CEO & Bestselling Author at StrategyTraining.com. We turn clients into influential leaders. Get started at FIRMSconsulting.com.
Recently, a client, who’s Asian and a woman, asked me if she needed to learn to sell, given she’s at a nonequity partner level in consulting and very busy with delivery work. She was wondering if learning to sell in consulting was important.
I could immediately infer that her mentors weren’t actively teaching her to sell because if they were teaching her this valuable skill, she would probably not be asking this question. This meant her mentors were mapping out some other path for her at the firm, and it wasn’t a sales path.
My response was, “yes,” because typically, professional services firms don’t have formal programs and processes to teach you how to sell. In my experience, these organizations often adopt more of an apprenticeship model where you’re selected by a senior rainmaker who will allow you to learn their approach and groom you for sales. However, I believe this can lead to a lack of access to sales for members of minority groups who can be overlooked for these types of apprenticeships.
The question my client asked me speaks to the moral responsibility of teaching sales to reduce the barriers for marginalized and minority employees in becoming business owners, if that’s their goal, as opposed to business workers. Many firms are correctly focused on hiring more minorities and increasing the salaries of those minorities to match those of the firm average. This is the right thing to do. Yet, I don’t believe it will help solve the overall problem.
From my experience, the highest earners in professional services firms aren’t those who earn the bulk of their income as a salary but those who bring in sales and effectively run their own consulting practice as a mini-business. These leaders typically have access to a percentage of the firm’s overall profits in the form of a draw. A partner at any firm is effectively running their own consulting practice within the overall consulting firm or professional services firm, so they need to sell, which increases their earnings. And this is also a key. This is where the power resides in a firm. Sales leads to ownership.
There are two things to consider here. First, there’s typically no formal mechanism or program to teach sales. Second, if we don’t teach how to sell, how do we expect minorities to join the most lucrative earnings band, which is a part-owner of the consulting firm?
A minority candidate who joins a professional services firm and does stellar work is going to increase the value of the firm. Good work leads to happy clients, and happy clients lead to greater client retention, increased earnings and a greater valuation for the firm. The candidate, now an employee, is rewarded with a greater salary. Yet, unless they become a partner through sales, they don’t share in the full upside.
An analogy can explain this. Imagine you rent a house. You want to live in a pleasant home, so you convince the owner to let you paint the house, change the garden and plant some trees and update the backyard. Since you want the changes, you pay for them. The spruced-up home leads to the owner getting unsolicited offers from potential buyers who are willing to pay a premium due to your effective redecorations and efforts. The renter gains zero percent of the sales upside. Being a stellar consultant without becoming an owner is the same.
In my own company, when we thought about the main area our clients wanted help with, one critical part jumped out. They need to be the most effective at the roles that earn the highest possible returns, and to do that, they need to sell enough to become a part-owner. This is key. I believe that sales is a route to ownership, and one way to help correct a moral injustice.
We’ve all heard this before: “Don’t be a worker. Don’t be an employee. You need to be an owner.” Would we accept that progress had been made in a professional sports league if the best players were well represented as players but under-represented when it came to their ownership and salary? If not, why should we accept this in professional services? In the same way, teaching sales is a leader’s moral responsibility to foster this change.