James Fielding is one of the few sales enablers to apply his trade in the professional services industry. He did not only have the challenge of introducing systems and processes, but also had to establish a sales culture in a business without dedicated sales resources.
In his 20 years of experience, he’s had a good mix of sales and marketing, mostly in-house roles within professional services. He’s also worked in consumer branding, consulted on database data, and spent a bit of time running his own marketing consultancy.
All of that led up to his current role as head of sales enablement at Grant Thornton Australia.
As an audit tax and advisory business, Grant Thornton does a lot of number crunching, compliance support, expert advice around risk financing, mergers and acquisitions, technology, and much, much more. They have roughly one hundred distinct services delivered by 1300 people nationally. Globally, James estimates they’re around the 50 to 60,000 mark.
The journey that James went through with sales enablement at Grant Thornton was incredibly interesting. As a quite mature business that didn't have an existing sales enablement function within Australia, while the existing system was great, there was much work to be done.
Looking at their salespeople, who are their partners and senior practitioners, James realised that they were supported already. They were delivering content, they had event marketing, proposal support, and sales coaching. From James’ perspective, there were many things already in place.
There was a lot of activity, but no supporting technology. No Salesforce, no LinkedIn, no Sales Navigator, no Marketo, no InterHive: there was no sales process. Simple things like playbook reporting, lead scoring, and management of data weren’t in place.
As a result, as a business they were flying blind, and they certainly weren't as efficient or effective as they could be.
The data piece is a big challenge, oftentimes, because if you don't have that sorted, you don't really know what to base your decisions on, which means you're either guessing, making big mistakes and moving in the wrong direction, or you are succeeding by chance.
While all success is great, you can't really replicate those chance victories.
Identifying Key Data Points
This is something that James comes across over and over again: that data piece needs to be solid first. It's often completely underestimated. It's always an add-on, but if you don't have that data point, you can guess and be correct some of the time, but you can't replicate that on a consistent basis.
Here are two of the data points that James and his team have focused on while formalising their strategy, and why they were effective:
- First things first: basic segmentation data. They made sure to have firmographic data, and demographic data on their clients and prospects. From there, they mapped out penetration in certain segments of the market. Taking these steps first ensured that they understood essentially where they played, and where they wanted to play.
- Next, they focused on behavioural data points, which are used for lead scoring. What are people interested in? What content are they engaging with? And finally, how can they use that segmentation data to pinpoint what's resonating with them?
To enact these steps, however, they developed a unique team dynamic.
Segmentation: Structuring a Holistic Sales Enablement
James would say his whole team is sales enablement. They have a marketing team, a business development team with sales coaches, and within that, a smaller function which is purely “sales enablement.”
James and the heads of all other departments worked closely together to develop those segments, and to agree on an ideal customer profile. There's lots of department crossover, and for every decision or initiative they choose to work closely, both by the very nature of the system they created, but also because looking at data and formulating plans requires a diversity of perspectives.
Developing a Sales Culture
A professional service firm is very different from a traditional sales organisation, where you have young, hungry sales people who are commission driven. That's their day to day bread and butter, because sales people aren't sales people- it’s not their primary skill set. The sales activity they undertake is managed in between delivering work and running a practice.
When James was looking for the next step, he knew they needed to have their team members trained in the correct behaviours, and right technical skills. Fundamentally, they wanted to encourage people to sell more efficiently and effectively, and that’s exactly what they did.
They identified what they considered to be the traits of a high performing sales culture across all businesses, and then made those traits the heart of their training.
Managing sales is a process of simple things, and some of those traits included:
- Having a data-driven mindset
- Improvement by coaching
- Technologies and support that actually guide/enable the business
They looked at the traits of a high-performing sales culture, and then transitioned into focusing on the way they sell, and the tools and technologies that could give them a competitive advantage.
For James, not having a CRM wasn't a huge gap, but they brought in Salesforce as the starting point.
After looking at the nature of the business, the 1300 people delivering services across Australia, and their established relationships, they studied how to leverage those relationships.
What technology was able to support that? From there, they added LinkedIn and Sales Navigator, where people are able to unlock those relationships and make sure that, whether it's outreach or just basic support, they have the ability to know the details about team members and clients alike.
In the end, however, these tools only go as far as the team that’s utilising them. James believes that the technology can only multiply what you’re already good at, and what companies are truly looking for is someone who actually listens.
When James’ team responds to clients, when there's a need or a trigger, they see it as an opportunity to partner with the business and actually support them for what they want to achieve. Technology that allows a team to get specific with a client in an efficient way, rather than using broad brush with the same tools/resources suggestions, can make a huge difference.
Great success happens when team members and clients sit down together and talk.
Eventually, your company will have all these tools, resources, and playbooks, and it becomes a matter of working with the business to make those tools work for them.
Responding to the Pandemic
Any crisis can bring out the best and the worst in people, but from James’ perspective, it definitely brought out their best as a business. When the pandemic hit, they quickly responded. They started everyone working from home straight away, there was complete transparency, the business took action to avoid redundancies, and everyone was in it together.
From a sales perspective, they hit the phones. They started talking to clients, not to sell, but to support. They knew that within their client base they had a lot of people under huge amounts of stress. Their businesses, their markets, have disappeared overnight; Sometimes, they had to navigate tax changes, or their financing was no longer there.
All of the advisory work and training that James had invested in was suddenly in high demand.
As a business, they chose to lean in and work hard. They were on the phone having conversations all day, and that is still continuing, though it’s come down a bit.
There were a few other adaptations, including creating some new tools, like diagnostic tools for working capital.
They ramped up the content with things like Job Keeper and helped everyone cross over the tax changes, providing expert insight. This was especially powerful, as James and his team had to react and deal with the same problems as everyone else.
They moved from in-house events or in-person events to webinars and podcasts. All things considered, they were able to move fairly quickly in terms of ramping up the content, developing tools, and moving to offline engagement.
In the background, they were focusing on getting their sales team more skilled in using sales technology to support their work, not just the way they sell, but also the way that they manage those relationships. Some of this training included a change in behaviours:
- Changing the way they delivered content. They had to be on the phone, and they had to be more nimble.
- Changing the buyer journey, or the path to purchase.
20 years ago, a consumer would have a professional in mind, and have a small pool of professionals they call upon. Now, they can research people online: they'll see who's producing content on a specific topic, who's a professional within that area, everything from validating who they should contact, to looking at public and professional profiles and seeing if the information matches up with what the company or individual is trying to sell.
Trends in Professional Services
From the professional's point of view, it's obviously extremely competitive. You've got to have a razor sharp focus on which areas you service, and who you service.
As mentioned above, one of the changes in sales-training is in direct response to a trend in consumer habits. The path to purchase is different. People are researching online. They're mixing up their advisors. They're happy to change!
There's also a demographic change within professional services as well: a very diverse mix in age, experience, and specialisation.
To keep up with the trends, you've got to be sharp, you've got to be more focused, you've got to be more specialised, and you’ve got to have content that aligns to that.
You've got to target the right people. You can't go into the market as a generalist anymore, you have to have a razor sharp focus. This creates an emphasis for people to work with services like Grant Thornton, and utilise those tools, resources, and support that they provide.
In the end, this is why branding is, and continues to become, so important in today’s market.
James and his team encourage their clients to build a brand: they take the actual business, and help them find the overlap between people's interests and the company’s unique services and brand.
Advice for Starting Out
Rather than diving into a list of a hundred tactical things you could possibly do to make a change, taking that step back and looking at the traits you want to see is vital. For James, this method gave his team a really good starting point that allowed them to be systematic and clever while moving things forward.
At the same time, James recommends being brutally honest. There's no point sugarcoating where you are- be ruthless and honest about weaknesses and challenges.
Next, you have to get your sales process in order. What behaviours do you want to see at every stage of the buyer’s journey? What are the tools and resources you have at your disposal?
Once you understand where you're at, and where you want to get to, the next thing is picking one or two things to do really well.
There will always be a big list of things you can make improvements on, but it’s better to take one or two of those things, see what would have the most impact, and put that change into action.