PACE recently carried out the survey: Research on Sales Leadership in Professional Services Firms. We are delighted to now share the results as well as summarise the findings here. To go straight to a full digest of the results, please click here.
1. There were 42 contributors from 40 participating firms. Total fee income is c13bn. Firm sizes range from very large to medium size. Many operate internationally. There is a good mix of firms from the Legal, Accountancy, Property and Consultancy sectors.
2. In most of PACE’s earlier research there have been significant differences – in performance and perceived importance – between firms in different sub-sectors. This is not the case with this research. There is a remarkable commonality of views and messages across all sub-sectors with regard to both importance and performance – both overall and when comparing the different elements of successful sales leadership.
3. Participants were asked to assess the importance of sales leadership to the success of their firms. The importance they gave this topic was higher than all previous PACE research over the last 20 years. This previous research has focused on: Creating New Clients, Key Client Management, Cross-selling and Planning Business Development. Participants consider effective sales leadership to be vital to the success of their firms.
4. However, on average only 25% of fee earners receive ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ sales leadership currently.
5. At a more detailed level, firms performed most strongly in the area of Senior Management Leadership and Support – although, within this aspect of sales leadership, the statement “Our senior management view the effective leadership of business development as vital to the success of the firm” scores much more highly than “Senior management of the firm provide business development leaders with the support, leadership and resources necessary for them to excel at their role”!!
6. Firms tended to be strongest in the elements of sales leadership that focus on planning business development and providing strong direction to fee earners.
7. The areas of greatest weakness were in the ‘people’ aspects of sales leadership – Coaching Business Development, Leadership ‘in The Field’ (coaching fee earners in their interactions with clients and prospective clients) and Motivating Business Development. If the plans are in place and targets are agreed/set (see 5 above) the bit that is missing is the support and individual input that will ensure that each person has the confidence, skills, knowledge and motivation they need to carry out those plans successfully. There is a real danger that fee earners are being ‘set up to fail’. The missing link is, in many ways, the ‘hard bit’ of sales leadership – the bit that requires skilled, confident, interested, knowledgeable and inspirational sales leaders.
8. Where firms had managed to implement effective sales leadership practices and strong sales leadership skills they recognised significant benefits accruing to them. These included:
a. Financial benefits – growth in revenue and profitability in both new and existing clients and more success in winning the ‘right’ work from the ‘right’ clients;
b. Benefits to individuals in both confidence and motivation; and
c. Other, more strategic, benefits to the firm including improved brand recognition, increased competitive advantage and more ability to attract the best people.
9. Unsurprisingly, respondents identified many barriers in the way of the successful implementation of excellent sales leadership, including a lack of confidence, skills and motivation in sales leaders, a lack of commitment from the senior leaders in the firm and individual fee earners’ reluctance to be measured objectively in their business development efforts.
10. The keys to success individuals have found in overcoming those barriers have been set out in detail in the report in the hope that everyone can learn from the experience of others. It appears that ‘success stories’ and quick wins are vital as are the support of senior management, training and coaching – both for fee earners and sales leaders – and strong influence and leadership from the BD team.