Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services recruitment Sales Development Sales Recruitment Sales Training

What Does The War For Talent Mean For Professional Services?

The idea of a “war for talent” has been around for a long time and was itself based on the classic law of supply and demand popularised more than 200 years ago by the economist Adam Smith. It describes how, all else being equal, the price of goods or services tends to increase when the supply of that commodity decreases (making it rarer) or when the demand for it increases (making it more sought after) and vice versa. In the case of the talent war, the commodity is people.

Despite the pandemic, professional services has proven to be a growth industry. The MCA Industry Report 2021 suggests that the growth rate for management consulting in the UK was 4.5% in 2020.  Total consulting income is estimated to be £12.5 billion. Some individual firms reported even more impressive results. Deloitte saw an increase in global revenue of 5.5%, while EY boosted revenue by 7.3% to $40 billion globally. Much of that growth has been centred around expansion into new service lines in particular those focusing on technology, data and ESG.

This drive for growth has led firms to fight it out for the top talent, which in turn has driven up salaries. Newly qualified lawyers can now expect a starting salary of £100k+, while partners in some Big 4 firms have seen their pay increase to in excess of £1million. In this febrile market employees have the advantage. They know that they are sought after and, in many cases, they are able to name their terms.

The risks to employers are many. In the race to recruit, there is a danger that corners are cut in order to be the first to make the candidate an offer. In Professional Services, experienced hires tend to be recruited with an expectation that they will contribute to the revenue growth of the firm. Given that they also need to exhibit deep subject matter expertise in their specialist area, and will often need to be effective people leaders, there is a requirement for individuals to draw upon a broad range of capabilities if they are to excel in their roles.

Recruiting the right talent

To prevent a severe case of buyer’s remorse, it is critical that firms maintain a rigorous approach to recruitment that is able to assess all aspects of a candidate’s performance and potential. It may be tempting to circumvent the process in order bring people in more quickly but consider the impact of getting it wrong. Direct costs are estimated by the US Department of Labour to be 30% of salary. But factor in the indirect costs such as loss of opportunities not converted, impact upon team morale and performance, and these costs quickly escalate.

To be able to accurately evaluate these different skillsets is challenging and requires a multi-faceted approach to recruitment. Robust psychometric tools used in conjunction with in-depth profiling / debrief sessions facilitated by an expert help to “lift the hood” and consider the capabilities and attributes that are not apparent from an interview alone.

What we see time and again when working with Professional Services firms is a tendency to focus on technical and leadership capability alone. If a new hire has a sales / growth target it is also critical to assess B2B sales capability. Research tells us that in order to make the best recruitment decisions we should:

  • Clearly identify the criteria associated with success in the role
  • Use trained and skilled interviewers
  • Use structured interviews and objective assessment tools

Cutting corners introduces bias and poor decisions, in turn bringing too much risk for firms.

Retaining Talent: What Does The Evidence Tell Us?

So, what can managers within professional services firms do to retain their existing talent to support their goals around sustainable growth?

Robust research from pre-pandemic times suggests the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that you offer employees autonomy and involvement in decision-making
  • Deliver on your promises and treat people fairly
  • Create a positive team atmosphere
  • Provide clarity of expectations
  • Provide feedback
  • Seek to offer rewards beyond just pay: benefits, training and career growth are all important.

Considering how to support and retain more diverse groups of employees is also key to the sustainable success of the business.

In summary, now is the time to review and reinforce people practices, to ensure that the right new hires are selected and that precious internal talent is nurtured.

 

Sarah Clapperton is a Director at Bloojam Consulting and a Chartered Business Psychologist, with 20 years’ experience working in selection and development. She specialises in working with leaders and senior salespeople.

Bloojam Consulting offers a range of robust recruitment and development tools and interventions, including its unique Acuity for Strategic Sales suite of psychometric assessment and development tools.

Blogs Business Consulting Sales Development Sales Leadership Sales Training

Should 360 Feedback Surveys Feature In Sales Transformation Programmes? What The Research Tells Us.

In earlier blogs we have considered the features of successful sales training and the value that coaching can bring.  Our focus now turns to 360 feedback.

Can multi-rater feedback improve workplace performance?  The answer from academic literature is mixed and could be summarised as “yes, provided that….”.   Previous research has shown that multisource feedback can be an effective method of improving work performance in its own right (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; Smither et al, 2003).  Many researchers agree on the potential for 360 programmes to raise self-awareness and have a positive impact on performance, but mixed empirical findings can be attributed to the “high degree of variation in design features across 360 processes” (Bracken and Rose, 2011) and the fact that often the content of the feedback is provided to the individual without a coach or facilitator to help them understand it (Lawrence, 2015).

Research shows that for 360 feedback to have a positive impact on performance it must:

  • be accepted by the individual (Alexander, 2006; Smither et al, 2005)
  • be conducted by a trained professional (e.g., McDowall and Kurz, 2008; Alexander, 2006; Latham et al, 2005)
  • involve goal setting for the participant (Latham et al, 2005; Smither et al, 2005)
  • provide “short- and long- term support for participants, as they seek to make sense of the feedback and commit to specific actions” (Lawrence, 2015)
  • “provide a comprehensive and valid measure of workplace behaviour” (McDowall and Kurz, 2008) that is linked to the purpose of the programme (Lawrence, 2015).

The latter point is particularly relevant in our experience of working with sales organisations.  Historically, many have used generic 360 surveys more geared to measuring leadership or general workplace behaviours, whereas what they should measure are the capabilities that drive improved sales performance.

The importance of the skill and diplomacy of the feedback facilitator in navigating the potential sensitivities and nuances of 360 data is highlighted by a number of authors and researchers, because it is critical that the feedback is understood and accepted by the individual in order for there to be a commitment to goals and behaviour change (Alexander, 2006; Latham et al, 2005; Lawrence, 2015).

Finally, the overall sponsorship and positioning of the 360 programme is key, as it must be based on mutual trust and buy-in that is fostered through good communication (McDowall and Kurz, 2008).

Combining 360 and coaching: turbo powering the impact on performance

 Whilst there is a lack of research specific to the field of sales, there is a growing body of evidence that shows professional coaching support following 360 feedback can be a powerful way to improve performance.

  • A large study of over 1000 senior managers examined the effects of executive coaching on 360 feedback over time. One year later, they found that managers who worked with a coach were more likely to set specific (rather than vague) goals, to solicit ideas for improvement from their superiors and had improved more than other managers in terms of 360 ratings (Smither et al, 2003).
  • Luthans and Peterson (2003) found that participants need systematic coaching along with the 360 degree feedback in order to gain self-awareness and have a positive impact on work satisfaction and organisational commitment.
  • Thach (2002) found that the combination of 360 feedback and individual coaching increases leadership effectiveness by up to 60 per cent.

In contradiction, Jones et al’s (2015) review suggests that using 360 feedback reduces the size of the positive impact of coaching. However, they acknowledge that this may be due to issues of the participants not accepting the feedback or using generic leadership surveys that have no direct relevance to their objectives. In other words, poorly designed or delivered 360 programmes will inevitably not achieve your desired aims.

McDowall and Kurz (2008) conclude that coaching and 360 feedback processes are mutually beneficial as “coaching is helpful for initiating and embedding behaviour change following the initial feedback process” and “360 feedback measures make an effective contribution to the coaching process, as differences in ratings provide both the coachee and coach with valuable information about levels of effective performance at work….”.

Key Findings:

  • Goal-setting and ongoing support for the individual enhances the impact of a 360 feedback programme
  • If you want to change sales behaviour, you need to measure sales behaviour in your 360
  • Feedback must be accepted and understood by the recipient in order for them to commit to behaviour change
  • Combining 360 feedback with ongoing coaching will turbocharge its impact

 

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  To learn more about our Academy approach to developing sales capability in your workforce please visit our website.

 

Alexander, D.M. (2006) How Do 360 Degree Performance Reviews Affect Employee Attitudes, Effectiveness and Performance? Seminar Research Paper Series. Paper 8. http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lrc_paper_series/8http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lrc_paper_series/8

Bracken, D.W. & Rose, D.S. (2011) When Does 360-Degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How Would We Know It When It Does? Journal of Business and Psychology 26, Article number: 183

Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2016) The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.

Kluger, A.N.  & DeNisi, A. (1996) The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory. Psychological Bulletin, II9(2), 254-284

Latham, G.P., Almost, J., Mann, S. & Moore, C. (2005) New Developments in Performance Management. Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 77–87.

Lawrence, P. (2015), “A best practice model for the effective deployment of 360° feedback”, Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 29 No. 6, 13-16.

Luthans, F. & Peterson, S. J. (2004) 360‐degree feedback with systematic coaching: Empirical analysis suggests a winning combination. Human Resource Management 42(3), 243-256.

McDowall, A. & Kurz, R. (2008) Effective integration of 360 degree feedback into the coaching process. The Coaching Psychologist, 4(1)

Smither, J.W., London, M. & Reilly, R.R. (2005) Does performance improve following multisource feedback? A theoretical model, meta-analysis and review of empirical findings. Personnel Psychology, 58, 33-52.

Smither, J.W., London, M., Flautt, R., Vargas, Y., Kucine, I. (2003) Can working with an executive coach improve multisource feedback ratings over time? A quasi experimental field study. Personnel Psychology 56, 1, p23-44

Thach, E C (2002) “The impact of executive coaching and 360 feedback on leadership effectiveness” Leadership & Organization Development Journal Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 205-214.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Development Sales Leadership Sales Recruitment Sales Training

Is Coaching Salespeople Worth The Investment? What The Research Tells Us.

In the first blog of the series, we explored the features that make sales training succeed.  In our second blog, we look at the value in coaching (and mentoring) your sales team.

Does coaching improve performance in general? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Definitive research reviews by Theeboom et al (2013) and Jones et al (2016) have found that coaching is an effective change methodology (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).  In particular, coaching has a large impact in terms of performance improvement.  Jones et al (2015) argue that this is likely to be because coaching involves many characteristics that we already know from research will enhance performance. These are:

  • Coaches apply goal-setting
  • Goals generally feature work-based activities, promoting experiential forms of learning
  • and thereby directly encourage transfer of learning to work behaviour

Jones et al’s (2015) research overview found that it makes no difference to outcomes whether the coaching sessions are delivered face-to-face, online or by telephone.  Their findings also suggest that internal coaches can deliver stronger outcomes than external coaches. However, research also tells us that the strength and quality of the coach-coachee relationship is a key ingredient to the success of the coaching process (De Haan et al, 2016).  For example, empathy, positive regard and autonomy support are important characteristics of the relationship (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).  So, while it may be ideal for organisations to develop a culture of coaching internally, due care should be taken in terms of training managers to be effective coaches and ensuring they have the relevant skills and characteristics that support quality relationships with their coachees.

Evidence of Impact of Coaching on Sales Performance

The purpose of sales coaching is to equip salespeople with the right knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to achieve role and organisation-related objectives and goals. It can be delivered by a Sales Manager or an external coach.  Similar to executive coaching, the aim is to improve performance through a series of conversations, feedback provision and activities (Badrinarayanan et al, 2015).  Mentoring on the other hand tends to not have a focus on the development of KSAs and performance per se, but is the “exchange between a senior experienced person and a less experienced, more junior protégé” with a focus on career goals (Bradford et al, 2017).

Sales coaching is an under-researched area, but Badrinarayanan et al’s (2015) overview finds that it is an effective element of training and development programmes and that “professional sales coaching plays an important role in the development of salespeople…”

Sager et al (2014) found that salespeople are more satisfied with both selling skills and product knowledge training when it is supported by role models. Furthermore, sales organisations can assist salespeople by providing role models and mentors during initial sales training. Participants are more likely to be satisfied with training if role models continuously and consistently demonstrate correct and expected selling behaviours. Bradford et al’s (2017) found that a combination of external training and on-the-job training are more related to performance enhancement than are internal training courses.  They also recommend the use of internal mentoring, especially where the mentoring relationship gives the opportunity to shadow, observe and mimic the behaviour of the more senior colleague.  These researchers suggest that developmental support from line managers is important to realise the full potential of sales coaching.

In summary, the research tells us that coaching and mentoring play very important, but distinct roles in the embedding of sales capabilities. Coaching embeds learning by setting goals that feature work-based activities and encourage learning transfer. In this relationship, the coachee benefits by taking ownership for converting the ‘theory’ of sales training into a set of clear goals, supported by a tangible set of practical actions that will embed the desired behavioural change. On the other hand, mentoring allows the mentor to reinforce the expected sales behaviours and the mentee to observe and imitate these.

Key findings:

  • Evidence that coaching can improve individual performance is strong
  • Coaching embeds learning by setting goals that feature work-based activities and encourage learning transfer
  • Quality of coaching support is critical to the success of the coaching relationship
  • Participants report increased satisfaction with sales training when it is supported by mentors who role-model the expected behaviours

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  See our website to learn more about our approach to developing sales capability in your workforce.

 

Badrinarayanan, V., Dixon, A., West, V.L. & Zank, G.M. (2015) Professional sales coaching: an integrative review and research agenda. European Journal of Marketing, 49, 7/8, 1087-1113.

Bradford, S.K., Rutherford, B.N. & Friend, S.B. (2017) The impact of training, mentoring and coaching on personal learning in a sales environment. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 15, 1.

De Haan, E., Grant, A.M., Burger, YD. & Eriksson, P.O. (2016) A large-scale study of executive and workplace coaching: The relative contributions of working relationship, personality match, and self-efficacy. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 68(3), 189-207

Grant, A.M. & O’Connor S. (2019) A brief primer for those new to coaching research and evidence-based practice. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(1) 3-10

Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2015) The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.

Sager, J.K., Dubinsky, A.J, Wilson, P.H. & Shao, C. (2014) Factors influencing the impact of sales training: Test of a model. International Journal of Marketing Studies, 6(1), 1.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B. & van Vianen, A. E. M. (2013): Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice. (September 2013)

Blogs Learning & Development Sales Development Sales Training

How Can We Deliver Impact Through Sales Training? An Evidence-Based Approach To Developing B2B Sales Capability

Estimates of the size of the sales training market vary but are typically measured in billions. One estimate for the US alone put the total annual spend on formal sales training in excess of $10billion (Hair et al, 2009). If you’re a business leader thinking about undergoing a sales transformation programme consider this. Less than a third of transformations succeed as expected, with a staggering 70 percent of failures due to an organisation’s inability to adopt the required new behaviours quickly and completely (Keller and Price, 2011).

So, why does sales training so often fail to deliver the returns it promises? We set ourselves two key exam questions:

  • What are the most effective methods to embed learning and development in the workplace?
  • Can the impact of this learning and development be measured in terms of improved sales performance?

To answer these questions we carried out a comprehensive review of credible sales studies and academic behavioural research to identify the best ways to embed learning and to drive a change in sales behaviour that will deliver an increase in top line sales.

 

Sales Training Best Practice

In this first blog of the series, we explore what features of sales training make it more likely to succeed.

A meta-analysis of 144 research studies (Huang et al, 2015) found that to ensure that individuals put in maximum effort to transfer learning into their job, learning should focus on knowledge and skills. Crucially, knowledge should be tailored to the job, bite-sized and then tested on the job. It is through giving the individual opportunities to practice and to receive feedback on their efforts that will help them to turn knowledge into skills. A further meta-analysis of 117 studies by Taylor et al (2005) looked at the impact of Behaviour Modelling Training (BMT) and identified four key components:

  • Training should describe specific actions
  • It should show individuals how to use them
  • Trainees should have opportunity to practice these
  • Trainees should receive feedback on their efforts

Factors that increased the chances of an individual successfully learning a new skill included the following:

  • Rule codes- these explain what to do and why e.g. “Listen carefully and respond with empathy to reduce defensiveness” rather than simply describe the behaviour e.g. “Listen carefully”
  • Mental practice- encourage participants to imagine scenarios and role-play these before they act out new skills in real life
  • Real life practice- provide opportunities for individuals to practice, receive feedback and adapt.

To increase the chance of that new skill changing behaviour, training should incorporate the following:

  • Provide examples of both good and bad behaviours,
  • Encourage individuals to create their own real-life scenarios,
  • Encourage individuals to set goals that relate to the behaviour they have learned

Overall, BMT was found to be effective in enabling individuals to learn new knowledge and skills and had a smaller but more sustained impact on behaviour and job performance.

 

The Impact on Sales Performance

In their study Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock (2010) found that an identical sales training programme delivered in a modular or ‘spaced’ format resulted in superior implementation of the training content, self-assessed sales competence and crucially increased new customers and gross revenue performance when compared to training delivered in a single block. Spaced training delivery is defined as a number of units of training with time intervals in between as opposed to massed training where the entire training content is delivered in one tranche. The authors concluded that the results supported the theory of situated learning whereby the training was perceived to be relevant to the working environment, enabled participants to apply the learning in different situations and gave them opportunity to interact with their colleagues thereby creating an environment of support and collaboration.

In their study of 115 organisations that engaged in sales training, Roman et al (2002) found that training content was a key factor and that salespeople gain “higher performance and customer orientation when training content deals with company policy and sales techniques” whereas training that focused on product knowledge alone actually reduced salespeople’s effectiveness. The authors suggest that this is because the product training was focused on features and benefits rather than on seeking to understand the needs of the customer. Interestingly, when the sales training covered sales techniques, customer knowledge and computer knowledge, the performance of the sales force and their customer orientation increased further. In the words of the researchers “salespeople need not only to know how to make the sale, but must also understand customer needs and provide greater value by applying new technologies in order to translate their behaviours into higher sales outcome.” This is consistent with a separate study (Pollitt, 2010) whereby sales training that focused on the customer and his or her buying experience led to “additional sales that far outstripped the cost of the training.”

 

Key findings

So, if you are choosing between training providers, consider the following summary of the evidence:

  • Sales training that encompasses knowledge of the customer, the buying experience and sales techniques increases the performance of the salesforce
  • Content should be delivered in bite-sized, modular format with intervals between each module to enable theory to be put into practice
  • Participants should be encouraged to set goals that are linked to desired behaviour change
  • Participants should have the opportunity to practice what they have learned through role-play and then on the job
  • Feedback should be given after the individual has practiced so that they can learn and adapt

 

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  To learn more about our Academy approach to developing sales capability in your workforce take a look at our website.

 

Hair, J. F., Anderson, R. E., Mehta, R., & Babin, B. (2009). Sales management. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Huang, J. L., Blume, B. D., Ford, J. K., & Baldwin, T. T. (2015). A tale of two transfers: Disentangling maximum and typical transfer and their respective predictors. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(4), 709.

Kauffeld, S. & Lehmann‐Willenbrock, N. (2010). Sales training: effects of spaced practice on training transfer. Journal of European Industrial Training, 34(1), 23-37.

Keller, S. and Price, C. (2011) Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, first edition, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pollitt, D. (2010). BT Business Sales dials up a customer-focused coaching culture: Program combines new technology with tailored training. Human Resource Management International Digest, 18(4), 7.

Roman, S., Ruiz, S. & Munuera, J.L. (2002) “The effects of sales training on sales force activity.” European Journal of Marketing.

Taylor, P. J., Russ-Eft, D. F., & Chan, D. W. (2005). A meta-analytic review of behavior modelling training. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(4), 692-709.

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Six Ways To Win The War For Diverse Talent When Hiring

We are hearing from more of our clients about their drive to increase diversity in their teams.  Currently, this is also in the context of a highly competitive employment market.  Anecdotally we are seeing salaries rising to help firms win the war on diverse talent.  But if you are serious about enhancing the diversity of your team, what more can you do as a leader? Below are six recommendations from Chartered Psychologist, Sarah Clapperton:

  1. Look beyond your network. It is tempting to take the most direct route, using your own existing connections to recruit. But consider the diversity of your network – it is unlikely to adequately reflect the range of demographic groups you need to attract. Look wider. Talk to HR or reputable recruitment firms about advertising in different publications and in different ways to ensure your search reaches a variety of groups.
  2. Beware of recruiting for team or culture-fit. Selecting people who are a good ‘fit’ for our team or culture is potentially a way to recruit people who are very similar to us, who do things in the “way they are done around here”.  Recruiting in our own image is a sure-fire way to reduce diversity and create an echo chamber of ideas.  Rigorously define the behaviours, attributes and values that are needed for success in the role, and recruit against these, but allow for (and indeed seek out) flexibility in style and thinking.
  3. Use structured interviews. Research shows that using structured interviews, where all candidates receive the same job-related questions and are rated against the same criteria, are a much better predicter of performance in the role.  It creates a level playing field, allowing each candidate equal opportunity to show their potential. Use structured rating guides that include clearly defined behavioural rating scales.  Psychometric tools can add objective value to the interview process, but these should be incorporated by a trained and accredited user. The tool itself must be rigorously developed and validated, and relate to the tightly defined job criteria.
  4. Use trained assessors and interviewers. We are ALL subject to unconscious bias, hard-wired through learning and experience. If we can all agree that we are inherently biased, then we have a starting point for action. Train your interviewers in gold standard approaches in objective assessment, to provide them with the tools and methods that minimise the risk of unconscious biases creeping into their assessments of candidates.  If possible, use pairs/panels of assessors or interviewers (preferably representing a variety of protected groups), who have equal voice in the process.
  5. Walk the talk. As a leader, ensure that you articulate, demand and role model the behaviours that support diversity and inclusion.  Explain your D&I mission to your team.  Call out and address situations where people fall short of these expectations.  Create an environment where everyone’s ideas are sought, listened to and respected.  Ask for and respond to feedback. Then you will be able to genuinely demonstrate to new hires the value that is placed on diversity within your team and the steps you take to ensure everyone is included and respected.
  6. Creating career paths. Offering career opportunities can support retention of your talent. Ensure that your assessment of internal talent is objective. Promotion opportunities should be clearly advertised and the skills / experience required should be defined and articulated.  Encourage managers to have open and honest conversations with their team members about career goals, and ensure that employees with the right skills are encouraged to apply for internal opportunities. Consider creating mentorship networks to provide greater diversity of role models.

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  To learn more about our approach and how we can support you take a look at our website.

Sarah is a Chartered Psychologist with 20 years’ experience of working in selection and development. She is a Director of Bloojam Consulting Ltd.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Development Sales Recruitment

Why Sales Capability Is The Key Differentiator In Professional Services

How Embracing The Science Of Selling Will Set Your Firm Apart

I have assessed hundreds of Partner candidates in professional services firms and I am yet to come across one whose burning desire is to become the top salesperson. Experts in their field, trusted partner to their clients, yes. But not a salesperson. The word ‘sales’ is rarely mentioned. Client management, business origination, increasingly business development, but sales? No, that’s not how we do things here thank you!

And yet the reality of being a successful Partner is the ability to generate revenue and to win new business in order to drive growth. So why are firms seemingly unable or unwilling to embrace a sales culture in their business?

The answer lies in how they recruit and develop their people. Major consultancies are able to take their pick of the brightest candidates from the most prestigious universities across the UK. Once in the business, their technical skills are honed through mandatory professional qualifications so that they can provide the very best advice to their clients, whether they are accountants, lawyers or other highly qualified professional. As they progress in their career the top firms will invest in developing their people management skills so that they can lead larger teams on increasingly complex client engagements.

I tend to assess individuals who are on ‘Partner track’. They are the best of the best. The majority will ace their panel interview and present a compelling business case. But the one thing that scares them is the prospect of having a sales (or revenue!) target to deliver. Sure, they are used to being given performance metrics to achieve, but in the past these have measured the things that they can control. They’ve never had their own neck on the line for a revenue target.

And yet, at no point during their career have their sales capabilities been formally evaluated or their development areas supported in the way that their technical or people skills have. Often, for the first time in their career, they worry that they won’t have what it takes; that they’ll be found wanting. Welcome to the world of strategic sales.

If professional services firms want their Partners to sell effectively (whether that is originating new business, cross-selling to existing clients or simply maximising the opportunities in front of them) they have to invest in the sales skills of those that find themselves on the Partner track. They can’t expect technical experts to be great at selling. Why should developing sales capability be any different to the way that firms support the development of an individual’s technical and leadership skills?

Don’t wait until they become a Partner to find out if they can sell. Evaluate their business development skills in advance and use this as a criteria for promotion. Support and train those with potential to maximise their sales capability and acknowledge that some people will never be top salespeople (and provide them with an alternative route for success). At the moment there are still too many firms that are setting their people up to fail by not supporting them to develop these crucial skills.

Acuity, from Bloojam Consulting, enables firms to benchmark their people’s sales capabilities and to pinpoint individual and team strengths and development priorities. These sales capabilities are statistically proven to be exhibited by high-performers who typically deliver c25% more in revenue generation than their peers.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

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How To Enhance Business Development Skills In Your Technical Experts

Jo is a technically brilliant accountant who has been rapidly promoted through the grades at a large professional services firm. Along with her strong technical skills, Jo has always been great with clients, building strong relationships and providing an efficient, flexible and supportive service that they really appreciate.

Six months ago Jo was delighted to be promoted to Partner. However, today that delight has turned to despair. It’s the first time that she has been responsible for meeting a revenue target. Jo does not see herself as a salesperson. She knows she is great at what she does, but she is finding the challenge of generating revenue difficult and for the first time in her career she has doubts about whether she can succeed.

So, what are Jo’s chances of success?

As Daniel Pink argues in his book, To Sell is Human, we are all in sales.

The good news is that Jo is already showing some of the key behaviours and personal drive characteristics that are critical in business development: she is driven and focused on her own progression; she is confident in her abilities; she has spent many years building trusted relationships with her clients and provides them with insights that they find valuable.

The areas that Jo now needs to work on include her self-belief when it comes to winning business and increasing her client base. She needs to accept that her role has changed and to recognise how her existing skills, attributes and activities can help her achieve her business development goals. Equally, she needs to identify which skills and activities may be missing from her toolkit, and be supported to develop these. And she needs to re-focus her goals and personal drive to incorporate the business development elements of being a Partner.

This will be a familiar scenario for many consultancy organisations, where your highly valued consultants / accountants / lawyers (i.e. your technical experts) are promoted to senior / Partner positions and given responsibility for business development.  Many will thrive in their new role. Others will flounder. At worst, your valued employee will leave the organisation as they feel the pressure of ‘underperformance’ for the first time in their careers.

Our Acuity® for Strategic Sales assessment model is proven to enhance revenue performance by up to 23%. By evaluating individuals against 9 key capabilities Acuity can provide targeted and personal feedback to help them address their development needs.

If you want to retain your top performers and enable them to hit the ground running when promoted into roles requiring a focus on business development, let us help you to support them on that journey.

Sarah Clapperton is a Director at Bloojam Consulting. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with 15 years experience in the assessment and development of leaders.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Development Sales Leadership Uncategorised

4 Stats That Show How B2B Buyers Suffer From Information Overload (And Why The Salesperson Is As Critical As Ever)

Consider these stats:

  • In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, published the first website (info.cern.ch). Ten years later there were over 29 million websites and today there are over 1.8 billion.
  • Google, when launched in 1998, processed around 10,000 searches a day. It now receives around 2.5 billionqueries a day.
  • Last year there were over 600 million active blogs. 70 million new blogposts are published each month on WordPress. Nearly 80% of the Fortune 500 uses a corporate blog to communicate to their customers.
  • There are 57 million companies on LinkedIn. 2 million posts, articles and videos are published on the platform every day.

It’s all a far cry from the pre-internet days when information was scarce and a client’s ability to compare one supplier against another was limited. Today the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that there is now too much information out there. The result is information overload for buyers. Buyers report that two-thirds of their buying journey is spent on gathering, processing and deconflicting information.

In addition, the word “buyers” is no longer correct. Buying groups are increasingly common in B2B sales. Research from Forrester shows that 63% of purchases involve four or more people, each of whom is likely to represent a different department and to play a different role in client decision-making.  With numerous stakeholders involved on the buyer side, each independently uncovering information from different sources, it is easy to see how buyers find it difficult to find agreement between themselves about how to proceed.

It falls to the salesperson (consultant, account manager) to help clients to make sense of the information they have uncovered, to help them to deconflict contradictory evidence, to challenge their thinking and to coalesce them around a solution.  Doing so enables the salesperson to demonstrate their knowledge, to establish credibility and to create that trusted partner relationship that creates the right environment for a sale to proceed.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

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5 Key Trends All Sales Leaders Need To Navigate To Get The Best From Their Sales Teams

Prior to the pandemic, many organisations were already responding to the changing needs of buyers by undertaking sales transformation and digitisation programmes.  Research from Gartner conducted over the course of 2018 and 2019 showed that 87% of senior business leaders reported that digitisation was a company priority, whilst 66% of CEOs expected to change their company’s business model in the next 3 years.

However, these were not delivering the expected benefits, with 72% of leaders reporting that corporate digitisation initiatives were missing revenue expectations.  In fact, the ‘democratisation’ of information has, alongside other factors, created a sales journey that is more convoluted with 77% of buyers now describing the purchase process as ‘complex’.

The pandemic has further fuelled the digitisation and transformation agendas for sales.  A cross-parliamentary report in the UK (2021) argues that the pandemic “has accelerated the digital revolution in how we trade and exposed an acute skills shortage in professional business-to-business selling”.  A number of key themes have emerged that, whilst not new, have certainly become cemented over the last 18 months and have significant implications for sales leaders if they are to maximise the performance of their sales teams:

  1. More Of The Buyer Journey Is Online: McKinsey (2021) research shows that omnichannel interactions, already prevalent in B2B sales, are now the predominant path for customers.  A global survey by Bain & Company (2021) found that buyers and sellers alike prefer virtual sales interactions.  Even as face-to-face engagement has begun to re-emerge as an option, buyers demonstrate a clear preference for a blend of digital self-service, remote human interactions and more traditional approaches.  In the space of the last 12 months, the appetite for digital self-service, necessitated by global lockdowns, has cemented a pre-existing trend particularly at the early ‘discovery’ stages of the buying cycle.
  2. Buyers Have Too Much Information: Conversely, this rise in self-service buying appears to have exacerbated a trend we highlighted in our previous whitepaper which is one of sales complexity.  Gartner’s research shows that whilst the vast majority (89%) of buyers agree that the quality of information available to them is high, half (50%) also found it overwhelming and 43% said it was contradictory.  As a result, buyers report that two-thirds of the buying journey is spent on gathering, processing and deconflicting information.  With numerous stakeholders involved on the buyer side, each independently uncovering information from different sources, it is easy to see how buyers find it difficult to find agreement between themselves about how to proceed.
  3. Buyers Are Prepared To Buy ‘Big’ Online: Perhaps surprisingly, despite this lack of clarity a significant proportion of buyers are prepared to spend 6 figures or more with a wholly digital sales process; that is, without any interaction with a salesperson at all (McKinsey, 2021).  Research from Gartner suggests that when a salesperson is able to interact with a buyer, they can expect to get only 5% of their time and so their window to influence a purchase decision is extremely narrow.  This risks an increase in purchase regret from the customer, if the solution doesn’t meet their expectations, and reduces the likelihood of repeat business.
  4. Seller Capability Is Not Fit For Purpose: Only 54% of B2B salespeople are confident in their ability to close deals in the new environment (Salesforce, 2020).  84% of sales leaders say that they don’t have the sales talent they need to succeed in future (Miller Heiman) and just 22% report that they consistently hire sellers who succeed.  In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Professional Sales (2021) reports a shortage of sales, digital and management skills amongst sales organisations.  Clearly there is an urgent requirement for organisations to invest in developing their sales talent so that it is fit for the future.
  5. Sales Leaders Are Not Equipped To Support Salespeople: Allied to the dearth of sales talent, is the increasing expectation that sales leaders should play a key part in developing employees.  Gartner research shows that 42% of managers say they lack the confidence to develop the skills that employees need today.  Little wonder then that the average frontline sales manager devotes just 9% of their time to developing their direct reports.  So not only are sales leaders failing to hire well, they also appear to give too little of their time and attention to help individuals to adapt to the new sales landscape.  Sales leaders need to develop their own capabilities as leaders so that they can improve their recruitment and development of sales talent.

Whilst the capability of the individual salesperson is clearly important, they cannot perform at their best without effective leadership.  It is therefore imperative for organisations to understand what is required of sales leaders so that they can support them in bringing the best out of individuals to create high-performing sales teams within the increasingly complex and fast-moving context that we describe.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

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The UK has a Skills Shortage in B2B Selling

The latest report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Professional Sales demonstrates just how critical the sales profession is to the performance of the wider UK economy; 80% of UK businesses make part or all of their turnover from selling to other businesses.

The report acknowledges the profound impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on many businesses through the acceleration of the “digital revolution in how we trade and exposure of an acute skills shortage in professional business-to-business selling.”

Whilst the report highlights that businesses have had to quickly adapt to digital selling, it also recognises two much more long-standing issues: the lack of sales skills and leadership skills.

As the report argues, if companies do not train staff in how to sell, then digital technology will not confer much advantage, and may even be counterproductive.

Whilst investment in digital sales channels may grab all the headlines (and the investment), it is increasingly clear that the human element will remain crucial to effective selling. Too many businesses ignore the development of sales skills and capabilities at their peril.

Read the full report here.

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