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Two Most Critical Challenges When Managing Professional Services Sales Teams

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Oct 30, 2017 @ 17:10 PM

Professional services companies pose unique challenges for sales leaders and managers in two important ways: one strategic, the other tactical. Just in the past month alone, three companies of this type have asked for help and their issues are closely related.


Copyright : John Malone


The story usually sounds like this. Sales are strong, but growth is flat. The professionals (delivery experts, practitioners and subject matter experts) are too busy to adequately hunt or farm new business, selling abilities differ dramatically, and individual growth goals are undefined. Sales process, if there is one, is ineffective. The professionals don’t have the skills, sales DNA, and training to execute corporate goals.


Take a breath – there’s more! Business development people who focus solely on new business have too many masters and unclear goals. And the worst of it might be that the biz-dev team brings the professionals into the sales process too early, short-circuiting an effective sales process. Lastly, compensation is leading business development people to focus on services that aren’t aligned with business goals.


Aside from that, everything’s perfect! Right? But remember I said there were two challenges for sales leaders, and if those challenges are properly addressed, the issues above can be resolved and they can get back to growing the business at expected levels.


The strategic challenge is defining the reporting and operational structure so the right people are doing the right things and reporting to the right people. The tactical challenge is effectively managing more than one type of sales role, while motivating, coaching, and holding the whole bunch accountable.


Let’s look at the strategic challenge first. The business development role tends to be newer in professional services companies because competitive pressure has increased more rapidly in recent years. Information is widely available to clients and it’s harder to differentiate. Further, professionals used to get by mostly on their ability and reputation. Today, to really make rain, they need a set of skills more closely associated with selling: hunting, qualifying, farming, and closing, for example. For many, these are new skills and their expertise is not at a level consistent with their professional skills and mastery.


Copyright : ximagination

In addition to the above selling problem, there are usually questions about organizational structure. Who should report to whom? How should they be compensated and how should it align with corporate goals. Like learning a card game, the rules are just the rules; the real strategy emerges as you play. Similarly, compensation systems are eventually “gamed” to serve the financial interest of the salesperson. That’s not a problem; it’s normal. However it’s best for companies to understand this and ensure that the compensation plan puts the cheese in the same place for salesperson and company alike.


The tactical challenge for professional services companies is day-to-day management of the sales organization. Typically, there hasn’t been one to manage. The professional service practitioners incentives are more aligned with the company. The company grows either because they are growing their own business, or more professionals/partners are hired. As a result, there is limited knowledge of sales management competencies including recruiting, motivating, coaching, accountability, pipeline management, sales process, CRM, and relationship building. If sales process is an issue, here's a quick tool to find out how your's measures up.


First, is there a dedicated manager? The usual early mistake is to have service line leaders manage business development people on the occasion when there is a prospect who is interested in their service line. This means the salespeople have as many bosses as service line leaders, which means they have no boss, no real manager, and therefore not enough accountability.


While each company structure is different, from experience, I can state with reasonable confidence that unless you have one to three business development people who are completely self-winding and who also make it rain every month without supervision, you need a dedicated manager who possesses the tools needed to perform the managerial leadership function. How does your team compare? Click here to find out.


The sales manager must have a longer time horizon than the business development people they manage, and the cognitive capacity to challenge them at a level appropriate to their specific place on the learning curve. They must understand each person’s motivations. We look at seven different motivational tendencies, for example, when evaluating salespeople. It’s difficult to motivate people without knowing how they are motivated and what already motivates them. Motivation is like martial arts. Managers get better results when they use their people’s motivational energy to direct and guide them rather than trying to change their direction entirely.


A dedicated manager is in a better position to coach to the sales process without letting other distractions limit this most critical of functions. Coaching can be a term of art with definitions that sometimes include any interaction between a manager and salesperson. However, getting this right makes the difference between merely knowing what’s going on and creating an environment where constant growth and improvement is a daily norm and part of the culture.


There is much written about how to coach and we hold a two-day sales leadership intensive twice a year with a heavy emphasis on coaching, but here’s something you can takeaway right now. Schedule a regular, predictable, formal 30-minute coaching session with each of your people twice a week. In the session, focus on only one opportunity using plenty of role play until there is a distinct “a-ha” moment. Imagine the capability of your team after six months of that?!


Without overwhelming you with too much information, the last critical competency to discuss, with respect to the value a dedicated manager brings to the business development team of a professional services company, is accountability. Service line leaders have a lot to think about and many constituents to serve. It’s easy for the activities of the business development team to get lost in all that noise.


Sales managers are in the best position to know what activities are important on a daily basis and to hold the team accountable. Again, without trying to hold a two-day seminar, here is a quick way to think about activities. Start with goals and work backward. I’ll keep the math simple in the following example.


If you desire one new client per month per salesperson, look at your closing percentages at each stage of the sales process to calculate the appropriate daily activity. One client might demand two closeable opportunities. Two closeable opportunities might mean four prospects with compelling need to do business, which might take eight meetings. To get eight meetings, you might need 16 conversations. To get 16 conversations, you might need 160 leads. So every day, I need each salesperson to reach out to eight people (8 x 20 days per month = 160). What equation works for your firm?


I hope this helps the many professional services firms working on this very problem today. In short, strategically, the organizational structure must be supportive of growth. The right people are doing the right things and reporting up through an organization that has the time and skills to support them, at all levels. Tactically, sales managers have the requisite skill sets to effectively motivate, coach, and hold their people accountable using best practices and proven tools. Find out if your team has what it takes by clicking here. Getting this right means nothing short of writing a new story, this time with a happy ending.

Topics: effective sales leadership, Management Assessment, Hierarchy of Sales Coaching, professional sales

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