Sales Consulting, Sales Force Effectiveness

The day of my participation was broken into two halves. The first half was the AOP (annual operating plan) meeting whereby each functional head presented their plan for the new fiscal year. The second half was my speech and a workshop on implementing some of the ideas I shared. The client asked me to attend the first half of the day to provide me some context for my afternoon’s remarks.


The CEO was up first. He gave a presentation on the company’s new strategy.  The message was clear and well received largely because of the evidence supporting most of his claims. The supporting material was attributed to a yearlong project led by McKinsey, the leading strategy consulting firm.


The CFO came next. He discussed the company’s plans to raise some additional capital.  The capital was going to be used to expand the company’s product portfolio through acquisitions. The execution of this capital raise was being led by Goldman Sachs, the leading investment banking firm.


The marketing leader was then asked to discuss the highly anticipated launch of a new product. He dazzled the audience with a sneak peak of the advertising campaign, which was based on online video placement. This outstanding piece of work was completed by The Richards Group, a leading advertising agency.


Human resources, next on the agenda, based her presentation on the new executive compensation program. Everyone was paying attention to her as she explained its structure.  As she answered what must have been two dozen questions, she defended herself by telling all that the plan was developed by The Hay Group, yet another well respected professional services firm.


The CIO followed HR with an aggressive plan to replace a legacy system that was a clear source of frustration for many.  And guess what? Yep, this project was being led by Accenture, a leading IT services company.


After the mid morning break, the sales leader was in front of the group. He was instructed by the CEO to show the team how his sales force was going to grow the top line by 12.5% in the new year. By the third slide, he was under attack. Just about every claim he made was challenged. “Where did that number come from?” said the CFO.  “Who is going to hire all those reps?” said the HR leader.  “Why doesn’t my new product have a specific quota called out?” said the marketing chief.  It was brutal. His time slot was slated for 45 minutes but the CEO decided to move lunch into the conference room so he could continue. By the time he sat down, he had been presenting for close to 2 hours. At one point, I thought for a second, he actually might break down.


Where were the sales consultants? Why did this sales leader decide to go it alone when his peer group decided to leverage the expertise of professional services firms?


Culturally, in many companies, the sales leader is expected to have all the answers.  The presence of a sales consulting company is a sign of weakness. I could not help to ask myself “Why does this double standard exist?”


Later that evening, I noticed the sales leader sitting at the bar by himself, having a drink. I approached him and asked why he did not ask for help from a consulting firm?  His response really bothered me.


“Who would I call?”


“Who in the sales consulting profession is the equivalent of McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Hay, Accenture, etc?  I have hired sales consultants in the past but was not pleased with the results.  The sales consulting firms I am aware of are Mom and Pop shops with a handful of retired sales VP’s pitching the stuff they learned back in the day. My problems are bigger than that. They require modern approaches with real depth”


He did not hire my firm, beyond the speaking assignment, which was purchased by the CEO, not him. I tried to explain how Sales Benchmark Index was a new breed of sales consultancy. He was not buying it.


The damage had been done.  The sales consulting industry had let this poor guy down one too many times. After three hard swings at changing his mind, I gave up and asked him if there was anything I could do to help him, outside of hiring us. 


He asked me to help him find another job. This stung.


The sales consulting firms need to better serve clients. Our firm will try better every day. I hope yours will as well.


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