The client’s knowledge of the industry, company, and product will be more robust than the sales consulting firm’s knowledge in these areas. The implications of this are worth discussing in more detail.
Industries have a life cycle and a structure. Industry life cycles, and the associated structures, are most easily understood by summarizing into three evolutionary stages: Growth, Maturity, and Decline.
A growth industry is new, has lots of players, little standards, and has yet to see any consolidation. Sales improvement projects inside of growth industries are typically focused on designing processes to allow for scale.
A mature industry has been around for a while, has an established ways of doing things, and has been consolidated down to a few players. Sales improvement projects inside of mature industries are often focused on updating existing processes to eliminate waste and become more efficient.
A declining industry is becoming extinct, is being replaced by an innovation, and may have only a single remaining player. Sales improvement projects inside of a declining industry are pointless since demand is no longer present so there is nothing to sell.
The client must make sure the sales consulting firm does not make recommendations that are not appropriate to an industry’s life cycle and structure. For example, a sales consulting firm who recommends an efficiency-driven sales improvement initiative inside of a growth industry has made a terrible mistake.
Companies have unique cultures. Projects focused on sales improvements often require lots of change. Attempts at change without a deep understanding of a company’s culture are doomed.
For change to take root, it has to be accepted. Sales managers and sales reps will accept change only if it is placed into the proper context. For example, a sales consulting firm who recommends a change to the compensation system whereby commission rates are reduced but salaries are taken up, inside a culture who defines it’s heroes as reps who “hunt”, has made a poor recommendation.
The client needs to reject any ideas from the sales consulting company that are not consistent with their company’s culture.
Products, like industries, have life cycles. Some products are brand new, never before seen items. Other products are launched to replace an existing install base. Yet, still other products are not new per se, but are new “solutions” to a different set of problems.
Sales improvement projects who fail to use product life cycles as an input are unlikely to produce the desired effect. For example, let’s say the project is a sales methodology effort. It is determined that the target prospect segment understands the need for the product clearly. The sales consulting firm would be wise to design a sales methodology that puts the product demonstration up front in the process. They would be making a mistake to have it at the end. Forcing the reps to take time educating the customer on the need for the product in the first place, is foolish.
The client understands the product lifecycles much better than the sales consulting firm. The client must make sure the sales consulting firm’s recommendations are in line with the product life cycle.
In contrast to the client’s knowledge, the sales consulting firm’s knowledge is in sales force effectiveness methodologies, problem diagnosis, and change management. Theirs will be more robust than the client’s knowledge in these areas. Let’s discuss the implications of this.
Sales Force Effectiveness Methodologies
A sales consulting firm designs and implements many different methodologies, in dozens of industries, across the globe. As a result, they have the scar tissue and have already paid the dumb taxes.
The sales consulting firm understands sales force effectiveness methodologies better than the client. The client is focused on one business, theirs. Therefore, the sales consulting firm must make sure the client avoids the common mistakes.
A sales consulting firm is hired by a client when a problem exists that they cannot solve themselves. The client either does not have the time, resources, or knowledge to fix it. They say 50% of fixing a problem is defining it correctly. Sales consulting firms have become experts in diagnosing sales problems, for this is their business. They have honed their ability to find and address the central issue.
The sales consulting firm must help the client avoid the mistake of addressing a symptom as opposed to addressing the root cause. An example: a client has a turnover rate of 44%. The belief is a standard hiring process would solve the problem. However, the sales consulting firm uncovers the real issue is the reps do not have enough leads to pursue. Installing a standard hiring process would not fix the problem for the talent level in the company is fine. But, filling the funnel with a sufficient supply of high quality leads results in reps hitting quota and turn over dropping in half.
A sales consulting firm implements project requiring change multiple times a month. The client might work on a major change initiative in the sales force once a year. As a result, the sales consulting firm has more developed change management skills. The implication is a project staffed with members from a sales consulting firm is more likely to be accepted by the field.
The sales consulting firm should make sure the client recognizes how critical change management is to the overall project success. The days of corporate telling the field “March!” are over. It no longer works.
In summary, project success often comes down to the composition of the project team. The sales improvement team should have a client staff that brings industry, company, and product knowledge. It should also have members from a sales consulting firm who bring sales force effectiveness methodologies, problem diagnostics capability, and change management expertise.