An organisation’s ability to learn – and translate that learning into action rapidly – is the ultimate competitive advantage. This is according to Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric.And figures from the annual UK L&D Report back that up. They show that top-performing organisations are five times more likely to have positive learning cultures. This echoes the suggestion that a culture of learning is a key component of business success.
If we train our people to excel and they leave, that’s bad. But if we don’t train them and they stay, that’s worse.
We’ve all heard this comment before. So it’s no surprise that organisations of all shapes and sizes run training courses. Topics range from mandatory topics such as health and safety to business skills such as leadership and management.
After all, good companies invest in their people.
Taking Training to the next level
But the best companies take training to another level – and create new, powerful and sustainable habits. They avoid the trap of trying to achieve a quick fix – the so-called ‘sheep-dip’ approach – which all too often leads to the cry of “training doesn’t work”. Too many organisations are reactive and use training as a sticking plaster when they see a problem.
When done well, a learning development plan should be thought through and congruent with the strategy and direction of the company.
You need to consider what skills are required to take your organisation where it wants to go.
In conversation with Alison J Coates, founder member of Re\vo.
ABOUT THE GUEST
In this episode, Gary is joined by Alison J Coates, founder member of Re\vo. She is a GENOS certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner and Life Coach. She also holds an MA in Industrial Psychology. Alison has 25 years of experience in business change management consultancy and project management.
Throughout the episode, Gary and Alison explore the world of emotional intelligence. They focus on the impact it has on business development, sales and training.
Alison runs a suite of different programmes to help businesses and employees with emotional intelligence. After assessing clients & employees they then offer coaching, both one on one and in group settings and training.
The clients Gary works with generally have a skill based profession and mindset. As they have progressed in their careers they have then had to try and learn how to sell to work with clients. This can often be overwhelming and scary. Alison believes having the confidence to make intelligent emotional decisions can help with this.
Somebody who is good at selling is usually just someone who is good at listening. It doesn’t matter your background or skills, because if you can listen and build relationships, you can sell.
Listening is a skill that can be learnt. It can be improved and perfected. There are varying ways to do this. Alison’s favourite way is to recognise and own our own distractions. One way to do this is to try and to maintain eye contact when the other person is speaking.
Having an awareness of self is the first building block to emotional intelligence and growth.
There is a common myth that to be a good salesperson you need to be an extrovert. But this is simply not the case. Often introverts have a high level of authenticity and emotional intelligence. These are great skills for selling.
“When we understand that our emotions drive our decisions and in our performance we can reverse engineer them. So we can then really start to appreciate how important emotions are in any decision-making process”
“Asking a good question demonstrates your level of credibility”
Ed initially joined Expedition Engineering in 2002 where he has been the Project Director for many projects including the multi award winning Infinity Bridge and the Olympic 2012 Velodrome. Ed was instrumental in the growth and development of Expedition from a “back bedroom start-up” to Building Magazine’s Engineering Consultant of the Year in 2012.
In 2009, Ed co-founded the Useful Simple Trust and gifted his shareholding in Expedition to the Trust for the benefit of the employees. In this episode, Gary and Ed discuss Ed’s take on client management, the impact of lockdowns (not all negative!) and his view of the industry.
The pandemic has created many challenges for many people and businesses alike. Ed and his company thankfully found it quite simple and easy to switch everything on the client management side online. In a lot of instances, it was easier to arrange ongoing client relationships. They could touch bases more frequently and more meaningfully.
Technology means that having a physical office for a business is optional. This has been the case for a few years but one the big impacts of the pandemic is that it has sped this process up a lot; many people are happy and comfortable working remotely now. Ed and his teams have been able to problem solve many of challenges with working remotely and are in no rush to get back to the office. There are certainly a lot of positives to working in this way!
Ed and his company focus on staying small. This is because they value the level of service they can give to clients as a small operation. They don’t want to lose any of this speciality by growing too big.
The industries that Ed is in can sometimes have a bit of a regressive view in terms of client management, especially in regards to how business is conducted outside of the office. This can have an impact on gender diversity for those working in the industries. However, Ed has found that the clients he works with couldn’t be further from this, they aren’t interested in ‘boozy nights’ etc and it’s this that allows a lot more gender diversity in his team; the women he works with feel respected and valued.
“90+% of your activities are about maintaining client relationships not about new relationships”
The new Questas podcast with Gary Williams and guests is for engineering and professional services organisations with the aim of providing strategies and tactics to unlock your people’s hidden ‘selling’ potential. Professional selling and client relationship management skills to win more of the right work from the right clients.
In this first episode, Gary is joined by Terence Ritchie, a Partner at EMW Law. Terence is a real estate lawyer who knows that relationships and delivering a great client experience are the keys to winning and keeping clients in a very busy market. Their conversation covers a number of areas including;
The impact of the pandemic on client relationships and business development
What it takes for (very) reluctant sellers to get motivated
How Terence sees the future of client selling
Listen here for a genuine episode where Gary and Terence talk openly about their unique perspectives, ideas and challenges.
The multiple lockdowns and restrictions the pandemic imposed created a unique set of challenges for each sector and each business. Terence found he and his company had to adapt how they dealt with clients and especially in regards to sales and communication. It resulted in them learning to support clients in new ways by building stronger client relationships. This was achieved through bespoke support and ultimately more value for their clients.
It can be such an eye opener to clients to see the people working for them, especially in a sector such as law, as someone other than what they ‘do’ for them formally. By creating a different dynamic with clients, Terence was able to gain trust and rapport in new ways. The feedback he and the company received from their clients was extremely positive because clients started to see them as individuals and people not just as their lawyers.
Lockdowns have suited some people, particularly those who enjoy working from home or have an introverted personality. However many extroverts will have struggled with energy levels as they haven’t been able to interact with people in the usual ways. Lockdowns have also meant you do not get the same ‘water cooler moments’ which are not just a way for employees to build relationships with clients but are also often a unique way problems get solved and ideas get created.
Mental health in the workplace is still a difficult thing to get right. The important thing is often looking out for signs that someone might need a bit of help, support or simply just a chat. One of the overlooked challenges with the pandemic is not having the opportunity to see and notice when others are struggling.
“When you are in a client facing role, you assume you are going to have the ability to see clients”
“That’s humanised a lot of what we do and that’s a good thing”
“You almost have to manufacture a reason to talk to a colleague”
3 Essential business development tips for professional & engineering firms post-pandemic
How can professional services firms best transition from survival to growth mode?
The past 18 months has seen many professional and engineering services firms batten down the hatches as the pandemic took a grip on our lives and the economy. Thankfully, many of these organisations are now moving from survival mode into growth mode. And, while this is hugely encouraging, there are a few essential things to consider to ensure you maximise opportunities so that the growth is as effective as possible.
So, how can professional and engineering services firms maximise business development opportunities in this post-pandemic era?
A recent McKinsey article tells us that growth comes from both short and long-term initiatives – quick wins and strategic transformation. It also asserts that execution triumphs over analysing and that measurement is a source of competitive advantage. Working with professional services and engineering firms since 2004, I have seen the economy rollercoaster in action and the impact that upturns and downturns have on organisations.
Put people first – nurture client-facing staff
Professional service based businesses have two fundamental assets: people and time. Sure, the people are providing expertise, and it’s true that more companies are now offering technology-based innovations, but at their core these businesses measure their income in terms of the numbers of hours their people invoice. What this means is that in strong markets the biggest problem is resourcing, and when times are tough the biggest problem is too much overhead. The response? Reduce the overhead. But the first to go are usually those who are lower down on the utilisation spreadsheet. Unfortunately this can (and in my experience often does) include work winners.
I have been in the world of business development and client relationship management for my entire career so inevitably I see this through a particular lens. I accept that when market conditions dictate that the flow of work is reduced to a trickle, clients are in their own ‘lockdown’ and it is difficult to keep paying expensive salaries because the return on that investment can’t be realised any time soon. However, we have now reached an economic turning point. This means it is time to put the foot down on the accelerator. And I’ve seen first-hand that the best way to move from survival mode to growth mode is to nurture client facing people and actively engage them in a three-part strategy:
Client-facing people are often the work winners and connectors in engineering firms
Get focussed on where the opportunities are
Have more face to face BD meetings
Measure the effectiveness
Lets have a look at each of these steps:
Whilst we don’t want to be struck down with ‘analysis paralysis’ we also don’t want to waste useful time, effort and energy. This is not the time to be going after the wrong type of work. Here three quick questions to help get you focussed:
Is the market strong for this kind of work?
What is our reputation like for this type of work?
Do we already have relationships with decision makers?
If you can answer a solid YES to each of these it is probably worth putting a business development plan together. These plans needn’t be overly complicated but should focus on getting in front of target clients through referral, or valuable content marketing.
Face to face BD meetings
Even when selling into the public sector – who almost always buy through a tender process – nothing beats getting in front of clients, both existing and new. People (still) buy from people and so your people need to be better than the people from other organisations. And by ‘better’ I don’t mean better technically, I mean better at motivating clients to buy!
These meetings provide fantastic opportunities, if not immediately then often at some point in the future. For more information on how to ensure these meetings will maximise the opportunity please see our Effective BD Meetings guide.
Measure the effectiveness of business development activity
It has been said that it is difficult to measure selling activity. Certainly it’s challenging to look at the numbers and work out what income was due to what particular marketing/BD activity, as well as considering if it was simply down to market conditions. However, that approach is trying to measure the output. I have found that it is much easier and more effective to measure the inputs. For example count:
Number of meetings with decision makers
Introductions made to colleagues with other expertise (see our valuable Cross Selling post here)
Referrals from clients to others in their network
Opportunities identified at meetings
Follow up meetings with other stakeholders
As firms lift the shutters and head back out into the market, professional service based businesses need to identify and maximise every business development opportunity. Those who are ready, willing and able to spread the BD load to many (if not all) client-facing people will certainly reap the rewards.
Unnatural salespeople are your secret weapon when it comes to winning work
Your hidden salesforce are the unnatural salespeople! It’s time to unleash their potential
Uncovering business opportunities and winning new clients is a crucial aspect of doing business especially in professional services and engineering firms. So, not surprisingly, in many organisations salespeople are seen as the key players when it comes to the growth of the company. However, some organisations either don’t have any sales professionals, or they have only a few who are tasked with the ‘rainmaker’ role.
But, if you dig a bit deeper, you will find that many employees have fantastic relationships with clients – genuine relationships built on trust and respect. Their job descriptions probably don’t suggest that they work in sales. And they wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as salespeople. Yet they are contributing to the growth of your organisation by uncovering opportunities for themselves and others, managing client relationships and even winning new business.
However, because they are not considered part of the sales force, they don’t always receive the same training as their business development colleagues. And, in fact, these so-called ‘unnatural salespeople’ may even see sales and selling as a dark art.
By investing in their selling skills – without turning them into ‘salespeople’ – business leaders can unleash a potent weapon to uncover more opportunities and drive client loyalty.