I work with firms of all shapes and sizes in the market research industry and, with relatively few exceptions, senior-level executives at these firms have significant business development responsibility. And not just the let’s-bring-in-the-big-gun-to-close-the-deal type of responsibility; they have real and ongoing sales responsibility while also being responsible for research projects, working with clients, managing their companies and so on.
I think this happens for a handful of reasons:
- These firms don’t understand or even see the value of a dedicated business development function.
- They believe that their clients want and need the person who sold the product or service to be involved in it.
- When the firms were small, the founders sold and as firms grow, they just continue with it.
- They believe that they have the skills, temperament and capacity to do it.
- They’re afraid that a “mere” sales rep could never have a serious research discussion or help design a project.
I see three really big problems with this strategy (or lack thereof):
- I apologize for this stereotyping but generally – and there are exceptions – those who are good at research are not good at selling and vice versa. The skill sets required to be really good at either position are vastly different and don’t often overlap. And because most firms hire for research skills (not sales skills), they end up with sales reps who aren’t all that good at selling – because they sell like a researcher. This is exacerbated by things like capabilities presentations with 100 words on every slide and a presenter who insists on reading every one of them aloud! Ugh…
- They don’t understand and are ill-equipped for the sales process. Maybe they can deliver a presentation (the close) but they don’t understand lead generation or lead nurturing. They aren’t comfortable with relationship-building. They don’t possess some of the fundamental selling skills, like asking effective sales questions or responding to objections. It’s not their fault really – they just weren’t raised that way.
- Most importantly, you simply can’t serve two masters. You can’t be responsible for research projects and working with clients and hunting for and cultivating new business. Why? Simple: because when there’s a conflict of time and priority (and there will be) and you have to choose between the two, you will always opt to take care of clients – because you should and because it’s the more comfortable thing to do. But that means that your firm’s business development efforts suffer. So what might have started out as a job description that was 50 percent business development is now down to 30 percent or less. The result? Less time selling and slower growth.
The feast-or-famine nature
Straddling the fence of sales and research also contributes to the feast-or-famine nature of our industry. When you’re not busy with clients, you can spend some time on business development, which results in more projects, which then takes you away from business development. Then, when the current run of projects slows down and your client responsibilities ease off, you get back to business development, which results in some more projects. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Unless you do something about it!
If you’re a senior executive splitting your time between selling and taking care of clients and their projects, you need to make a decision. If you’re good at selling then perhaps you should do it full-time and find a seasoned project manager to take care of clients.
On the other hand, if selling makes you uncomfortable or if you don’t like it – but you do it because someone has to – then consider finding a seasoned sales pro (no, they don’t have to come from the MR industry – in fact, I’d suggest that they don’t) to go out and help grow your business while you run the company and take care of clients.
But what about those issues we mentioned earlier?
- These firms don’t understand or even see the value of a dedicated business development function. Frankly, if you’re unwillingly to open your eyes to the possibilities and the opportunities that a dedicated sales function could bring, then your firm will never achieve the levels of growth you would hope for.
- They believe that their clients want and need the person who sold the product or service to be involved in it. And they still can be! Maybe not in a research role but in a customer service/customer advocate capacity.
- When the firms were small, the founders sold and as firms grow, they just continue with it. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got! If you’re looking for increased growth beyond what you have now, until you shake things up a little and bring in someone dedicated to business development, it’ll never happen.
- They believe that they have the skills, temperament and capacity to do it. Maybe you do. If so, consider bringing in a project manager-type person so you can focus on business development. But get an outsider’s opinion to make sure sales is really your thing and that it’s not just your ego talking.
- They’re afraid that a “mere” sales rep could never have a serious research discussion or help design a project. The fact is, they don’t need to. What they need to do is generate and nurture leads, get them excited about your firm’s capabilities and then when ready, bring in the big gun (that’s you!) to close the deal.
The idea of not being able to serve two masters applies to virtually all aspects of business but is particularly harmful when sales is involved because we’re talking about the growth and health of your organization. So if you’re involved in managing your business plus trying to be a sales rep, step back, take a look at your true roles and responsibilities and pick one! You and your firm will be glad you did.
Good luck and good selling.
This article was originally published in Quirk’s.