand. And, when done right, you’ll want to gain access to the highest level executives possible who have the ability to address the business opportunities that you help them identify.

  9. Similarly, the sales teams must learn how to gain access to high level executives early in the sales process and maintain this access in order to be successful An effective “stakeholder analysis” should be comprehensive and include an understanding of the personal and professional agendas of these stakeholders, an assessment of the power each holds in the organization, the part they will, or could play in the decision process, and, most importantly, the plan the sales team will execute in an effort to gain the vote of each stakeholder. The sales teams, therefore, must also be adept at both navigating into multiple functional areas and at high levels within the client organization in order to gain access and build the preference with key executives.

  10. Selling “after the sale” is more critical – not doing so may win you an initial engagement but you’ll be left admiring your competitor’s handi-work down the road. The initial sale really provides you the “hall pass” into the client. What you do with this hall pass is the difference between an opportunistic sales approach and effective, long-term account relationships. This requires leveraging the access that initial sales  provide, documenting the value that is delivered to the client that demonstrates our contribution, and winning the next opportunity even before the competition can get involved. Therefore, for firms aspiring to be the “one-stop” solution provider, it will be critical that the sales team continues to sell, build relationships, and highlight their value and contributions throughout the delivery phases of the engagements.

  11. In a team selling environment, it also becomes critical for the team to have a common understanding of: the business issues facing the client, the key stakeholders of the client and their agendas, the competitive landscape, and our key messages and strategies. Implementing a common opportunity management methodology will allow these teams to gain this common understanding, to capture the information required to both compel the client to action and to choose your firm, and to clearly communicate to the client your firm’s value proposition. Without this, you leave far too much to chance.

  12. Every client organization your teams call on have plenty of high ROI initiatives that they could implement. The reality is that most of these don’t get implemented because the company has limited bandwidth to deploy. The successful sales teams must link their solutions to the most strategic, enterprise level issues that the “C” level executives care most about solving to have the highest probability of success in getting their initiative funded. The landscape is littered with firms that have the best solution but lose to “no decision” because they weren’t able to link their solutions effectively to what these “C” level executives really cared about.

  13. More people must be proficient at selling in today’s environment. Firms will no longer have the luxury of being able to rely on a few “rainmakers” to make their growth objectives. Firms must make the investment in more, and lower level resources to contribute to sales pursuits, much like their brethren in the high tech world have done for the past 20 years (IBM, Hewlett Packard, etc.).

  14. If training your people is determined to be a priority for your organization – you’ll want to ensure that highly experienced, seasoned sales instructors who understand your environment conduct the training. Professional services people tend to be high intellect and very challenging by nature. If the instructor is not capable of quickly building credibility with your audience, you could present excellent concepts and tools and not have your teams grasp the power of the selling methodology.

I know this list of priorities seems like a tall order but, if well implemented, these approaches can be instrumental to your firm’s ability to outsell your competition.


Posted in Sales.

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