There are many options available to increase sales for your consultancy; it’s not a lack of solutions that are holding you back; the difficulty is choosing the right one at the right time. The chances are that if you’re a consultancy owner, you might recognise some of these mistakes. This post will explain why they happen and how to avoid them.
Consultancy owners, CEOs and sales directors come to me when they want to increase sales. They all want to know the best way to achieve their targets and which option will be the most reliable route to success.
I'm going to share with you the seven most common things that they've tried already that either didn't work or didn't work well enough.
I’ve seen all these mistakes made first hand and helped put them right. I could do that partly because I’ve made all of them myself, too, so I know exactly what it feels like to make them and what you can do to get back on track. All these approaches can work well when used at the right time and in the right way. I hope that by explaining them, I can help you to avoid making any of these mistakes.
Mistake 1: Outsource your business development
Outsourcing business development is a common choice for consultancies headed by a technical expert and have grown mainly through recommendations and referrals. If this sounds familiar, you probably know that to grow to the next level, you can't rely on the recommendations and referrals that got you this far. When you have little experience managing a sales team and limited or no sales training, outsourcing your sales and new business development makes a lot of sense.
The chances are that outsourcing already works for things like your accounting and managing your website, so it logical to think it should also work for your sales. And it can if you have a sales process proven by people with little to no experience in your industry. However, outsourcing your sales is more likely to fail than succeed if you’re not in this position.
When you've grown through referrals and recommendations, the odds are you won your deals through your expertise in what you do, with your technical experts winning your customers over. Rather than being convinced by your clear and straightforward value proposition, your customers probably chose you because you presented a very credible solution based on your experience.
Unfortunately, when you outsource your sales, you’re changing to a different way of selling. The trouble is many businesses choosing this route don’t realise the change they’re making. Your new outsourced sales team will be wondering why they're making little progress as the company they're presenting has evident expertise. However, it will be apparent to the recipient that the person they're speaking with has little to no experience, and any success they do have will be purely down to a numbers game. While there’s plenty out there who will argue that sales is a numbers game, there’s no point in stacking the numbers against you.
Mistake 2: Hire another salesperson for your consultancy
Similar to outsourcing, this approach makes sense in the right circumstances. If you have a well-proven sales process and more opportunities than your current sales team can handle, hiring another salesperson is a very reasoned choice.
However, if you’re not in this position, it carries a lot of risks. If you have experience hiring salespeople, you'll probably find that one in three tends to be great. The others will be average or worse. Added to that, if you don't have a well-proven sales process for your new salesperson to follow, and you can measure their performance easily, you'll be very reliant on their ability.
You also need to factor in the time it takes to build a pipeline to hit sales targets consistently. If your new salesperson doesn't have an existing pipeline to work on and they’re good, it'll take them around 12 months to build a decent pipeline to start hitting the targets you’ve set them.
More often than not, I’ve seen this stage of building a pipeline of opportunities underestimated. This underestimation then means that the consultancy either gives up on sales too early or sticks with a poor performing salesperson without spotting the signs that they're not performing in the role, neither of which gives a good return on investment.
Mistake 3: Redesign your website
Nearly all of your prospects will likely visit your website at some point in their journey with you, so when you're looking to increase sales, it's a sensible choice to look to your website.
If your website is already generating enquiries and opportunities, identifying how to improve it can be a great way to increase enquiries and sales.
If you’re anything like many of the consultancy owners I’ve worked with, at least one of your competitors will have recently updated their website, and suddenly you’ll see everything that’s wrong with yours. This frame of mind will mean that you’ll focus on all the things you don’t like about it, rather than what’s working and what isn’t.
We've redesigned customers websites and increased business as a result. Every time we have, we've also put a lot of work into copywriting, making sure the design communicates the value proposition, conversion rate optimisation and search engine optimisation. When we have completed all of these activities in combination with a great design, enquiries and sales have shot up. However, it’s no small job.
Every time we've delivered a website redesign that has increased business growth, we've been called in to fix one that hasn’t worked. Although the design of the websites we’ve been called in to fix usually look great, the trouble is that little to no thought has been put into all the other areas that make a website successful. In the worst cases, I've seen beautiful new websites launched that cause business to fall off a cliff because all the things that were working before have been removed from the site.
Mistake 4: Rebrand or update your consultancy's brand
For similar reasons to the website redesign, you may choose to rebrand or update your brand to increase your sales. Appropriately done, a rebrand can make a massive difference to sales. When a consultancy has a high performing pipeline and finds its brand is limiting sales growth, a rebrand is on the money. However, if your pipeline isn't already generating a consistent flow of new business, is it really your brand that is holding you back?
If you ask the opinion of a designer or creative agency, they will, of course, say that you can improve your brand, and they're probably right. However, if you don't have a well designed new business pipeline, it's much more likely that it's your pipeline or lack of one that's holding you back.
Mistake 5: Invest in a marketing automation system like Hubspot
Software services are regularly sold as the silver bullet to solve all problems. Marketing automation and CRM systems like Hubspot are no different. Indeed, there is no doubt that the benefits they provide in terms of organisation and efficiency gains can make a massive difference to your consultancy’s marketing and sales efficiency.
However, they come into their own is when applied to a well-designed pipeline. The trouble comes when the pipeline doesn’t exist or has not been through robust testing. It’s a bit like buying a train without having a track to run it on. The software in itself will do little unless appropriately used. It may serve to highlight that you have a problem, but it won’t fix it directly. To get the results you want from it, you’ll need to apply it to a well-defined pipeline and use the software to scale that pipeline by reducing manual work and making it easier to follow best practices.
Mistake 6: Invest in telemarketing for your consultancy
Telemarketing can work well to get you in front of your ideal prospects. However, it shares many of the challenges of outsourcing your sales. For example, suppose you have a very well defined target audience with a strong value proposition for that audience, and you're looking to scale up your contact with that audience. In that case, telemarketing can be the perfect solution. However, if you don't, any investment in telemarketing is likely to fail.
That’s because you’re trying to scale something that isn’t already working. When you go to a telemarketing agency, they’ll promise to get you appointments, and if you choose the right one, they will get you appointments. Many will even be paid by appointments booked, so you will only pay if you get what you want. The trouble is if you don’t have a proven pipeline, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time having appointments that end up going nowhere. It’ll feel good being busy in the short term, but when those appointments don’t turn into the business you’re looking for, things will start to feel very different.
Mistake 7: Spend more on Google Adwords
Google Adwords is a great way to increase enquiries and sales for your consultancy quickly. You can get in front of people in the market for what you sell by advertising on the keywords they’re searching on.
When you have Google Adwords working and performing well for your consultancy, increasing your spending can be an effective way to increase enquiries and sales. An increase in spending may even lower your cost per enquiry and cost per customer when managed correctly. However, if it's not well managed, it may just result in higher costs without the corresponding uplift in sales.
The results are even worse if you don’t have the pipeline to convert those enquiries at a decent rate. Google Adwords is competitive, and your enquiries are likely to be expensive; if you’re not converting them, the cost per new customer will be eye-watering.
Added to that, it usually takes three months to get a Google Adwords campaign bedded in and performing well. I’ve seen so many consultancies pull out of Google Adwords too early because they haven’t understood this and don’t have a well-proven pipeline to work the enquiries generated from it.
The other downside to Adwords is that the cost pretty much always goes up. So, if you’re not consistently improving your conversion rates, your cost per customer will keep increasing over time. With an annual inflation rate of 5% or more, you’ll want your pipeline conversion rate to be improving by at least that or increasing your prices at the same rate to keep your costs even.
Bonus mistake: Try to do it all yourself
I had to include this. If you’ve tried outsourcing and made mistakes, you might assume it was the fault of the people doing the work. So it’s a natural conclusion that the answer to solving this is to learn to do it yourself.
On the surface, this makes sense. If you understand how to do something yourself, you can then manage it better. The trouble is if it isn’t your talent, you’ll probably waste a lot of time that you could have invested better elsewhere. At some point in your journey, you’ll realise that this isn’t what you want to do, all day, every day, and you’ll start to look around to get someone else to do it instead.
How can you avoid making these mistakes?
You've seen how these approaches can all work well if you have a well-designed, high-performing marketing and sales pipeline for your consultancy. Without it, you'll be relying on luck for any of these approaches to work and deliver the sales growth you're looking for.
Before you start trying to grow your sales, you must have a well-designed marketing and sales pipeline in place. As soon as you have this in place, you’ll easily spot the opportunities to improve it, and by doing it this way around, you’ll avoid all the mistakes that I’ve listed above.
You can productise your consultancy fast and efficiently
I believe that consultants are the world’s most valuable problem solvers and can solve the world’s biggest problems. My mission is that other consultants don’t have to waste the time I have spent learning how to productise my consultancy business.
If you want to productise your consultancy, I have created a one-page cheat sheet that gives you a high-level overview of the steps to take and summarises this post.
If you have already started on your productising journey, you can score how you are doing using the scorecard that I have created.
Allow your consultancy to deliver the lifestyle and legacy you want
Productisating your consultancy can deliver the lifestyle that you want and allow you to leave a valuable legacy in the world. You don’t need to work to have the lifestyle you deserve and leave a legacy that you’ll be proud of. Productising isn’t a get rich scheme, but it will mean that you can achieve what you really want to achieve from your consultancy. It also doesn’t matter if you have recently started out or are planning to sell in the next few years. Now is always the best time to get started on productising your consultancy.