SAMPLE MODELS FOR HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTING SALES

by Mike Secor

President, Rule One Partners

Dallas, TX

 

The most promising sales models emerging in the consulting services industry are the Strategic Account Team Model and the Pursuit Team Model.  Both are structured to leverage the strengths of the entire organization.  Both are based on strategic selling techniques and both are focused on the business interests and issues facing their customers and prospects.  These models can also be implemented within small, medium and large consulting services firms.  This model has proved effective in selling vertical solutions, horizontal/functional solutions, outsourcing services and integrated enterprise wide solutions.  The focus of this article will be on the Pursuit Team Model.

THE PURSUIT TEAM MODEL

The pursuit team model is defined as the deployment of one or more high performance, highly skilled, customer-focused selling teams.  It combines the elements of sales strategy, business/industry strategy, and solution/delivery strategy to form a highly credible, value-oriented team focused on a defined, but limited, set of new customers and prospects.  The smallest team will typically consist of an experienced sales person, an industry/functional SME, and a Principal or Sr. Manager responsible for project or solution delivery.  Larger teams may include both industry and functional SME’s, technology and creative design experts, marketing/branding specialists, application specialists, etc.  The size of the teams will depend largely on the magnitude of the opportunity, the availability of resources, and the budget established for the cost of sales for a particular opportunity/account.  The primary responsibility of a pursuit team is to “open the door” to a targeted strategic account with a significant, high value, high impact project or solution.  The ultimate goal of the pursuit team is to provide such compelling value to the customer that the team sustains project work and discovery of new opportunities for several months and perhaps years.

 

Team Structure

The first step in implementing a Pursuit Team model is to define a core set of strategic targets. These targets should reflect business characteristics that match up well with the “go to market” strategy and core capabilities and experience of the firm.  A “pursuit team” is formed around each strategic target, initially consisting of a Sales Lead and an Industry/Functional Lead. The team should expect to conduct market research and strategic planning before the first appointments are scheduled.  This up-front, detailed planning will help the teams identify what high priority business issues the prospect is faced with relevant to the value statements and capabilities of the services firm.  It will help the team to also define who are the key decision makers within the target account.  It will also help the team to determine what additional support resources may be required to join the pursuit team to enhance credibility with the prospect.

Once specific targets are researched and chosen, supporting members of the core pursuit team are assigned.  Most common in services firms today are two or three member core teams, representing a solid base of expertise in sales strategy, business strategy and project/solution delivery.  Members of the core team should expect to be present at any client meetings in the initial stages of the sales cycle.  Customers understand the team based selling model, and quickly come to appreciate the experience of the team and the perceived value the team may bring to their business opportunities or issues. 

The Sales Lead has primary responsibility for orchestrating the entire sales process to closure, establishing and growing new relationships, and ensuring that all sales and business issues are uncovered and addressed during the sales cycle. The Sales Lead in this model is typically a Sr. Sales Executive, Partner, or a sales-oriented Corporate Executive (smaller companies). Key to the Sales Lead’s role is their ability to regularly qualify decision makers, influencers, and the overall buying process to increase the probability of successful closure and ensure the customer’s expectations are being met.  Sales strategy sessions with the pursuit team are typically scheduled and facilitated by the Sales Lead as well.  The Sales Lead needs to have a firm understanding of the prospects industry/business issues, and should have a general knowledge of the firm’s delivery process/solutions to build credibility with the prospect.  This person should have a strong understanding of how to manage a complex sales cycle or solution sale.

The Industry/Functional Lead has primary responsibility for creating business credibility with the prospect.  This person should have broad industry/functional knowledge in order to discuss new ideas or business solutions with the prospect.  This person is the adjunct business strategist that will lead discussions with the customer to extract their business requirements and priorities to enable the pursuit team to solve a problem or create an opportunity for the prospect.  This person is also typically expected to bring insight of the customer’s industry and business opportunities to the team so that value statements can be defined and consistently communicated to the target customer.

The Delivery Lead has responsibility for structuring the delivery elements of the project or solution.  Most prospects want to know early on who the day- to-day project director will be.  By integrating this role into the core pursuit team, the team is able to build credibility faster, develop a key relationship earlier, and decrease delivery risks associated with transitioning specific solution knowledge and customer expectations.  Relevant experience, either in the prospects industry or functional areas, is of significant benefit in gaining rapid credibility for the Delivery Leader.

Once the Pursuit Team is formed, planning and strategy becomes the critical elements of any complex sale.  If conducted properly with the right process and tools, it can lead to increased win rates and a reduced overall cost of sales.  Many of the standard sales processes (Miller-Heiman, Holden, OnTarget, etc) have similar approaches for conducting Opportunity Management or Account Planning sessions.  Any services firm involved in complex selling should adopt a formal sales process, if for nothing more than to promote consistency of work and a common sales language.  Some of the tangible benefits that are derived from these strategic planning sessions are as follows:

-           Creation of the value statements and value proposition that will be used throughout the sales cycle

-           Key buyers and influencers will be identified from which relationship strategies can be defined

-           The target’s “buying” process is defined and mapped to the firms selling process

-           The competitive landscape is defined and competitive strategies can be created

-           Specific action plans for each pursuit team member are defined during the sales cycle

Support Teams

The Pursuit Team should also be supported from many of the other firm’s business areas that can make or break a successful sales initiative.  Has marketing provided forward “ground cover” to familiarize the target with your company’s brand and value statements?  Is marketing providing industry research and target specific research to help the pursuit teams understand what the targets opportunities and challenges are?  If executive peer-to-peer selling is required, are the executives up to speed and on board with their expected role in the sales cycle?  Do your company’s service contracts help or hurt your overall selling efforts.  Is finance and delivery support in support of your deal structure and work plans?  The questions need to be addressed early in a sales cycle to increase the team’s probability of success. 

Success Factors

The ultimate success of the Pursuit Team Model is dependent on several key factors.  These factors influence the individual members ability to work as a cohesive team, and to foster trust among the team members around common goals and objectives for the pursuit.

Dynamic Account Control

During the initial stages of the pursuit, the Sales Lead will typically control the actions of the team to schedule meetings, secure follow up actions, and qualify the prospect and opportunities presented.  During the middle stages, the Industry/Functional Lead may control the actions of the team, and schedule workshops or meeting with the prospect in an effort to build credibility and develop deeper business understanding and relationships.  In the late stages, the Delivery Lead may have account control to ensure that the ultimate solution is on target with the customer’s needs and expectations.  Finally, all the core members of the pursuit team would work closely together to prepare, present, negotiate, close and kick off the opportunity.

Shared Relationships

It is important to realize that one attribute of the pursuit team model is a shared relationship model, in other words, no one person owns or controls the relationships with the target account.  Prospects and customers will come to expect different things from the different members of the core pursuit team.  For example, the Delivery Leader will always be on point to address day to day project issues, while the Sales Lead is typically on point to address business relationship or contract issues.  This should be expected and encouraged.  With multiple relationships, a firm is better able to insulate it’s risks against elements of longer term relationship neglect or minor conflicts.  It is also important to understand that complex sales involve multiple buyers and buying influences.  Pursuit teams should create relationship maps for each target they are pursuing and assign responsibility for fostering relationships with each of the buying influences.

Communication

Put simply, if the core pursuit team does not effectively communicate between members and the prospect, it will not be successful.  Like any team, it takes time to become familiar with each others “playing style”.  Until that point comes, daily collaboration with the team is extremely important.  Large opportunities are not won with “by the seat of your pants” planning.  Strategies and counter strategies need to be formulated, action plans defined, progress communicated, and issues and opportunities openly discussed to either resolve or plan for in future meetings.  Anyone in sales will tell you that poor communication will kill a deal faster than any competitor can.

Clearly Defined and Communicated Roles

Members of the core team need to understand their defined roles in the pursuit process, play to their strengths, and support the roles of the other members with the prospect.  Know in advance the areas of decision authority that will be delegated to each core team member (i.e. pricing, prototype development, access to industry best practices, contract negotiations, etc.)  For example, should the client asks the delivery lead about some contractual issues, the delivery lead should defer the questions to the sales lead, “I’ll let Joe know that we spoke and have him call you today to address your questions.”  Conversely, you wouldn’t want a salesperson making critical decisions to modify a work plan.  Communicate these roles to the client early in the sales cycle in order to build value from your team selling approach.  Most clients appreciate the investment of a team of people to help them to realize an opportunity or solve a problem. They realize that it typically results in a more detailed, tailored solution to their needs.

Conclusion

When implemented correctly, the pursuit team model is a very effective structure for complex sales and consultative sales.  As teams are formed and they gain experience in selling as a team, sales effectiveness increases dramatically.  Tangible benefits often achieved from this model are increased win ratios and the pursuit of larger opportunities.  Customers benefit from the depth of understanding that the pursuit teams have about the customer’s industry and business.   

Mike Secor is President of Rule One Partners in Dallas, TX, a strategic sales consulting firm focused on enabling sales excellence and revenue growth for Professional Services Organizations.  Mike has over 15 years experience in leading consulting sales operations and direct sales in the system integration and outsourcing sectors.  He has held sales and executive sales management positions with companies such as EDS, Cap Gemini, BSG Consulting, Align Solutions, and Luminant Worldwide.  Rule One Partners is a Certified Provider for Revenue Storm, a professional services firm founded by LaVon Koerner that offers integrated consulting and programs designed around revenue acceleration and bringing clarity and focus to the areas of sales and marketing.