Sales Management

Driving sales performance by leveraging sales consultants: the Norwegian vendor landscape

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the last few weeks, I have had a number of discussions with providers and buyers of services in the area of sales development and sales process optimization.  It is an interesting space, which used to be dominated by cowboy consultants, but in which we have over the last 10-20 years seen a significant professionalization.

It is also an interesting space as most top-tier consultancies, like McKinsey, Accenture, and Bain, have in my opinion been less able to provide relevant thought leadership in this area. (It should be said that all the above examples have sales and marketing practices, but typically focused on higher-level stuff like customer strategy, branding / marketing, and pricing.  In addition, they do business process optimization, but again, to my knowledge, rarely of the real drivers of sales performance.)  This is slightly surprising, as a typical ambition for a well-designed sales development program is 15-20%, which is significant.

That said, services for sales development and sales process optimization are not a well-defined market.  In addition to team-level and individual-level sales development (the narrow market definition), which essentially is about optimizing sales execution, the market may be defined to also include services in the areas of sales strategy (incl. channel design, pricing, and business model design), organizational design and development, process design and optimization, IT system support (incl. CRM, issue management system, and analytics), recruitment and incentive system design (that is, HR), marketing, and management for hire (at various levels, from call center to VP-level).

What are the relevant players in this broader market, with presence in Norway?  The following infographic gives an indication of how some players with significant activities in the Norwegian market are positioned in this space (note that the infographic is meant for illustrative purposes, and should not be seen as a complete list):

vendor landscape

Note that there is a multitude of very small players in the space of team-level and individual-level sales development and management for hire, typically with 1-3 employees and typically based on the expertise of individual ex-sales directors and ex-VPs of sales.

Going back to the narrow market definition, the market for team-level and individual-level sales development, but not including open enrollment courses, may be assessed to be around NOK 150-200m.  (Euro Business School alone had revenues of around NOK 47m in 2012, while Mercuri Urval had revenues of around NOK 75m in 2013, but including also recruitment and leadership development.)  Euro Business School appears to be recognized as the industry leader, while Mercuri Urval’s visibility and relevance seem to have been reduced over the last decade, according to industry sources.  There are also some interesting newcomers, and True North Consulting appears to have been able to build a high-quality client list over the last few years.

If you intend to source services in the area of sales development and sales process optimization, there are three issues that I encourage you to consider before doing a vendor selection (and the failure of which may significantly reduce your chances of success):

  • What are your personal solution hypotheses?  If you believe that your sales performance issues are related to individual under-performance (say presentation skills or negotiation skills), then there are good vendors in this space.  If you on the other hand believe that your issues are related to lack of high-calibre talent, then there are also good, but different vendors in this space.  The point is that any vendor comes with a set of pre-conceived notions of reasons for under-performance, applicable to most situations, and that any set of recommendations from such vendor will be based on these notions.
  • Are you going to roll out your sales development program in a global organization?  If yes, you should consider the delivery capability, the language skills and the cultural background of your consultants.  So-called fluency in English, as defined by most Norwegians, and exposure to only the Norwegian market are in my opinion not enough to be credible in say a German or UK context, and I have personally seen sales development programs fail epically for this exact reason.
  • How is the cultural fit between your organization and the vendor’s organization?  Some vendors come with lots of frameworks, analysis, and theory (and MBAs); some come with lots of hands-on experience and useful advice.  Some come with a strong background from call center development; some with a background from sales of complex auditing or consulting services.  There is no ‘best’ profile, so you will have to find a vendor that you believe will fit with your organization.

So, good luck with your sales development program, and unless fundamentally an induction program, anything less than a 15-20% top-line increase should in my opinion not count as a success.

(NOTE: I am representing Crisp Ideas.  Crisp Ideas has significant activities within the strategy and organizational development area, primarily related to sales, and business development.  Also, the above blog is based on primarily anecdotal evidence and should not be taken as an exhaustive and fully researched market survey of the Norwegian vendor space.)

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