As a consultant who leads a boutique or solo consulting firm, you’re neither trained nor all that interested in being a salesperson. You want to solve problems and work with clients. Wouldn’t it be better to just hire someone who is a professional at sales to drum up
If you run a consulting firm and you’re about as good at generating new business as you are at whipping up a Baked Alaska (i.e., it’s not your forte), hiring a salesperson may seem like a natural step to augment your business.
Ironically, if you’re running a boutique consulting firm and you are very good at signing clients, you also may be considering a full-time sales pro due to your frustration that no one else in your organization approaches your business development prowess.
In both cases, the action you’re considering won’t deliver the results you’re hoping for.
For small consulting firms, a full-time salesperson is like coffee beans in the roaster. The aroma is sublimely alluring, but the taste is undeniably bitter.
Two hurdles trip aspiring sellers of consulting services:
Clients Buy People, Not Products
In consulting, buyers conflate the solution and the people who deliver that solution.
Danny Decisionmaker wants to look in the eyes of the person responsible for developing a valuable result in return for quite a lot of cash. That’s you, not a salesperson.
Consulting Sales Requires Depth of Knowledge
Your path to becoming the obvious choice for a client is deep discovery, followed by careful tailoring of your offering to meet the client’s needs.
A full-time salesperson without ongoing delivery responsibilities won’t possess the nuanced understanding required to craft a compelling offering (that the firm can deliver).
This is why founder/owners tend to be the best salespeople for their consulting firms. They intuitively grasp their firm’s offering at a very deep level and are able to fluidly adapt to the prospect in front of them.
In addition to the two hurdles, a paradigm shift may be needed:
In the product economy, sales, manufacturing and customer service are separated silos. (You wouldn’t expect a plant manager to carry a sales quota.) However, in small consulting firms, those functions are merged. You must generate revenue, create value and service the client.
If your consulting offering becomes task-oriented, systematized, and repeatable, you resemble a product company and a dedicated salesperson is more likely to succeed. However, that shrink-wrapped product approach is not the calling card for most small consulting firms. Nor is it what clients are looking for when they consider hiring a boutique or solo consulting practice.
I have only seen one small consulting firm successfully deploy a full-time salesperson and I’ve seen every other attempt fail.
Should you hire a dedicated salesperson? If your firm is under $50 million/year, the answer is, No.
Instead, ramp up your rainmaking by improving the skills of your firm’s consultants and practice leaders. If you’re a solo consultant, there’s no substitute for burnishing your own abilities.
If you could pick one business development skill to improve at your firm, what would it be?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.