We all know the saying that it’s easier to sell to an existing client than a new one. How many firms, however, truly act in accordance with this?
I witnessed a classic situation a few years ago when the Managing Partner of a consultancy client of mine asked me to spend some time looking at the forward revenue profile of the firm and investigate anything that seemed strange. Amongst a number of other things, I noticed that a particular client, with fees for a current project amounting to well over £1m, had no forward opportunities marked against it so I decided to ask some questions.
The current assignment was going well and was due to complete in the next few weeks. Benefits for the client were coming through ahead of target and the client was happy. Delivery of the assignment, therefore, was not an issue. The issue, of course, was that the entire team devoted to the client was focused on purely the job at hand and was neither using the assignment itself nor spending time outside of the assignment to uncover further opportunities or even expand their network of Executive contacts within the client organisation. Thankfully, we had just enough time to work on this and a client organisation that was open to having wider discussions – a few months later, a new assignment commenced in a different division of the client. Phew!
I regularly come across situations like this, in all sizes of professional services firm. But why? Most firms deliver sales training of varying kinds to their consultants, especially from Managing Consultant to Director levels. Shouldn’t this be enough?
To understand this, we need to go back to why people enter the professional services industry in the first place. They like problem solving, they want variety in their job, they want to make a difference to a business, to government, to society. Nowhere in the list is selling work – sales is “a dirty word” and an uncomfortable place to be pushed into – delivery is so much more satisfying, and a safer place to be, for most consultants.
Surely this is illogical, especially within existing client organisations. Take the example given above – the client was happy and receiving benefit. In such situations, it is in the interests of the client if we can open up conversations about where else our consulting firm can help – if we help in other areas too, they’ll gain even more benefit and be even happier! What’s not to like?
Sales training courses focus almost exclusively on tools and techniques – that’s fine and will increase the chances of success. In our industry, however, we need to recognise that the vast majority of consultants will not be involved in new business sales beyond proposal writing and delivering their part of a beauty parade presentation – opening up “new new” opportunities will always fall to the few rather than the many.
All consultants do have a responsibility, however, to make existing clients happy and to deliver benefit for them – accordingly, they should be involved in the development and implementation of account plans for existing accounts and, crucially, they may need to go through a mindset shift to understand that doing this is in the client’s interests. If they truly believe this then their actions in this area will become more natural and “from the heart”, leading to more opportunities, increased fee income for the professional services firm, stronger client relationships and increased client value!