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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.

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.

Blogs Business Consulting Sales Development Sales Leadership Sales Recruitment

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.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Leadership

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.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Development Sales Leadership

6 Reasons You Should Use 360 Feedback and Coaching To Create A Sales Culture

In our previous blog we looked at the 5 things needed to supercharge sales training. But sales training in isolation is doomed to fail with one estimate indicating that when it comes to transformation programmes “70 percent of failures are due to an organisation’s inability to adopt the required new behaviours quickly and completely”.

When evaluating the impact of training, many organisations will measure feedback from participants as evidence for success. Others may apply a formal measure of learning in the form of an assessment at the end of the training. But the most powerful measures of success are ‘learning transfer’- do the individuals apply what they have learned back in the real world- and what is the impact upon business performance.

So what can an organisation do beyond sales training that will directly impact upon the bottom line? Research indicates that combining 360 feedback with ongoing coaching to support training can be very powerful for the following reasons:

  • 360 feedback with individual coaching has been shown to increase leadership effectiveness by up to 60 per cent. By soliciting feedback from a number of individuals known to (and usually respected by) the participant the results are very targeted and personal in a way that sales training is not.
  • The coach is able to support the participant to understand the feedback results and to link these to actions that will change behaviour.
  • Coaching alongside training helps to embed learning and facilitates learning transfer by encouraging individuals to set work-based actions and activities. In effect, the coachee takes ownership for turning training ‘theory’ into practice.
  • In subsequent coaching sessions the coach is able to hold the coachee to account by encouraging the individual to review their actions and the effectiveness of these. ‘Live’ situations can be dissected enabling the individual to amend existing activities or to identify new actions that will enable them to handle that situation more effectively.
  • Goal-setting is found to enhance the impact of coaching. This is different from identifying specific actions. Goals are over-arching objectives that show the individual the destination that their many small activities will lead them towards. Having goal clarity is shown to enhance workplace performance.
  • Above all else, the key to successful coaching is the quality of the coach and their relationship with the coachee. Internal coaches can be effective but if training managers to be coaches it is critical that they are well trained and have the relevant skills and characteristics to support quality relationships with their coachees.

So if you want to maximise the impact of your sales training, we strongly recommend that you support any such program with 360 feedback and ongoing coaching.

 

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.

 

Blogs Business Consulting Sales Development Sales Leadership Sales Recruitment

5 Things To Look For If You Want To Supercharge Your Sales Training

If You Want Sales Training To Impact The Bottom Line, This Is What You Need To Know

At Bloojam we have put a lot of effort into understanding the key behaviours that determine success in B2B sales roles. In fact, our research has identified 9 key capabilities that are statistically proven to be exhibited by the top sales performers, those who deliver on average nearly 25% more revenue than their peers.

Unfortunately, we’re yet to come across a business that is full of top-performing salespeople. Add to that, too much of the sales training that is out there fails to have any impact upon sales performance at all.

So what can be done to support individuals to develop their sales capability and to maximise the impact of sales training? Most importantly, is there any evidence that any of this will lead to an increase in sales? And what should you look for when commissioning sales training for your business?

It’s not cool but our approach has always been led by facts and data. We favour science over speculation and so we have undertaken a wide-ranging review of sales studies and academic behavioural research to identify the 5 key things that you should look for if you want to supercharge your sales training:

  1. Measure impact on sales- Most sales training measures what an individual has learned and whether they are applying that learning in the real world. But the key thing to measure is what impact does this have on sales. If the learning fails to lead to an increase in sales, then it is money down the drain!
  2. Train behaviours that will shift the dial- If you want to change sales behaviours, that’s great. But you need to be confident that the behaviours you seek are going to lead to increased sales. Luckily for you, we know which behaviours will do that.
  3. Encourage goal setting- Too often what is learned in training is forgotten within weeks. A common practice in coaching, goal-setting encourages individuals to commit to changing their behaviour for the long-term. The key is to ensure that these goals are linked to the sales behaviours that are proven to drive greater sales performance.
  4. Focus on the Customer- Sales training that encourages sellers to consider customer needs and their buying experience is more effective than training that prioritises the organisation’s sales process and procedures.
  5. Bite-sized modules work best- The same content delivered in a modular format provides space and time for individuals to practice, review and receive feedback on their application of the course content. This approach is shown to lead to higher sales performance than the same content delivered in a single block.

So there you have it. Five things you should look for when commissioning sales training. If you’d like to know more about how we incorporate these methods into our Acuity Sales Training Academy take a look at our website or give us a call.

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 HR Can Influence Business Leaders To Develop Their People

Helping HR To Speak The Language Of Business

When we see HR leaders and Sales leaders together around the table it can be interesting to hear the different language being used.

HR professionals often talk in people terms such as ‘talent’ ‘personal development’ and ‘engagement’.  They often see the value of robust selection and development practices in terms such as ‘talent pipeline’, ‘succession planning’ and ‘future leaders’.

Sales leaders often talk in terms of ‘targets’, ‘revenue’ and ‘sales performance’.

But, these are essentially two sides of the same coin.  Drawing a line between the two will help you to make the business case for using robust assessments for selection and development.   Here are some ways to support your argument for more ‘people’ focused activities that all business leaders can buy into.

  1. Reduce the risks and costs of wrong decisions

A good assessment process tells you more information about an individual than you can ever get in an interview alone. For example, an expert-led discussion with them about psychometric survey results will give you an invaluable insight into a person’s strengths, preferences, values, drivers and areas for development.

Armed with this rich information, you can make informed decisions about whether a candidate will perform well against the critical job criteria, whether your employee is ready for the next level of role or how to best spend your training budget to meet the specific needs of a team or department.

  1. Show me the money

A powerful business case will demonstrate the return on investment based on identifying the costs associated with poor selection or promotion decisions.

Questions to consider include:

  • How much does the recruitment / selection process cost?
  • How much does it cost to train someone in the new role?
  • How much does it cost the business while they are getting up to speed?
  • How much does it cost in re-training or performance management if a team member is underperforming?
  • What impact does it have on others if someone is underperforming? E.g. colleagues “carrying” their work, re-training them or becoming demotivated themselves; managers demotivating their team; a leader getting the direction wrong for the whole business.

Based on the answers to these questions, you’ll find that the cost of a robust selection process is a drop in the ocean in comparison. Click here for a useful ROI calculator to get you started.

  1. Provide the evidence

If you want to add even more weight to your business case, a validation study will link the results of the assessment method to key performance indicators in the role.  Take the example of a sales team; if you can identify which elements of personality and behaviour will drive sales performance then you can show the associated increase in income to the business if everyone was recruited against this profile. To see an example of how this has been done click here for more information.

  1. Hone your training budget

Using personality questionnaires, 360 surveys and other tools shows that as a business you are willing to invest in your people and their professional development. Using these as part of a development process can create a culture of self-awareness and self-development that didn’t previously exist. It can also provide team, department and organisational level themes that need to be addressed, thereby enabling you to make the best use of the training budget rather than taking a more costly “sheep dip” approach. Providing cost saving figures for your business leaders will again support your argument and help you to achieve your people aims.

In summary, an objective business case outlining the costs of getting it wrong and the value of getting it right can speak the language of senior peers and the C-Suite, helping HR leaders reach their own objectives while bringing other business leaders with them.

Sarah is a Chartered Business Psychologist and a Director of Bloojam Consulting.  With 20 years’ experience working in selection and development, she is passionate about using evidence-based approaches to add demonstrable value to both the individual and the organisation.

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Three Things Sales Leaders Should Do Now To Support Their Sales Teams

Nobody needs telling that business is tough at the moment. In the UK, GDP fell by 2% quarter-on-quarter for the first time since the last financial crash in 2008 and the next quarterly report is likely to be far, far worse. The government furlough scheme in which the state pays 80% of an employee’s wages now has more than 1 in 5 of all workers enrolled and has recently been extended to October.

Blogs Business Consulting Sales Development Sales Leadership

If Salespeople Now Need To Sell Remotely, Why Not Recruit And Develop Them Remotely Too?

Prior to this global pandemic, the steady beat of the climate change drum was already becoming more urgent. Greta Thunberg had, to some extent, succeeded in ensuring that the climate crisis was a regular feature in news bulletins. In news that already seems a long time ago, Heathrow’s plans for a third runway was ruled illegal because the government failed to factor in the impact it would have upon its commitments to tackle the climate crisis whilst HS2 was given the green light.

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