Over the past 30 years I have consulted and trained many professional service firms (PSFs) on the topic of sales. They come from a range of industries (IT-Consulting, Tax, Legal, Audit and Business Advisory Services) and staff sizes (50-16’000). The common denominator is that they all sell services, not products.
The underlying belief in PSFs can still be summed up by the statement from Sir William Barclay Peat who founded KPMG 125 years ago. He said “The secret is to do good work…Do good work and you will get work. There is no other way”.
Whilst I strongly support the importance of doing good work, let me give you an example to illustrate how risky this belief can be. During an assignment in 2019 for an IT-Consulting firm with 1’100 professionals, I facilitated a workshop for a group of subject matter experts. When I suggested that everyone should be responsible for selling, they strongly disagreed and told me that this was not in their job description. Today, the firm no longer exists. Doing good work was not sufficient to generate enough work.
Everyone is a seller
The truth is that everyone in a PSF needs to be a seller, although selling has many facets. Farmers are skilled at growing business with existing accounts, cross-sellers are good at introducing colleagues from other service lines and hunters use their personal network to generate and win new business. Selling is a fundamental skill set, not something that only extraverts can do.
Shifting the mindset
If you are a leader in a professional service firm here are some tips to develop an “everyone is a seller” mindset:
- Identify good examples of farming, cross-selling and hunting and document the successes in a way that demystifies sales. I recently ran a virtual panel discussion for a group of 60 directors, many of whom lack a sales mindset. Each example was explained step-by-step from how the opportunity was identified through to how it was won. This proved to be a very effective way to activate the audience and whet their appetite for selling.
- Define and implement a sales excellence toolkit and make sure that each concept is relevant for your business and is underpinned with examples to show how its application has driven success. I am in the middle of an assignment for a German consulting firm that supports and advises banks on how to optimize their business processes. The program participants are all subject matter experts and by giving them a pragmatic toolkit to support each step in the sales process, we have won their minds and hearts for selling.
- Implement hands-on coaching of key client meetings, proposals and pitches. One of our Big 4 clients offers all partners one-to-one coaching to improve the preparation, execution and follow-up of upcoming client meetings. The participants find coaching at the point of execution much more beneficial than training. Another multinational consulting firm assigns an opportunity coach to each pursuit. The coach focuses on the selling aspects of the pursuit e.g. crafting a winning value proposition, executing a competitive strategy and dry-running proposal presentations.
In summary, doing good work and proactive selling are two pillars of success in professional service firms. There are undoubtedly many other ways to develop a sales mindset and I welcome your feedback and further suggestions.