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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.

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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)

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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.

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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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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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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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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!

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Good salespeople are low in empathy, aren’t they?

According to a recent YouGov survey, a majority of Britons feel that empathy is on the decline in the UK.  Are we turning into a nation of people who see events only from their own perspective? Are we less interested in other people’s views? And if this is the case what relevance does it have for sales?

Whether we’re being cold-called by our utilities provider to commit to a longer-contract with more add-ons for only an extra £7.50 a month or encouraged by our car insurance provider to add legal protection or no claims discount cover again for just a small increase in our premium, it seems that the customer is increasingly seen as someone who should be wrung dry for every available penny regardless of what their actual needs might be.

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