It’s an age-old challenge in the consulting industry: how to get your delivery people to develop more business. After all, who’s in a better position to bring in more work than the people who labor side-by-side with the client? But first there are barriers to break through. Read on for four specific strategies that will help your delivery people execute on both project plans and business development plans.
Old Problem: Those Closest to The Client Don’t Want to Sell
The other day I was chatting with Jonathan, the Chief Growth Officer for a boutique consulting firm. He spoke about the long-standing challenge of getting delivery people to think and act like business developers.
We talked about how:
- Many are 100% focused on delivery. They’ve got their eye on their target: project results. So they naturally pay the most attention to delivering on project promises, sometimes missing what’s in the periphery.
- Some don’t see business development as their job. This mindset is common and understandable: Generating new work is for salespeople or business developers; delivery is for project teams. And there’s certainly a case to be made for spending time where you excel and have expertise.
- Some aren’t sure how to sell. They may have a “deer in the headlights” reaction at the thought of selling, even though they know they should be looking for new opportunities, and even though they genuinely want to get better at it.
- No one wants to be seen as smarmy. They’ve developed trust based on project execution and may see it as a breach of that trust to switch to “sales mode.”
Looking through the lens of delivery, all of these perspectives make sense. And all of them hinder business growth—for consultants and clients alike.
New Mindset: It’s a Disservice Not To Sell
One way to get delivery people to develop more business is to change their mindset—to help them think their way into behaviors that will naturally open doors. I think that’s the right place to start. Make it your job to remind them—again and again—that everyone in the organization has a higher obligation than delivery: client service. “Selling” then, is part of the professional obligation to serve the client. Not paying attention to the clients’ business needs as a whole is a disservice. Don’t miss an opportunity to beat that drum.
I also believe that’s the beginning and not the end. Overcoming the concern about being seen as smarmy—which I suggest is the biggest barrier—will take more than a steady drum beat.
New Approach: Behaviors That Take the “Sell” Out of “Selling”
Let’s be honest: selling is perceived as a less-than-meritorious endeavor more often than not. There are widely held stereotypes on the part of buyers and sellers alike that influence our thoughts, feelings and actions when we’re on either end of anything that feels like a sale.
Delivery people may falter because they’re just not sure how to approach opportunities in an un-smarmy way—even if they’re clear it’s the right and good thing to do. You owe it to them to provide specific tools and approaches to help take the “sell” out of selling. Try these four:
1. Ask permission. Telling a client about new opportunities to improve their business is a hundred times easier when you have set the expectation early on that you’re going to do it. At project kickoff, this could sound like this:
“Aria, we’re going to be working together closely for four months. We are totally committed to achieving the results we’ve defined in our project plan. Along the way, we might see opportunities to improve your business that fall outside the scope of our work. Would it be OK with you if we bring those to your attention when we see them?”
Then when the time comes, it’s natural to start with, “Aria, remember when we said…”
Anyone on the team can set this expectation and anyone on the team can follow through.
2. Sell by doing. One of the reasons sales gets a bad rap is that it’s seen—fairly or unfairly—as a process of mostly talk and little action. Selling by doing is a distinct approach that gives your client the actual experience of working with you. This is particularly valuable for professional services and is an easy transition when delivery people are already working shoulder-to-shoulder with a client. It gives the client a taste of what it might be like to go in a new or different direction, without obligation or pressure to move forward.
3. Sell the right solution, not your solution. The purpose of traditional selling is to help others buy from you; the purpose of trust-based selling is to help others make the best decision for them right now. Suggest that your delivery folk unreservedly explore all options with the client—not just your company’s solution. This frees them of the concerns they feel about having a company agenda. A trusted advisor, after all, is a safe haven for tough issues, not just ones for which you have a product or service or that fall within the scope of your work. Paradoxically, the chances are excellent that you’ll win more client loyalty—and more business in the long-run—when you approach opportunities with this mindset and the behaviors to back it.
4. Use caveats. Sometimes we feel things even when we know we “shouldn’t”—like feeling awkward or smarmy when it’s time to talk about being of greater service. Suggestion: say something about that. “Geez, at the risk of coming across as salesy…” That’s what we call a caveat, and it’s a conversational jewel. It dispels the yuck that you’re feeling and communicates that you care about how your message is received. It simultaneously smoothes over what could be an awkward shift for the client—although truthfully is more likely awkward for the one delivering the message.
Taking the “sell” out of selling—employing four specific strategies to reduce the perception of sales as smarmy—leads to greater value and better results.
Isn’t that the ultimate delivery?