Tl;dr - Companies often engage consultants to fix symptoms. The underlying problems often remain unresolved, however, leading to frustration. A strong B2B sales consultant can help fix revenue growth issues for industrial manufacturing companies. Here's how and why to select one (and a bit on why not to as well.)
NB - If you're looking for an article on sales reps using one of the grandiose euphemisms (B2B Sales Consultant, Sales Advisor, Sales Concierge, etc.) this article isn't for you. It's intended for serious middle-market industrial company execs debating whether to engage a consultant to improve revenue growth.
What Are You Trying to Solve For?
This is a deceptively complicated question. Accurately answering this may be the most compelling argument for hiring a B2B sales consultant out of the gate!
Many of the folks running industrial manufacturing firms began careers selling in the 80s and 90s when sales reps had to prospect in person to find opportunities. They have hard-earned opinions on what works.
And today, they're often wrong. Of course, they were right at one time, but the changes in buyer behaviors, market expectations, and technology wrought by the rise of the internet obviate many traditional organizational structures and sales approaches.
So their traditional perspective, while understandable, leads to many incorrect diagnoses of contemporary revenue growth problems.
Often what's described as a B2B sales problem is actually a broader "revenue growth" problem that is equal parts strategy, manufacturing marketing, technology, AND industrial sales.
Without clearly understanding that framework, often companies seek to address symptoms. Examples include:
- too few leads
- poor website performance
- deals lost to "no decision"
- long sales cycles
- salespeople missing quota
- concentration risk - excess % of sales coming from current customers and dearth of new logos
- stagnant aftermarket service, training, and parts sales
- unreliable forecasts
- difficulty scheduling meetings
For each of these, there's a "simple fix." Fix SEO, redesign the website, improve closing skills, qualify better, hire a trainer, invest more in trade show add-ons to reach new buyers, reduce parts prices, pipeline review meetings, hire a BDR, sell value, etc., etc.
Those seem like reasonable, minimally disruptive and economic solutions, but they're often patches. Companies don't try to band-aid the symptom, rather they misdiagnose the symptom as the problem.
Solving these common and vexing issues requires stepping back to understand how buying, and therefore B2B selling, have fundamentally changed. Strategy (deep understanding of buyers, markets, and competitors) infuses marketing and sales (which are no longer independent functions but rather poles on a continuum between which buyers oscillate) with technology either repelling or attracting buyers to the integrated revenue growth function.
That's a daunting undertaking that faces lots of institutional resistance. So the natural and seemingly more realistic solution is to hire a consultant, agency, or employee with experience in addressing the prominent symptoms, and therefore in what putatively seems to be the problem area. They cross their fingers.
And indeed a company likely needs a sales trainer, a technical SEO consultant, a skilled videographer, some copywriting skills, a CRM administrator, and more. But they need the right people, working in the right context, in order to succeed.
Often these efforts to address symptoms increase attention and prompt a brief improvement, but things soon revert to the frustrating status quo.
What Frustrating Consultant Experiences Have You Had?
Against this backdrop, it's predictable that many companies have had frustrating consultant experiences.
I've encountered companies that are skeptical of "SEO consultants" because they hired one to help them increase web leads. Of course, this ignored the need for buyer, buying team and buying journey research, content, conversion optimization, sales model and process for a new, less qualified type of top-of-the-funnel lead, and business savvy to understand the search context of their industry.
So the effort failed. There was no increase in leads.
Perhaps they hired a strong consultant, although I'd argue that anyone who proposed to fix the lead generation problem with SEO without discussing any of those intermediate steps...probably wasn't.
When the symptom reemerges, often the response is something along the lines of "SEO doesn't work for our industry," "consultants charge a lot and nothing changes," or "nobody outside of our industry understands our market."
I've seen similar things happen with content marketing, sales process, sales hiring, website design, CRM implementation, trade show campaigns, target account sales/account-based marketing programs, and other initiatives. It's not enough for someone to list some clients from a similar industry.
So there's understandable skepticism and hesitance with consultants. It's also important to understand that they can't do the work for you. Outsourced freelancers can execute pieces, but real consultants won't. They'll help you create and define the outcome and process. They can model some execution and prime the pump. They can provide frameworks, advice and coaching. But you and your team have to execute.
Interested in an integrated approach to revenue growth that integrates strategy, marketing, sales and technology? That's what I call Overall Revenue Effectiveness™. Learn more here.
How Successful Have You Been With Change Management?
And that means change management. A big, scary, enervating process. A process that will likely result in some long-time loyal staff rebelling and leaving. And a process that will involve moments of self-doubt and anxious reflection for you. After all, if you're leading a traditional middle-market manufacturing company, your remit is most likely more value protection than value creation. Disrupting systems that created the current company carries more risk than slow decay from sticking with them.
Therefore, while fixing symptoms won't solve for the larger, longer-term problems, it's definitely the more conservative course. It won't cost you much in investment in social capital. And if you call it an "experiment," it makes it easy to abandon and revert to the status quo.
However, if your goal is to really thrive over the next several decades, you likely understand you'll have to evolve your revenue growth process. That will involve org chart changes and resource reallocation. Marketing, sales and IT will all be forced into situations to which they'll strenuously object. But remember...their opinion isn't what will drive the process. Nor will yours. This change is about adapting your company to meet evolving buyer expectations.
You'll have to change yourself, and bring your board, management team, and long-time employees along with you. That means you'll need allies. You might find these among independent directors, outside hires from different industries and backgrounds, or current employees who are feeling stifled and growing restless.
When we talk about process engineering for the revenue growth function - really the role of a good B2B sales expert - the closest analog is the changes that your production operation underwent 10-20 years ago. It was a long-term, often wrenching process that involved pain, fractured friendships and lonely days.
Can you lead that sort of change?
Can You Find the Right Person?
This is hard. It's hard for two reasons.
First, if you're chasing a symptom you're fishing in the wrong pond. It's very unlikely you'll find the right person by searching for the wrong criteria.
Second, the person you need will require skills and perspectives that you might not even consider. Board of directors experience, industrial sales background, channel sales familiarity, digital marketing insights, and technology savvy are just some of the skills a B2B sales consultant will need to help guide you and your company through a complex journey.
If you're not looking for those, you probably won't include them in your search. It's going to take some research to identify candidates, and then further research to explore their oeuvre to understand the breadth of their perspectives and experience.
And of course they have to understand life on factory floors, love machines and production, and empathize with your team AND your buyers.
What Resources Are Required?
Recognize that while of course simply engaging a B2B sales consultant doesn't obligate you to actually change anything, if you intend to implement recommendations, you'll have to commit resources.
There's a cost for the consultant for sure. And a good consultant should be comfortable helping you quantify the cost of failing to change as well as a reasonable outcome for doing so. You should anticipate a 3 - 5X return on the cost of the program.
The consultant should also be very clear-eyed in helping you quantify the costs and resource commitment in terms of your time, management time, hires, software, outsourced skills, specialized consultants, and more. The top-line revenue growth process is every bit as complex as your engineering and production are, and will require diverse skills at various stages in the project.
The biggest resource challenge for which you should prepare yourself, though, is your time spent managing the change.
Not Sure? Start With a Pilot
Here's the reality. On the one hand, you probably have low-grade concerns about just continuing as you have - you're yearning for knowledgable and experienced advice to help you evolve as your instinct says you must. Hiring a B2B revenue growth consultant is appealing.
On the other hand, your previous consultant experiences leave you jaundiced and you're not sure you and your organization can actually stick with it and change.
What should you do?
My experience is that a pilot project is a great way to start. You and the consultant have an opportunity to take measure of each other and determine competence, commitment, and compatibility. Further, the outcome of a pilot should be a framework for two to three years of implementation that provides suggested milestones, quantifies resource requirements, and projects outcomes.
That way you'll have a far more realistic understanding of whether the consultant "gets it" and whether you can stomach implementation.
The bottom line is that any industrial manufacturing company that wants to thrive needs to dramatically improve the top line revenue growth infrastructure and process. By definition, they don't have the insights to do so internally. That means they need some outside help.
A consultant could be the perfect solution, but it's easy to make mistakes. You must understand how to find the person or team that can help you define the problem, is willing to challenge sacred cows, has walked in your shoes, and has the requisite breadth and depth of experience to offer sound advice.