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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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