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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

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Why Innovation Is Key To Driving Sales Performance…

And Why Sales Leaders Need to Loosen Their Grip On Their Sales Teams

As sales dry up and the pressure to achieve target increases, for sales leaders it can be very tempting to impose greater oversight of sales teams through more regular check-ins, activity reporting, new processes and more. This is understandable given how volatile the world is right now. To make well-informed decisions about how to adapt to the new normal, it is only natural for a sales leader to want to have up-to-date information from those on the ground. But is it the right approach?

We already know that salespeople spend a lot of their time on non-sales activities, for example this Salesforce survey of sales professionals identified that even before lockdown on average 64% of their time is spent not selling. So if we are now asking them for even more information, more frequently, that can only further reduce the amount of time available for selling.

Worse still it may be stifling sales innovation at the very moment you need it most. There is a growing body of evidence that fostering a culture of innovation amongst your sales team will positively impact upon the bottom line. This is not achieved by a rigid ‘one size fits all’ style of management. It is based upon encouraging individual salespeople to share knowledge with each other, to ask questions, to challenge existing methods, to generate ideas and to explore these further in order to problem solve, all with the intention of adding value for the customer.

It requires sales leaders to focus on knowledge and behaviour within the team rather than their targets and outcomes. And it requires individual salespeople to work collaboratively rather than acting as lone wolves.

In rapidly changing and uncertain economic climates, everyone in the sales team and across the organisation needs to be sharing, and interrogating, information not just reporting it up to the sales leader. Allowing sales teams to be innovative could be a real differentiator. Encouraging your salespeople to think differently and to challenge each other and the status quo will enable them to respond innovatively and lead to better solutions that will enable them to position themselves with their customers as a trusted advisor; someone they want to hear from and whose insight they value. It is that quality of relationship that will drive your competitive advantage.

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 Consulting Professional Services Sales Development Sales Recruitment

The Case For Sales Skills In Professional Services

I have assessed hundreds of candidates who are up for promotion to more senior roles in professional service 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, occasionally business development, but sales? No, we’re a little more sophisticated here thank you!