The Truth About Services Selling

How to pick the right ones out of hundreds of possibilities
by Jeanne Urich, Service Performance Insight

The race is on to outsell, outmarket and outpackage the competition with profitable growth as the prize. The professional services industry has switched from “controlling costs” to “growth” due to the economic recovery. Around the globe, services providers are re-examining their approaches to the market. They’re looking at the most effective sales, marketing and packaging techniques to determine the optimum investment formula with the greatest payback.

Truth Green ArrowsSPI’s 2013 PS Sales and Marketing Maturity Model Benchmark report analyzes professional services industry spending on sales, marketing and packaging. A total of 187 global professional services organizations participated in the study conducted in July 2013.

Prior to starting the research

When we began this research, we knew that most professional services organizations were dissatisfied with their sales effectiveness. For the past eight years, more than 1,500 PS organizations that have completed our benchmark surveys have consistently given their sales efforts failing marks.

The benchmark seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What are professional services organizations spending on sales, marketing and packaging?
  • What results are they achieving?
  • Which investments yield the most benefit?
  • Which investments are not worth the effort?

The benchmark report attempts to answer these questions while providing insights and guidance into the best practices used by the most mature professional services organizations to enhance their sales, marketing and packaging efforts.

The current facts:

  • The discipline of professional services selling is still in its infancy. Very few firms have well-established solution selling methods or trained and dedicated services sales teams.
  • Current expenditures on PS sales are significant. As a percentage of total PS revenue, the average investment in selling is 8.6 percent.
  • The results for the very few firms that have successfully implemented a PS sales discipline are extraordinary, with 47 percent of all services sold as packaged solutions, 29 percent net profit and $255,000 annual revenue yield per consultant.
  • The majority of firms have a dedicated solution selling team with an average annual PS sales quota of $1.6 million per person. Only 67 percent of PS sales representatives achieve their annual quota — yet this figure improves to 75 percent for the best organizations that significantly invest in sales training, systems and tools.

Market challenges

Based on the survey, the results revealed that the pressures facing PS executives primarily revolve around accentuating services differentiation and improving sales effectiveness. Accelerating client project time to value is also a principal concern. We looked at the differences between embedded services organizations and independent services organizations. ESOs are services organizations within product companies, and INDs are firms whose primary charter is to provide profitable consulting services.

Table 1 compares the survey responses of ESOs and INDs on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging.

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With the return to a healthy economy, firms have started to focus on new market penetration and expansion of their services portfolios. Fewer firms fear commoditization of their services. PS organizations make investments in sales and marketing as they face increased global competition, strategic sourcing adoption, technological complexity and pressure to accelerate time to value.

Firms adopting a well-coordinated plan to amplify their sales and marketing investments are reaping significant rewards. This report shows that although there is wide disparity in the amounts spent on sales and marketing, these investments pay for themselves in larger sales pipelines and better bid-to-win ratios. Ultimately, this translates into achievement of PS revenue and margin targets and higher levels of net profit.

PS sales effectiveness

In “The New Solution Selling,” Keith M. Eades provides the definition of a solution: “So what is the definition of the word solution? The typical response is, ‘An answer to a problem.’ I agree with this response but feel it’s important to expand the definition. Not only does the problem need to be acknowledged by the buyer, but both the buyer and salesperson must also agree on the answer.

So a solution is a mutually agreed-upon answer to a recognized problem. In addition, a solution must also provide some measurable improvement. By measurable improvement, I mean there is a before and might be an after. Now we have a more complete definition of a solution; it is a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.”

Common signs of services selling failure:

  • Client “pain” is not adequately identified or pervasive. The services portfolio does not resonate with the sales force or prospective clients, resulting in a weak sales pipeline and limited market penetration.
  • Wrong assumptions about product to services mix. Product companies want to increase product revenues and reduce services revenues, which mean they want to move solutions to partners to reduce the cost of services delivery. Without proper planning and solution testing, partners are ill-equipped to deliver new solutions.
  • Unreliable sales forecasts. Consistent misses in sales forecasting accuracy ripple through the PS organization, showing up in consultant over- or underutilization or poor resource scheduling and planning combined with the inability to achieve planned revenue and margin targets.
  • Poor sales effectiveness. Inability to generate enough interest and qualified leads to fill the sales pipeline. Poorly articulated services value proposition resulting in not enough qualified opportunities to support the sales forecast, along with poor win-to-bid ratios.
  • Lackluster sales results. Fewer than 60 percent of the services sales representatives surveyed achieve quota, resulting in failure to achieve revenue and profit objectives.
  • Poor estimating. Underscoping and underbudgeting projects results in project delays, overruns, poor project margins and dissatisfied clients.
  • Few reference clients. The PS organization is unable to convert clients into references and evangelists, resulting in lackluster repeat sales and referrals.

PS sales effectiveness metrics

Many firms want to know how to define sales effectiveness and what metrics they should use to measure the effectiveness of the services sales force.

The benchmark focuses on the following sales effectiveness areas:

Services sales quotas.

  •  Services sales quotas by person, by PS vertical market and by size of organization.
  • Percentage of services salespeople who achieve quota.

Spending on services sales.

  •  Total cost of the services sales organization as a percentage of total services revenue.
  •  Total number of services salespeople.

Sales effectiveness.

  • The size of the sales pipeline as compared to the quarterly sales booking forecast.
  • Win-to-bid ratio.
  • Average closed deal size.
  • Average services revenue by account.
  • Percentage of revenue from new clients.
  • Sales forecasting accuracy.
  • Services pricing accuracy — proposed price compared to actual delivery cost.
  • Length of the sales cycle from qualified lead to contract signing.
  • The number of qualified leads that are closed.
  • Percentage of reference clients.
  • Percentage of annual services revenue target achieved.
  • Percentage of annual services margin target achieved.

Sales enablement.

  • Sales methodology followed.
  • Days of sales training taken per rep per year.
  • Percentage spent on sales enablement, training and support.
  • Marketing mix and expenditure on supporting the sales effort.

Sales organization structure.

  • Charter of the services organization.
  • Sales reporting structure.
  • Sales focus: geography, industry, major accounts or competency.

Table 2 provides an overview of sales effectiveness metrics and shows the differences between embedded services organizations and independent services organizations. Embedded PS organizations reported lower sales quotas but a higher percentage of salespeople who achieve them. ESOs reported better forecasting and pricing accuracy than their independent counterparts.

ESOs have shorter sales cycles, but their average closed services deals and revenue by account are significantly lower than for independents. ESOs generate more business from new accounts and have higher win-to-bid ratios than independents, yet they posted lower sales effectiveness scores and have significantly fewer referenceable clients.

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The nonexistent sales and marketing silver bullet

Almost every PSO surveyed or interviewed in the past seven years has committed to the importance of the sales and marketing of professional services. However, the role of professional services within each company is different. Services can be used for profit, product enrichment, client intimacy or some combination of each.

Regardless, very few sophisticated product organizations can survive without a strong emphasis on professional services. For independent firms, PS sales and marketing are the lifeblood of the firm, for without them, new business cannot be developed nor can the firm expand its presence within its existing client base.

Unfortunately, both embedded and independent PS organizations often think of effective sales and marketing as a magic bullet. They believe all their problems will be solved if they can just find an amazing rainmaker. Not so! Finding rainmakers is not easy. Even if it were, business development efforts would fail without a compelling services go-to-market strategy and clear differentiation.

A couple of surprises

Our study focuses on PS sales, marketing and packaging to gain insights into the best practices and realities of how PS organizations are approaching the market. The biggest surprise was how many organizations are not adequately investing in sales and marketing. Many don’t have a cogent plan or dedicated resources or funding to support business development. Without an effective front office — no matter how compelling an organization’s services delivery and experience are — the firm simply cannot properly address the market and will be doomed over the long term to lackluster growth and ultimately failure.

The other surprise is the poor levels of services sales quota achievement. Classically, fewer than 60 percent of salespeople achieve quota. The figure is a bit better in services industries, with 67 percent average quota attainment. However, underlying this figure, the reality is stark.

Fully 25 percent of the organizations surveyed reported fewer than 50 percent of their services salespeople achieve quota, while fewer than 20 percent of services salespeople attain more than 90 percent of their annual quota. The other surprising fact is that 30 percent of the firms surveyed offer no formal sales training. The fallout from inadequate sales enablement shows in their poor results!

A final word about effective services selling

According to the 2013 PS Sales and Marketing Maturity Model Benchmark report, effective services selling is very difficult to achieve. Few traditional product salespeople successfully transition to solution selling without significant consulting and domain-specific background and experience. However, investments in building charter clarity, differentiation, marketing and packaging pay off handsomely in terms of sales effectiveness. Sales enablement activities are well worth the effort and provide measurable impact.

Bottom line, the services market is in a major growth phase. Revenues and juicy margins are there for the taking. However, they require a consistent, well-organized approach to the market and emphasis on improving all aspects of sales effectiveness.

6 Lessons Learned for Packaging Service Offerings

Ensure that your organization sees success in service productization
by Carey Bettencourt, Service Performance Insight

TimetoLearnOver the last year, my team at Service Performance Insight (SPI) has worked with dozens of companies and trained hundreds of professionals to implement sustainable service productization, or packaging, programs.

Lesson 1: “No market, no money, no mission.”

First and foremost, many services should not be packaged.

Service packaging investment requires an overall business plan and a business case that outline the target market, competition and your differentiation. Service packages must be services that can be successfully sold and delivered for tens, if not hundreds, of clients. If the problem is not urgent, not pervasive and clients are not willing to pay to solve it — don’t package it!

You must have a compelling answer to the question “Why should we package this service?” Too often firms begin packaging services to correct internal problems. Instead, focus should be on the market and the
pervasive business problem the service solves.

Companies would never dream of developing a product without an understanding of the market. So the same standard must be applied to services.

Lesson 2: “Walk before you run.”

Product management has come into its own as a specific function and discipline to ensure that products are developed with the client in mind and based on sound market and competitive analysis. That said, service productization must attain the same level of focus and specialization to be successful. A key finding is that service productization relies on and requires sound fundamentals to be in place in product management, marketing and solution selling — all disciplines which typically sit outside the professional services organization and its core service delivery competency.

At the same time, the PSO must have attained at least Level 3 (Project Excellence) PS Maturity in the Service Execution Pillar with fully deployed systems and processes for service delivery methodology development and enforcement. Professional services automation and knowledge management systems must exist to provide the service productizing team with insight into project artifacts and best practices. Further, the PSA solution is required to measure compliance and productivity improvements.

Lesson 3: “Implement a structured service packaging method.”

Based on our research and consulting experience, more than 80 percent of initial service productization attempts fail to achieve hoped-for objectives. Key root causes include ad hoc approach, lack of executive commitment, no dedicated roles, and no program vision or clarity.

To improve the success rate and shorten the time to value of service product development, my team developed the SLM3 framework, as shown in Figure 1, a methodology and tool kit that enables the service product team to implement a holistic and sustaining service productization program.

Implementing this framework compels the service product team to pursue a disciplined approach to establish the following:

  • Articulated and well-understood services strategy.
  • Service productization program vision.
  • Active executive sponsorship.
  • Market-driven focus.
  • Global company adoption of program.
  • Dedicated resource commitment.
  • Cross-functional participation.
  • Common sales and delivery methods, tools and templates.

Figure 1: SLM3 Framework

SLM3

Source: Service Performance Insight, 2013

The contents of SLM3 include:

  1. Critical success factors. The required conditions for service productization success.
  2. Organizational structure. The teams, hierarchy, roles and responsibilities leading and supporting the program.
  3. Program foundation. The critical service productization program capabilities and activities — project management, change management and portfolio management — that are required for startup and ongoing program operations.
  4. Service productization methodology. The five-phase lifecycle process that compels the team to develop a strategically aligned, market-driven and high-quality service product focus.

Lesson 4: “Incorporate change management.”

Based on my team’s years of service packaging experience and research, I believe that organizations should approach service packaging as a transformational change to the traditional way companies currently sell and deliver services. Service packaging requires cross-functional disciplines to work together to define a consistent approach to selling and delivering in-demand services.

I suggest organizations think of service packaging as a new and better way to develop solution value capture, which requires behavioral changes. In order to gain organizational buy-in and support, it is important to launch the program with clear communication, incorporating answers to the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Why are we doing this now?
  • How will we work together?
  • How will this impact me?
  • What do I need to do to be prepared?

Effectively communicating the program’s important purpose and stakeholder’s role will not only create a positive perception, but it will also accelerate service packaging program support and participation.

Lesson 5: “Name that team!”

Successful service packaging requires a long-term view with dedicated, empowered and experienced team members; executive and cross-functional support; and consistent long-term funding.

Committing the required resources and placing the right people in the right roles is a critical success factor for this programIn fact, inadequate resource commitment will lead to frustration with the service packaging effort and results. And not assigning and aligning qualified people to program roles will lead to individual and team anxiety and, most likely, lack of productivity.

Expectations that service packaging will provide a quick fix for effective solution selling or service delivery consistency are false, but the effort is worth it if organizations go into it with eyes wide open.

The only way to guarantee success is to follow a service lifecycle management methodology that clearly outlines the program charter and governance structure for decision-making and funding. Clearly defined and empowered teams should be assigned. Appropriate measurements, metrics and compensation are needed to cement the program into ongoing operations and measure progress.

Lesson 6: “The proof is in the numbers.”                                                             

Following the development of the Service Lifecycle Management Maturity Model, my team scored 102 survey participants in the 2012 benchmark. The most mature firms follow a disciplined, methodical, market-driven approach to packaging services and deliver excellent financial results.

As presented in Table 1, the revenue and profit key performance indicators for the most mature firms show material differences between the lowest two levels of maturity and those that are at Level 5. The numbers in the colored boxes represent the percentage of companies that are at each maturity level.

Table 1: Service Lifecycle Management Maturity Model Metrics by Maturity Level

slm3numbers

This table should remove all doubt about the efficacy of service lifecycle management, as the most mature are able to achieve superlative net margins while exceeding their annual revenue and margin targets.

The value of productization

Productizing services is difficult. But more than likely it is necessary in an era of greater service complexity, global competition, economic indecision and a more enlightened client base. Properly managed, investments in service productization can pay off handsomely — with significant improvement in margin, revenue per person and ability to manage larger projects.

I hope that sharing these lessons learned helps your organization better prepare to launch — or improve — your service packaging programs.

Sales and Services Alignment

How to eliminate gulfs and fix dysfunctions
by Carey Bettencourt, Jeanne Urich and Dave Hofferberth, Service Performance Insight

In a highly competitive environment, a company must successfully differentiate itself and effectively orchestrate the sales cycle. Unfortunately, many times schisms between the sales and services delivery organizations surface during the sales process. This results in deal closure delays or, worse yet, losing the deal.

qualityThe winning formula for sales and services delivery collaboration is based on a combination of aligned business processes and measurements reinforced by a supporting technology platform like customer relationship management and professional services automation. This article examines the root causes underlying dysfunctional sales and services delivery relationships and identifies common business process breakdowns, as well as the path to alignment.

Background

Most organizations struggle with a lack of cooperation between the sales and services delivery functions. Based on six years of professional services industry benchmarking with responses from more than 1,500 professional services organizations, we have discovered that few professional services organizations are satisfied with the relationship between sales and services delivery. According to the 2013 PS Maturity Model Benchmark report, sales effectiveness received a poor score of 6.4 out of 10; marketing effectiveness was worse at 5.2 out of 10.

A lack of alignment and trust between sales and services delivery leads to lost opportunities, miss-set client expectations, underscoped projects and poor resource utilization. Best-in-class organizations have found a way to bridge the sales and services divide to reap rewards in terms of larger pipelines, higher win-to-bid ratios, higher levels of consultant utilization and more satisfied clients.

The complexities of identifying professional services opportunities and developing them into successful client engagements demand a more structured approach to business development and a seamless information flow between sales and services delivery. This ensures opportunities are properly prioritized, scoped and staffed.

While the consulting market currently experiences healthy growth, both up and down markets accentuate breakdowns between sales and services. When fewer deals are available and sales cycles are longer, heightened pressure and a sense of urgency to close deals may exacerbate an already dysfunctional sales and services relationship. On the other hand, when opportunities are plentiful, resource imbalances and heightened risk aversion may also strain sales and services liaisons.

Sources of sales and services dysfunction

Gulfs between sales and services typically emerge in the choppy waters between functions where the overly optimistic sales tide meets the risk-averse services shore. Who, and which function is in charge of piloting client opportunities through these brackish seas?

Typical sales and services breakdowns occur in the following areas:

  • Proposals. PSOs often demonstrate a lack of clarity around which opportunities to pursue, how to create a winning proposal or who is ultimately in charge. Ambiguity can lead to procrastination; excessive bid costs; acceptance of egregious terms; and not enough time, tools or resources to bring all the pieces together into a compelling value-based proposal.
  • Pricing and scoping. In many cases, it’s unclear who has authority for discounting and contract terms. Poorly defined or unknown requirements, weak estimating tools, vague discounting limits, and inadequate or no pricing or contractual reviews contribute to mediocre financial results and unacceptable levels of risk.
  • Forecasting and staffing. Many PSOs are deficient in what it takes to move a suspect to a high-probability deal or how the sales forecast is translated into the resource plan. A lack of alignment and trust are exacerbated by noncongruent sales booking and services margin goals. Unreliable sales forecasts lead to disconnected sales and resource planning processes and insufficient functional interlock regarding opportunities and required staffing. The outcome is the absence of integration between sales, staffing and recruiting, resulting in not enough or too much services delivery capacity.
  • Services execution. Inconsistent communication between services delivery and sales regarding project status often occurs. No project dashboards, improper planning, and poor execution of scope changes and change orders lead to project overruns, nasty surprises and unhappy clients.

Business process requirements for sales and services alignment

A lack of agreement around key business processes that cross organizational or functional boundaries is at the core of dysfunctional sales and services delivery relationships. Issues are typically the result of differing views of the processes, unknown or misused levels of authority, and ambiguity around decision-making and measurements.

The foundation for all high-performing organizations comes from clear business process understanding and ownership tied to congruent goals and measurements. Table 1 illustrates how a simple method of assigning ownership and measurement of cross-functional business processes provides clarity and enhances performance.

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The impact of sales and services alignment

Effective sales and services delivery teamwork is at the heart of performance in the services industry. The integration of sales and services delivery business processes and systems is paramount to success.

In our 2013 PS Maturity Model Benchmark report, the “best of the best” embrace sales and services delivery alignment, and their results as shown in Table 2 speak for themselves.

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CRM and PSA integration drive performance

As Table 2 shows, integrated customer relationship management and professional services automation applications are key to breaking down the barriers between sales and services by providing accurate client and project information throughout the client life cycle. Running a knowledge and skill-intensive business like professional services with disconnected applications, spreadsheets and email is no longer a competitive option. Efficient execution across core business processes demands visibility, transparency and control.

Ideally, information flow mirrors and illuminates core business processes, beginning with prospecting and extending through the client life cycle. Time, cost, engagement progress and quality are critical elements that must be tracked throughout. Integrated applications provide visibility, alerts and work flow to ensure following of proper steps, securing of approvals and flagging of variances.

Executives and other involved personnel should be able to track information from the initial bid through project completion and invoicing. With this information, both management and consultants can monitor deals to ensure high levels of client satisfaction with acceptable revenue and profit margins.

The integration of PSA and CRM helps the sales organization to better understand the entire client relationship and discover opportunities to sell additional products and services. Sales and services cooperate to decide whether work should be bid, and at what price to win the opportunity and meet margin requirements. Both organizations can share information to be included in the proposal with the appropriate staffing plan and financial forecast as backup.

Accurate information enables the services delivery team to proactively plan and staff projects with the right resources while supporting the sales team in closing opportunities. The executive team is armed with real-time visibility into revenue and costs to support effective decision-making.

The 2013 PS Maturity Model Benchmark report demonstrates the power of CRM and PSA integration as an important foundation for improving sales and services delivery alignment. The benefits of sales and services delivery collaboration speak volumes.