3 tips for sales leadership in a growth-seeking professional services company

image description

Earlier this summer, we published an article about organizing sales for professional services. In this second part, we talk about the same topic but on from a leadership point of view. While our portfolio is strongly focused on B2B SaaS companies, all of us at Takeoff Partners have been deeply involved in sales of professional services in the past. In our experience, while every company in professional services does do sales, quite often the sales function is not professionally set up or it is in need of improvements that would bring significant benefits yet are fairly painless to make happen.

August 2020

The first part of our article series focused on how to set up the sales function of a professional services company in practice, especially when it comes to assigning roles and responsibilities. This second part focuses on the high level – the leadership.

We have summarized our learnings into three key points: first, you need to set clear, strategic objectives for your sales team. Secondly, you need metrics and initiatives to support the strategy and measure its efficiency. And, finally, because it warrants a part of its own, we talk about the importance of marketing.

Tip 1: Create a clear vision and a strategy to meet it

Naturally, everything starts from the company strategy and without it, leading sales effectively is not possible.

You need to define your vision for the next 3 to 5 years. From sales perspective, it is important to define in a very detailed way what this means for your customer or project portfolio. Who, exactly, will be your optimal customers in this scenario? What kind of projects will you be running?

Defining customer segments, geographical areas, customer industries, customer sizes and other specifics will help paint the picture of where sales should focus on to do its part in achieving the company vision.

It is also vital to assign the leadership of the sales function to one person. This person should be able to take responsibility of the aforementioned strategic aspect as well as make sure that all practical measures are in place to enable it. That includes clear processes and tools such as the CRM, presentation and quote templates, image banks, etc. This may sound granular in the context, but making sure the entire sales team works in a streamlined and unified way really does make a difference.

Organizing sales is key. Our previous article covered the details of different roles and how they should be assigned, as well as the importance of engaging the entire organization in the sales process. But you need to make sure that engaging the entire organization genuinely serves the needs of the salespeople. This means that everyone involved understands that the rest of the organization is there to support sales with their skills and insight but the ownership and responsibility of the sale still remains with the salesperson.

You also need ensure that the help sales receive is of the kind they genuinely need. For example, our previous article discussed the importance of the rest of the organization and particularly its senior stakeholders providing sales with connections. This is vital but it needs to happen in a way that does not overwhelm the salespeople. Quality matters more than quantity.

Tip 2: Create procedures to support the strategy

Quite often, change does not quite happen just by everyone mutually agreeing things should be done in a new way. Humans are naturally resistant to change. In addition, leadership is hard without numbers or metrics for monitoring progress.

This is why your strategy should always be supported by concrete procedures and incentives that help people align their daily activities with it, as well as metrics that provide relevant insight to sales. Here are some examples we have found useful:

  • Basic performance management: goal setting, tracking KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and rewards need to be part of how your sales team is set up
  • Optimizing resources: CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value) and CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) are excellent metrics for strategic decision-making.
  • Customer management: Customer Health Index needs to be developed and monitored in order to make sure that customers who are about to move away can be re-engaged quickly.
  • Learning and communication: Salespeople and customer service should regularly meet, discuss and also receive training to ensure continuous development.
  • Additional tips include customer win back programs, strong customer promises such as money back guarantees, internal sales competitions and campaigns, carefully executed price increases and cross-selling in large organizations.

Tip 3: Demand results from marketing

The purpose of marketing is to support sales and account management by creating relevant leads at a reasonable cost per lead. In addition, marketing will build thought leadership that increases your company visibility and keeps your existing clients engaged and committed.

Due to its lead generation role, marketing should not be seen as a “nice to have” but rather an integral part of the organization’s sales process.

If some of your company leadership has actual experience in marketing, this is probably a given to you. For the many people running successful companies without internal marketing experience, the best advice is to outsource this task to an external party who knows how to lead the marketing so that it supports sales. Hiring a marketing manager is not necessarily enough, because without the strategic support they will not be in a position to lead the marketing effort in a way that brings results.

In essence, marketing and sales must have a shared understanding of where customers come from and how they become your customers. Both need to be aware of who, exactly, needs to be convinced within the customer organization for the sale to happen, as well as how that typically happens.

Measuring the success of your content is key. You need to see how many people your publication or event has reached and the conversions you have gained with that content.

Organized approach helps everyone perform

As mentioned earlier, every organization does do sales. Yet, sales can be mistakenly seen as something that happens on its own, without strategic leadership or involvement from the senior management.

This may hold true for a small professional services company. However, for a growth-seeking organization, this is not a sustainable approach. Not every salesperson can be a “superstar” who exceeds expectations even when working without any support from the organization. However, with the right kind of setup and management, most salespeople can meet targets and perform well. Arranging these favorable circumstances is the responsibility of the management.

It is well worth it. Sales cycles are typically long in professional services. In addition, consultants often also sell. For these reasons, developing the sales function may be just what your business needs to become a growth company.