Early in my career, I worked for a large consulting firm that evaluated their employees on five criteria:
- Knowledge: How much has the employee learned over the evaluation period?
- Service: How well did the employee serve his/her clients?
- Communication: Is the employee a good communicator (written, oral, etc.)?
- Sales: How much did the employee contribute to new business development?
- Culture: How did the employee represent the firm by joining organizations and serving the public?
I found it interesting that the same criteria were used for every client-serving employee from the newbee consultant all the way up to a managing partner.
Who sells consulting services
The one area that I found interesting was sales. In my mind, we had a sales staff that identified and pre-qualified leads. They in turn handed those leads on to the Partners who, in addition to finding their own leads, formed proposal teams of high-level managers and sr. managers to create and present the proposals to the potential clients.
How could a consultant or even a sr. consultant be responsible for sales? Except for the occasional executive uncle, they don’t have contacts with important decision makers. They certainly aren’t given the responsibility to develop or present a proposal. How could the firm hold them responsible for sales?
I was a techie programmer type at that point in my career. Selling was not my cup of tea. I had always had the image of a salesperson being some smooth talker trying to get me to buy something I didn’t want or need.
Develop relationships to sell consulting services
But over the years, I’ve learned two very important aspects on sales of consulting services:
1) Selling services is a long-term relationship. Selling someone something they don’t need has a low success rate and does not lead to repeat sales. We’re not selling water softeners here. One-and-done does not result in long-term revenues.
2) Everyone is responsible for selling. There are just different responsibilities at different levels.
Certainly the upper echelons of the consulting firms – Sr. Managers, Partners, etc. – are responsible for finding leads, developing relationships, being rainmakers within their firms. But lower level players in the firm have sales responsibilities as well. Some of these responsibilities include:
- Developing relationships with client employees at their same level. A consultant who is just a few years out of college will very likely be teamed up with client employees at a similar stage in their career. Developing a good relationship with these client peers accomplishes two things. First, it can be the basis of a long-term relationship for many years. Whether that person stays at the client or moves on, as they advance in their career, they become decision makers who are more apt to call someone they know for services they need. Secondly, even if they are low on the totem pole at their company, their input is often heard. If they’re in a meeting and mention how your firm’s workers go the extra mile, it can result in additional work for your firm.
- Delivering excellence is a great way to get a client to hire your firm for follow-on services. Clients usually have many projects in their backlog. They have a wide array of choices in consulting firms to help them implement those projects. If you serve on a project and impress the client, they will be more likely to ask for your firm – and you – back for the next project. I’ve been on many projects where the client says “We’ve got this other project that we’d like your team to do, and we want these specific people to be on the project”.
- Identifying opportunities for additional work. Consultants working close to the front lines at the client have access to more information than they realize. Client employee peers sometimes get pulled away to resolve issues unrelated to the project. If you become aware of a recurring issue that could be resolved by your firm, mention it to your manager as a potential opportunity. Keep in mind that every opportunity you identify will not translate into a sale. Don’t get discouraged. It may take five, six, maybe even ten suggestions until it actually pans out. It could be that the 3rd idea and the 9th idea can be combined to result in a workable solution. Even if none of your ideas result in a sale, it shows to your management that you are focused on helping the client solve problems and identifying new opportunities for the firm.
You do need to do some homework though. Learn about all of your firm’s service offerings. It’s hard to suggest solutions if you don’t know what else your firm can do.
Also, find out what projects your firm has done in the past. Learn what kind of industry experience they have. You may work in a narrowly focused industry or specialty, but your firm may have a broad array of experience outside of your expertise that could help your client.
In some businesses, sales and delivery are two separate functions. In the services industry, delivery and sales are tightly intermingled. The further up you move in consulting, the more important selling is to your success. But it is a critical skill to develop at any level.
Selling services is not a transactional strategy. A sale is not something you pursue; it’s what happens to you when you are immersed in serving your customer.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.