Just before the holidays I got a call that reminded me how much I love my business. The call was from a client I'd last worked with in 2008 or 2009 - for each of us, that was two companies ago. The most we'd done to keep in touch during the intervening time was to remain first level connections on LinkedIn. Now this person was calling me (having kept track of my cell number, which I don't publish on LI) with a new SharePoint opportunity. Can I help? Absolutely.
This is the magic of being in Professional Services - the people you work with, the relationships you make. It was great to catch up with my former client. My "aha" moment from this call, though, was the reminder of the longevity these relationships can have. Throughout my consulting career I've received a lot of repeat business, but this was definitely the longest time interval I've seen between last contact and new opportunity.
The insight for technology consulting leaders is that every single person in your organization has these relationships, and they're the key to your business. Repeatedly I've seen how tech firms operate on the assumption that these relationships are primarily held and maintained by the executives, Sales, and the practice directors (consider, for example, who in the organization gets one of those precious licenses to CRM or SalesForce). They view the value of their Delivery staff as their expertise and their utilization. But the truth is that clients place the most value on the consultant or team who is solving their problems on a daily basis. Those are the folks they will be calling again in five years - not the salesperson.
With this in mind, here are three ways technology consulting firms can take a lesson from our fellow Professional Services practitioners, and rev up the power of our individuals:
1 Publicize your people - all of them.
Technologists get excited about solving problems. They want to make sure that their clients and prospects know about the solutions and the technologies they offer. But the solutions aren't the company's product. The people are. Instead of promoting the latest Marketing campaign or trendiest service on your home page, the people should be front and center. They are what your client is actually buying.
At every tech consulting firm where I've worked, there has been push-back about listing all the consultants on the company website. Either there's a fear that it makes competitors' recruiters' jobs too easy (which LinkedIn has now rendered irrelevant), or it's too much effort to maintain all those profiles (so we'll only show the leadership team), or not every consultant is "worthy" of being listed (because some are not active thought leaders in the community), or the listing of all exposes some perceived weakness at the firm (there's not enough diversity when you view them all together).
Since 2006 I've been challenging these reasons and risks because they don't outweigh the benefit that promotion of individuals has on the business. We now know that a prospective client is nearly 60% of their way through the decision-making process (researching, benchmarking, ranking their options) before they reach out to Sales. Doesn't it seem likely that if you're selling expert services, your prospects will want to take a look at the backgrounds and credentials of your people? (This is true from a Recruiting perspective as well - candidates want to "meet" the people on your team, and they'll be impressed if your firm thinks enough of each consultant to showcase them individually.)
The promotion of individuals is something our Professional Services cousins, the law firms, inherently understand. Go to the website of any of the top US firms - you'll find a complete directory of their lawyers / attorneys, from associates to partners, viewable by filtering or by alphabetical order, with each lawyer's phone number and email address readily available. They do this because it drives business. Why shouldn't tech consultancies do the same?
2. Create an alumni network.
Tech firms invest a lot in outreach to their prospects, clients, and partners, but in my experience, not to alumni. Why not? If one of your consultants moves on, they're still a valuable member of your network. They may have gone native, in which case there's a good chance their new company needs your services. They may have found that the grass isn't greener at their new gig, and would be open to coming back. They may recommend your services to people in their own network. There are plenty of compelling reasons to invest in your alums.
Here's an area where the management consulting firms really shine. In my benchmarking of the top strategy / management consulting firms' websites, I found that while they tend to be more artful about promoting their individuals (often a Recruiting-oriented selection of "featured employees" rather than the whole roster, sometimes with first names only, and typically buried a few layers down in the navigation), their alumni resources are front and center, without fail. There's typically a secure component that requires login, alongside some promotion of prominent alumni in the news, always accompanied by the messaging that the firm wants their alumni to stay connected and stay in touch.
Most of these firms offer IT strategy consulting, so if you are a technology consultant attached to a broader consulting firm, you'll have access to an alumni network. Beyond that it's difficult to find a dedicated tech services firm that offers one. Tech consulting firms get hired to build these alumni sites, so creating one for their own people should be a no-brainer. Investing in some dedicated alumni resources, even minimally, such as with a monthly newsletter, could have a positive impact on business and recruiting.
3. Create an "Inside Relationships" Role
Many tech firms have an Inside Sales role that handles telemarketing and initial lead development. What if there were a person at the firm dedicated to meeting one-on-one with every employee, on a regular basis (say, twice a year), to gather the following information:
- Is there anyone in your network who might need our services?
- Do we have your current project contacts in our relationship database? On our mailing list(s)?
- Do you see any opportunities at your client beyond the project you're currently working on?
- Would any of your current project contacts be willing to do a case study? Give us a testimonial quote? Participate in a quick video interview for our website? etc.
- Should the project(s) you're working on be nominated for an award? (provide a list of potential design and technology awards, such as the Nielsen Norman Group 10 Best Intranets)
- Should the client you're working with be nominated for an award? (provide a list of potential entrepreneur and leadership awards, and even develop your own - more about this in a future post)
- We're pursuing an opportunity at [prospect name] - do you know anyone there?
- Is there anyone in your network who would be a great candidate to work here?
How much additional business and positive buzz could you generate if you dedicated a resource to this effort? My guess is that resource would be generating leads to your Sales team within three months and would (more than) pay for itself in the first six months. Sales acceleration can occur via tools and systems but it can also happen as a result of the simple process of people talking to each other and tracking information.
In summary - if you're in professional services, people are your product. And if you're in technology services, you're probably more focused on solution development than product (people) development. I hope my suggestions provided food for thought, and I'd love to hear about what YOUR firm is doing in these areas, or others, to amplify the power of your team.