A Tale of Two (Sales) Perspectives

Having worked for companies large, medium, and small in staff positions and as consultants, it is interesting to reflect on the commonalities and the differences between on-staff positions and hired guns.  Upon running into a former colleague at a conference the other day, the conversation quickly turned to a discussion of who is better suited to launch new products and services.   This consummate sales pro with decades of experience as both an individual contributor and a sales manager was struggling to wrap her head around the joint ideas of a company relying upon an external consultant to drive their business development and of our approach and willingness to take on such projects.  We have shared our macro level thoughts previously on the why’s and when’s of going the consultant vs. internal sales team routes, so we won’t rehash those points here.  Rather, we thought it might be useful to share just a few of the key “micro” differences we have experienced:

  • Focused effort (or, you get what you pay for, literally).  Doctors’ appointments, child pickups, phone calls from friends and family, social media check-ins, lunch—these are just a few of the routine interruptions in our everyday lives.  As a consultant, we go “off the clock” when any of these or multiple other potential distractions from our work arise.  When we are “on,” we are “on the clock” and fully focused on the work we are doing for the client.  When you honestly consider how much of a 40 (or 60) hour week for a typical salesperson is spent fully engaged in productive sales pursuits, the answer can be scary.

  • Pay for what you need when you need it.  If you are reading this while enjoying a scotch and soda or perhaps a glass of wine, think about your decision in purchasing the particular bottle you chose.  Knowing you would be mixing the scotch, chances are you did not opt for a 25-year old single malt.  That bottle is likely reserved for those evenings when you are enjoying your libations neat or on the rocks.  Similarly, that bottle of red wine is probably not from the same vintage as you would use in your cooking.  So, why pay for a prime business hunter when what you need is more of a farmer given the stage of your business?  Or, on the contrary, why would you rely on the house wine, when you need something with more depth?

  • Fewer peaks and valleys.  It is a rare salesperson who has not experienced some level of “customer fatigue” at various points in his or her career.  Maddening lapses of logic, inexplicable silences after expressing great interest, irrational expectations in any number of areas—these are just a few of the (real or perceived) client behaviors that drive salespeople to pull out their hair or more often, to write off a potential customer.  Other times a sales representative will make an assumption of no interest based on previous information.  If not quite a case of familiarity breeding contempt, it is certainly the case that the benefits of spending time in a particular industry, segment, or specialization are also accompanied by the risk of assumption and burnout.  As a consultant moving from project to project or engaging on multiple projects simultaneously, this risk is mitigated both by that variety and the ability to apply new and successful strategies from analogous markets .  Of course, the expectation is that any consultant worth their salt would not take on an engagement in area where they are less than fully motivated. 

  • Greater risk tolerance.  We would argue that a well-thought and well-structured compensation plan should incentivize the results a company is striving for and disincentivize activities that do not move the company forward.  The reality is, however, that this is not always the case.  Some plans—and more often, the total compensation packages—err on the side of providing too high of a base salary.  This potentially decreases the drive and hunger of individual salespeople.  Others tilt the opposite direction, making it easy and attractive for a consistent performer to seek and find better alternatives elsewhere.  When bringing on a consultant, the firm has an opportunity to structure the compensation in exact alignment with the project’s and company’s needs. From the consultant’s point of view, s/he can weigh the potential alongside other factors (and offers) to determine the fit and likelihood of success.  As such, the consultant is generally much more likely to take on a project that is heavily laden with performance incentives on top of a relatively bargain-priced salary equivalent.

In the end, the risks and rewards of consulting on business development projects are not for everyone.  However, it is crystal clear from our experience that the option of going the consultant route—one that can be tailored to meet specific  and focused needs—is one that should be seriously considered.   If you would like help thinking through your business development options, we are ready to help you weigh your options.