One of the major gripes at the recent HfS 50 Executive Council summit was the issue sourcing executives have with their provider account managers – “they just don’t understand our business” was the common cry.
So who better to lament the woes of lost sales pursuits than HfS Research Fellow and industry agitator Deborah Kops…
Building a BPO sales team
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about how buyers whether the current parlor game of stealing sales guys from competitors really moves the revenue dial very far in light of the way clients buy business process outsourcing. Seems to me everyone is out there desperately looking for sales superstars. Do they exist? Is it worth the time and effort to find them, only to be disappointed at least half the time? Shouldn’t the industry be more focused on attracting the right solutions team, rather than assembling a sales team that’s hit or miss?
If you’re like me, you get at least a call a week from a search consultant desperate to find a crackerjack sales guy. This paragon should have a great rolodex, deep domain knowledge (retail and media seem to be awfully popular these days), a W-2 that confirms his track record, happy to travel 90% of the time, a global point of view (read: can sell offshore delivery and be culturally sensitive to legacy ownership) and willing to take a low base, say $150,000 with “a lot of upside.” Nothing less will suffice. And if the search consultant is told to reach for the stars, the successful candidate should bring a decade or more of industry or white shoe consulting experience, have a book of business ready to sign, and be viewed as an industry thought leader.
Let’s get real; the industry has very few salespeople who come even close to this profile. And those who do are either very happy with, or so aligned (read: shackled by commission payouts) with their current employer that only frustration with management, or the enticement of a better brand in conjunction with the promise of megabucks will induce them to move.
Yet providers continue to play the get the sales guy game, creating a class of what one of my good search consultant friends terms ‘mercenaries,’ who have neither produced much tangible revenue (but talk a good game), nor have stayed in an organization long enough to make an indelible impact on the company’s fortunes. Failing to attract a superstar, or get their hands on a mercenary, providers seem to settle for candidates who need on-the-job training, or come from other business sectors, say ITO or software sales, hoping against hope that they’ll magically become business process super salesmen overnight.
Is the effort to build a sales team in light of the dearth available talent misguided? What do the buyers really think about being barraged by sales guys with the wrong skills? Have you ever met with a corporate sourcing leader who pulls out a pile of cards, representing almost every one of the outsourcing majors and minors, then grouses about the fact that he/she often wastes x hours watching a sales guy wend his way through an 80 page deck that looks very much like all the others? I’ve heard the whinging, and had the pleasure myself; I’ve unfortunately seen some very good providers mentally struck off a buyer’s list because someone with an excess of confidence but no problem solving skills–and carrying a quota— is playing the sales funnel game, making 100 calls to possibly get one deal.
But does a program based upon canvassing activities really result in sales? Let’s be honest—aren’t most sales based upon a potent platform combining brand, the right level of executive management attention, so-called “chemistry” and the right solution? Even if the sales guy is good, if he doesn’t have this platform behind him, he most likely won’t win the business. Conversely, if the sales guy is inexperienced, won’t he be a deterrent to a sale even backed by the right brand and delivery capability?
This is not to say that buyers don’t want to spend time with an experienced sales person. I don’t know a buyer who will say he’s wasting his time talking to someone who brings deep understanding of the client’s particular function or domain, and is expert at synthesizing what he knows to come up with a range of solutions. Sales in the BPO industry are not based on PowerPoints, golf, and fancy dinners, but real thought leadership and problem-solving skills.
I suspect provider executive management knows full well that only a few sales people are able to move the dial; in fact, I know they do. Over a few drinks, I’ve had more than a few senior leaders privately admit that building an effective BPO sales team is very much a hit-or-miss proposition, and that when it comes to closing the deal, it’s not the efforts of a few eager blokes; rather it comes down to factors such as brand, executive commitment, value for money, and track record that tip the opportunity into the closed column.
Is there an alternative to playing the build the sales team game? Certainly brand is critical to the sale, but like Rome it’s not built in a day, or even in a year, and can’t impact a quarterly reporting cycle or two. So it begs the question: in an industry where the differentiator is purportedly a superior solution, be it more technology-enabled, insight-rich, client-centric, or cost-effective, why aren’t the phones ringing off the hook searching for superlative solutions guys–folks who can walk, talk, figure out ways to smite cost and promote efficiencies, and create enterprise value at a single bound? Why does the typical BPO org chart segregate sales and solutions when the solution is the sale? Wouldn’t providers be better served if they lusted after solutions guys that have the same polish, consultative and relationship skills as the sales guys?
The Bottom-line: Put the solutions expert at the front of the sales pursuit, not the sales guys
Shouldn’t the solutions guys be put front and center, making the first call to the clients? Why are they often left toiling in the proverbial back room, doing the heavy lifting, only to be put in front of the client when there’s the potential of a deal? Why does the sales guy get the glory—and the commission—when it is the solution that sells? Is there something wrong with this picture?
So the next time you award…or close…an outsourcing deal, think about who and what really got the deal done? Was it a “can’t go wrong brand?” Or the right level attention from the senior-most management? Was there a chemistry that radio’d “I can really work effectively with these guys”? Most likely, it was down to a solution that checked all the boxes? Chances are it was not the antics of an inexperienced sales guy.