“To choose or not to choose, that is the business development question.” Consultants are good at Business Development, the real deal is whether they choose to do it or not.
As MD of SBR Consulting, I have worked with consultants for 10 years, helping them to find their own sales potential as part of their role and I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority have sales capability within them. When you look at the skillset of a professional salesperson, it is a combination of strong product / service knowledge, questioning, listening, understanding and helping to provide valuable solutions. These are directly in alignment with a good consultant’s skillset. Why then do many lose the battle to move across to the, “Winning business” side?
Before I go further, the really good news is that, at SBR Consulting, we have lost count of the number of technical consultants who by nature are more thinkers than talkers, yet who have joined their firm’s elite group of top revenue generators. This is partly due to their ability to learn when to listen and when to advise, a core competence in consulting. However the main difference, in our opinion, is that they have chosen to accept that they must make time for meetings, additional to the standard project delivery ones; they make the time to have other conversations; they have formed the habit of networking, using the phone, having lunch/coffee with other professionals, even if an immediate need is not apparent. Despite it being potentially awkward and out of their comfort zone, they made the choice and so business development/sales has become habit.
I recently read Jim Collins’s newest book, ‘Great by Choice’. As you would expect, this book continues to explore the differences between good organisations and great organisations, based on a 10 year study. He referred to 3 aspects that all the great organisations had as: Fanatical Discipline, Empirical Creativity and Productive Paranoia:
He uses the analogy of a 20 mile march. He points out how it is the consistency of a march, regardless of the conditions, the environment and how you feel, which will outperform any stop, start, fast, slow, little today or lots tomorrow approach.
- For a consultant, this also holds true as one of the challenges is that they do not treat business development as a function that needs attention every week. The project or programme they are working on becomes the 100% focus and no time is allocated for a few simple BD tasks such as calling two people a week to stay in touch. How could you make BD a consistent project that becomes business as usual?
The analogy is to, “Fire bullets and then cannon balls.” You do not need to be any more creative than others you just need to gain valuable empirical evidence from the bullets and then use this to fire the cannon balls. Collins shows how great companies fire a lot of bullets that never hit anything, yet through doing this they gain valuable knowledge as to where to fire the few cannon balls. Robert Noyce said, “You may not find what you are looking for but you may find something else.”
- The same is true for consultants and winning work. By having lots of dialogue (bullets) with prospects and clients when they are in satisfaction stage of the buying cycle, they will uncover and be in the right place when the real opportunities (cannon balls) appear.
This is staying above the death line! No-one can predict the future reliably and consistently and so obsessive preparation ahead of time is essential. Collins shows how great companies build buffers and shock absorbers far beyond the norm of others and assume that some bad things will happen. David Brailsford, the British Olympic Cycling coach believes much of their gold medal success was in mastering fundamentals and aggregation of marginal gain.
Darren Hardy in The Compound Effect puts it really simply, when he says that, “Choices are the root of every one of your results. Each choice starts a behaviour that over time becomes a habit.” In essence, you make your choices and then the choices make you. Where we see technical consultants make the decision to build mutually beneficial long term relationships with other professionals, we consistently see successful business winners.
- From the consultant’s Business Development perspective this means taking care of the top of the funnel. It is knowing that you have built up lots of future possible opportunities which are not being taken into account in the standard company opportunity-weighted spreadsheet. Do not get sucked into spending all your energy going after one high value prospect in case it does not come your way. Plan and prepare for future tougher times.
If you have not already, start to make business development a weekly project. Read around the subject, spend time with people who are good at it, become curious about client and prospects’ issues and challenges – you never know, you might really start to enjoy it like the rest of us. The clients will love the value you bring to the table.
As a sales performance consultancy, SBR Consulting works closely with Partners and Directors to “liberate the sales potential” within their practices. Every month SBR Consulting will share a common challenge that its clients have like the one above and ideas about how to address them. Contact Lars Tewes with your sales challenges and questions.
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