Mastering the Transition from Delivery to Sales Roles in Consulting Services
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Mastering the Transition from Delivery to Sales Roles in Consulting Services: A Guide for Professionals

“Sales may get you in the door, but delivery keeps you in the room.” The true measure of success in consultancy lies in the ability to consistently deliver exceptional value to your clients and value comes from constantly expanding and growing in different roles.

During my tenure with the consulting services of an Indian IT major, I had the opportunity to work in various roles, including Sales, Practice, and Delivery. Through my interactions with clients over the past two decades, I have observed that many organizations tend to be either too focused on sales or too delivery-driven. Now, Sales and Delivery are two sides of the same coin. However, achieving the right balance between sales and delivery is not easy and yet crucial for sustainable growth.

Recently, I had a conversation with the Sales transformation leader of a Tier 2 IT major that is aspiring to reach $1Bn in revenue. He mentioned that they are currently working on account management basics since most of their sales personnel have transitioned from delivery roles. While attempting to replicate the Go-To-Market (GTM) model of the #1 Indian IT major by developing Delivery Heads as Client Partners, they have faced challenges with the transition, and it is yet to yield results. This conversation prompted me to reflect on the key aspects that Delivery Managers need to consider becoming sales-oriented and how organizations can facilitate this change effectively.

The question I reflected on is — Do organizations really need sales teams? Some may call this question ridiculous whereas others might acknowledge the changing outlook for sales profession. During a heated sales review the Business Head of a Consulting major quipped “Do we really need a GTM team? Mckinsey does not have one”.  This is a million-dollar question. But the intense competition in the market has forced big consulting organizations to create markets team to tap the opportunities. In Consulting and IT majors, Client Partners who are the trusted advisors wear multiple hats in front of the clients they serve. They sell, deliver, bill and collect the receivables with thin demarcation of roles. The key is to develop the multifaceted capability required to manage the customer life cycle profitably.

Practitioner sales is the coveted role in service lines of organizations who bring a fine blend of subject matter expertise and client engagement. Delivery managers find it relatively easy to enter the sales arena by bringing to fore their practitioner perspective. While the thought of delivery managers moving to sales is good, the path is not a bed of roses. Two motivational issues faced in the transition are explained below-

Compensation & Career Protection

Both sales and delivery roles have a fixed and variable pay structure in most organizations. However, the delivery manager’s compensation is far more secure than that of a sales manager. In the VUCA world, the fear of walking into unknown terrain makes delivery managers take the safe and secure career path.

Rewards & Recognition conflict

An evergreen contentious issue in large accounts is the credit claimed for a renewal, repeat order, extension or change request after a salesperson wins a new logo and he/she hands it over to the delivery team. Client places additional orders on the organization based on the satisfactory service rendered by it.  So, who should be recognized for the win? I had seen credit sharing formulas creating more confusion than collaboration. Some organizations downplay the role of a seller in getting a renewal or extension from existing client and assign the responsibility to delivery. However, the challenges faced in completing the negotiation and wrapping the paperwork might prove to be too demanding for the delivery manager. Simply put this is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach.

In addition, the basic apprehensions cited above, there are some key success factors for the successful role transition to sales.

  1. Knowledge: Delivery managers are blessed with abundant subject matter expertise and clients admire them for bringing practical flavour to the discussion. This depth is good but the breadth of knowledge they need to possess to be successful in sales is vast. The technical expertise which has brought them so far may not take them far in the future and widening the horizon is required.
  2. Skills: Sales calls for a spectrum of skills to be successful like Prospecting, Qualification, Presentation, Persuasion, Negotiation, Closure etc.  Since sales skills are life skills – delivery managers might possess some or all of these skills in varying degrees. The key is to hone the same to razor sharp perfection to shine in front of the clients.
  3. Behaviors: Never say die. Fight till the finish is an attitude required to be successful in a sales career. Developing tenacity in the face of adversity is required to stay in the game. Delivery managers moving to sales may be required to unlearn and learn some of their behaviors.
  4. Results: This is the toughest part and raison d’etre for a sales professional in an organization. While the delivery manager would have managed KPIs like Project schedule, Profitability, Resource utilization etc. which are mostly under the control of organization. However, in sales the locus of control over the client is limited and multiple external factors could hamper the achievement of results in spite of the best efforts. The need is therefore the ability to be situationally fluent and adopt a dynamic approach as per emerging scenario in the pursuit.

So how can organizations help those aspiring to move from Delivery to sales roles? The role of Human resources, Learning & Development and Sales enablement functions become extremely critical in the journey.

  1. Counselling: During my early career, I had applied for an internal job posting by a new business unit related to Sustainability within my organization. The hiring manager asked me what motivated me to apply for the role. I remember my amateurish answer saying that ESG is the in-thing in the industry and I would like to make a career in it. The wise manager appreciated the zeal and enthusiasm but counselled me to read some topics and discuss with few collogues on my suitability for the role and vice-versa. The homework helped me to realize that it may not be my cup of tea. Similarly, HR managers need to act as counselors to applicants seeking role change and help in taking a no regret decision.
  2. Training:  Much of the skills and knowledge required for selling can be acquired by training programs suited to the level of the person.
  3. Mentoring: The first manager of a sales professional is always a great person, who is responsible for molding the individual. The manager or any accomplished leader may act as the mentor to the employee in transition.
  4. Coaching: Behavioral changes are best achieved through coaching. In sales, in-field coaching beats classroom coaching by a wide margin. Hence it would be a good idea to coach the seller in client interface to develop higher order capabilities.
  5. Systemic support: Sales is a game of numbers. However, not all professionals can start delivering from day one. Organization needs to set realistic target for a new seller commensurate with the market/client condition and provide some concession in case of inability to meet quota initially in spite of best efforts.

I am sure that delivery managers could make a successful career transition to sales with the right organizational and managerial support elaborated in the article.

Happy selling!

Prasad Panapakkam is a Senior Manager with extensive experience in management consulting and is now in the coaching space. With over two decades of experience in sales and client engagement, ‘Professor Prasad’ as his colleagues call him, has served clients in various industries in areas like Business performance improvement, IT strategy and Functional excellence.
Chandrani-datta-Content-Manager-Tripura-Multinational-Singapore-our-team 2
Chandrani Datta works as a Manager-Content Research and Development with almost a decade’s experience in writing and editing of content. A former journalist turned content manager, Chandrani has written and edited for different brands cutting across industries. The hunger for learning, meaningful work and novel experiences keeps her on her toes. An avid traveller, Chandrani’s interests lie in photography, reading and watching movies.

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