Having a clear structure to plan your sales time is essential for anyone who is responsible for winning work for their firm.
When you step up into a senior role for the first time, or move to a new firm, it can be daunting. No doubt you’ll either have or will have started to think about your 90-day plan. Within that, you may even be thinking about how you are going to develop a sustainable sales pipeline to build your new practice. However, if you were previously an Associate, Senior Associate or Senior Manager stepping into a Partner or Director role, this will be the first time that the responsibility for bringing work in, rests with you. That is a daunting prospect. Full responsibility to build a new practice or book of work is a big one. Your team is dependant on you. They need you to bring in the work, for them to deliver.
Technical expert yes, salesperson no.
The reason it is so daunting is because you got to where you are now, because of your technical expertise. I have no doubt that you are either an excellent lawyer, accountant, architect or engineer, for example. After all, that’s primarily the reason you are now either a Partner or Director. Were you promoted because you’re an excellent work winner? Are you a natural born seller? In most cases the answer to this is no. Yet now, here you are tasked with bringing in the work to ensure this next stage of your so far stellar career, is also equally successful.
Just attending networking events doesn’t cut it.
In professional services firms, BD, sales and client development training is, in many cases, reserved for the more senior people. Those who do it earlier in their career may do something like a basic presentations course, or in most cases, how to network effectively. While these are useful skills, it is highly unlikely that you’ll build a multi-million-dollar practice from simply networking!
Even if networking is a big part of how you win work, you’ll need to have a clear strategy around which events you should attend. How many events per month or week you’ll be attending, and how many new contacts you hope to make through attending. You really do need to think about every aspect of how you spend your sales time. In short, you’ll need a clear and actionable plan.
Don’t be a headless chicken – Activity without a plan will send you running in circles.
Ask anyone who’s tried to build a pipeline from scratch, it can be very tempting to chase any opportunity that presents itself. You may feel the pressure to attend every seminar your company or firm runs, and attend every external seminar you possibly can. All understandable, but ultimately it will force you into a headless spin, and will just get you confused, and it could possibly even burn you out. And I certainly don’t want that to happen.
Which is why you need a clear plan of who you’re targeting, how you’re targeting them, and what your proposition is. On top of this, you’ll need to have a clear structure of when you’ll be doing these activities. After all, you also have your day to day technical work to deliver on top of this. So you’ll want to be efficient as well as effective in how you use your valuable sales time.
Build a clear and actionable plan, to maximise your sales time.
As you sit in your new office with your new team, the first thing I’d urge you to do is to start to build and effective BD and marketing plan. Even if you have a centralised BD and marketing team, take time to put your own thoughts into this. Certainly, consult with them, but you need to own and then work your own plan. It’s your sales time you are committing in this plan, so you need to be fully invested in it.
“Plan your work and work your plan.”Napolean Hill
How to draw up your sales plan.
Start with the who.
Firstly, determine your target market. Understand who it is that buys your services. Which industry sectors? What size of firms? Who in the organisation buys your services? Basic questions, but ones you definitely need to consider.
With the last question, it can be tempting to assume that you only need to target your technical equivalent. To give you clear examples of this, Lawyers target GCs, Accountants target finance managers, IT Service providers target IT managers etc. While these relationship are important and you can build a business this way, to build a more sustainable and profitable business, it pays to have relationships at the top level. Those C-suite relationships really do have a huge upside for you.
Don’t limit the ‘who’ to those you are comfortable talking to.
Over the years I’ve worked with several senior professionals who try to convince me, and themselves, that the c-suite are not relevant to them. They don’t sign the contract, so they have no impact on the buying decision. On the big ‘bet the farm’ pieces of work, this simply isn’t true.
Just consider your own organisation, you’re a senior person in your business, you may now even be an owner (if you’re an equity partner). However, if your company is purchasing it’s biggest and most important IT system that is central to your operations, will you leave it solely to the IT manager to decide? Or do you expect that the CEO is fully across it, and with say, the Operations Manager, have been fully satisfied that this new expenditure does fit your business needs? Of course you do. Which is why the vendor selling to your organisation will need strong relationships with all three people.
Once you’ve completed this stage, you now need to think about your messages.
Understand what you want to be known for.
This is where your department, and your personal brand, becomes important. Both can be developed and cultivated, but your starting point is understanding what it is. This is, in some parts, what your points of difference are. However, it is also what you believe in and stand for. In the modern business world this is increasingly important. Next, think about what you want your clients and the market to know you for.
“Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.”Harvey Specter
It is great to be known as a fast and efficient accountant. But far more marketable to be known as the accountant who is expert in online start-up businesses who work across multiple jurisdictions. One who champions start-ups, and actively helps connect them with other organisations and contacts as they go on their growth journey.
Next decide what marketing activities you’ll use.
Here we are talking about marketing, not BD or sales. And yes, they are different. What we are talking about here is your promotional activity which will build your brand. The options here will seem limitless. A short list includes: writing articles; delivering seminars; delivering webinars; doing promotional videos; sharing articles and writing posts on LinkedIn; advertising (print and digital). All of them are valid, and can help you achieve your goals.
The good news is that you don’t have to engage in them all. Pick the ones that you’re comfortable doing, and also which ones your target market engage with. Then focus on how you will deliver them. If you’re going to blog or write articles, then it pays to think about how many you will write. If you need any help getting started as a budding author there are some practical hints on that here. Finally, you will need to decide where you publish your articles.
One of the best methods is delivering seminars, and I suspect in our post-COVID lockdown world, webinars will remain popular. The old adage “people buy from people” is true. And both these marketing methods display you as a human. This means the audience, if you resonate with them, will be more likely to contact you. This means you won’t have to go door-knocking; which leads to the next step. This is where you’ll really have to think about how you spend your valuable sales time.
What BD or sales activities will you undertake?
We’ve already mentioned networking, and it certainly is part of the mix. Again, as with marketing, this isn’t a one-size fits all approach, and in most cases you may need more than one method. Will you be able to get referrals from your colleagues? There’s a lot of talk on cross-selling and there’s an assumption that this is where the so-called low hanging fruit is. I’m not convinced. There are two obvious barriers to it this. Firstly, your colleague’s reluctance to share their clients. Secondly, your colleagues not yet fully trusting you to deliver for their clients.
But that’s just on way you can grow your pipeline, you can also seek referrals from your existing clients. This is a great method to get warm leads. However, if you think that by just doing good work and waiting the referrals will come, think again. It pays to manage this. Establish a programme of regular client feedback. This reminds your client of the great work you’ve delivered. This makes them far more likely to actively refer you. It also gives you a platform to ask for a referral.
Finally, there’s the need to think about a target list of clients, and the people you need to speak to within those clients. Then you’ll need to plan how you will approach them. It could be a cold-call or email. It may be that someone in your network can introduce you. Having a focused target list will help you build a pipeline, and grow your revenue. As in all things a clear focus is a key part of making the most of your sales time.
Have your client-focused information ready
And no, this isn’t a generic capability statement. Don’t have a meeting, then fire off a credentials statement, you’ll never hear from that person again. This article explains why in greater detail.
However, it does pay to have the case studies and information you might need to send as a follow-up, ready. It may also pay to have these at hand in case you are asked to send a proposal. You may even need to respond to the odd RFP from time to time (again this article on the 12 steps to writing a winning proposal, really helps with that).
Please notice though, we have looked at your support material last. Lots of people start here, which is why it becomes generic, dull and ultimately ineffective. Do this last, once you have formalised your tactics for engaging with the market.
Finally, schedule your marketing and sales time in.
That’s right, book it in. Have a 3 to 6 month calendar ready to go with clear times for your activities. Break them down into marketing time and sales time.
Put time aside each week to write your articles, or to plan your seminars/webinars. Then put a separate time aside each week to do your direct client contacts. Emails or calls. This second BD or sales activity is a weekly habit that, if you stick to, will have you growing your practice in no time. The more regular time you dedicate to these activities, the easier it will get. It will help you form a winning work habit.
How to plan your sales time effectively
Know who you want to speak to and how you will be engaging with them. This includes what marketing activities you will undertake. Then you need to decide on your sales activities and schedule this in weekly at least. Doing this will form a habit and will help you grow your business.
To help you build a sales and marketing plan as a new partner/director you can download our template here. This will help you make the most of your limited sales time.
Outside of the plan itself, there is a great deal to learn in how to build an effective client development programme. If you need help winning new work, getting new clients, and effectively utilising your sales time, then get in touch.