In most organisations (unless they are Professional Services Firms) the people responsible for business development expect, and receive, focused and skillful leadership in support of their sales efforts. In these organisations there are people who are responsible for providing the right amount of direction and support to each individual in the team – however experienced or inexperienced those team members are. It is fair to say that some of this sales leadership is poor and amounts to no more than checking, policing and ‘box ticking’; however we have met many first class sales leaders who have a considerable effect on the success of the people in their teams.
These people provide direction and valuable input into their team members’ business development plans and they provide focused support in the implementation of those plans, especially during tough times. They have a positive long term effect on the motivation of the individuals concerned, they provide extremely valuable coaching to new and experienced team members, they are inspirational (and tough) and they help to ensure their teams work well together in pursuit of company and individual goals. Good sales leaders have a significant and measurable effect on the success of individuals and their organisations.
Many fewer of these people are found in professional services firms. Are they therefore not as necessary? On the contrary we would suggest that the need is at least as high if not higher. Everyone we meet in the professional services firms we work with is bright – they ‘get things’ quickly. However being bright is not enough to win the right work from the right clients at the right price. Specific skills, genuine confidence and high levels of enthusiasm in selecting, targeting, approaching, meeting, developing, negotiating with and winning new clients – and then in managing, defending, developing, selling to, cross-selling to and keeping the clients they have won – are also vital. Fee earners also need to be skilled and confident in networking – both traditional and in the use of social media – building a powerful reputation, marketing and key client management. They need to be able to achieve the right level, focus and quality of selling activity – consistently – to avoid feast and famine and to generate a sustainable flow of profitable business. And they need to do all of this in a world that is becoming more competitive.
Young professionals need to develop these skills at the right time in their careers. More experienced professionals may need to develop ways of winning business that were not necessary when they started their careers. Many people need to develop new skills and to change their approach to winning business. The world of professional services is changing at least as fast as other sectors – and successful business development requires continuous improvement. In this situation (almost) all of us – however experienced and successful we are – benefit massively from the ‘right’ management, leadership, direction, support and coaching. Valuable sales leadership could be the difference between success and failure – of both specific individuals and of the firms to which they belong.
So, great sales leadership can make a real difference. But ‘bad’ sales leadership can be worse than none at all. Effective – i.e. valuable, inspirational, motivational, supportive, tough, informed, experienced, focused, dedicated – sales leadership is what makes the difference.
2013 PACE Research on Leading Business Development in Professional Services Firms
Research into how well firms provide their fee earners with effective and motivational leadership in their business development, client management and sales efforts