Going from industry into practice as a junior partner, director, senior associate or partner-designate can be a good way of making partner. As with all the routes to making partner, this one has its challenges and its benefits. The biggest challenge with this route is the fact that you may not have had to sell anything for a number of years. As a senior member of any firm, whether legal, accountancy or consultancy, you will be expected to bring in your own work. Or at least have a strong black book of senior level decision makers who will be falling over themselves to buy from you and your new firm. This blog post considers how to overcome the challenge of learning to sell services and in particular YOUR services.
The biggest challenge in learning to sell services
Most people who go from industry back into practice, or return back into practice after a stint in industry, are likely to join a mid-tier or a Big4/Magic Circle firm. If this is the case then the challenges you will face learning to sell yourself and your new team are to do with differentiation and standing out. If you look at the new marketplace you will be joining, I expect you will find that your competitors will all offer the same or a similar type of service. What many of your peers within the professions haven’t yet realised that to stand out they really must specialise and not try and cling onto being the generalist who can work within all sectors. When you have been in industry, it tends to give you a strong specialism, normally within a sector. The key to selling yourself is to realise that you need to capitalise on your industry expertise and network within the industry.
Finding the time to sell
Perhaps the biggest challenge to selling professional firm’s services is getting the time to do so. Most firms when they bring in a senior person from industry will want to make sure that they get their monies worth right from the word go. This means that you could find yourself with a high chargeable time target. This doesn’t leave much time for you to nurture your network and stock your pipeline with opportunities for you and your firm. If this state of affairs continues what you will find is you could gain a reputation as a great person to give work to or use to strengthen a bid, but not partner material as you can’t go out and find your own work.
Is it marketing or selling which is the problem?
Most of us will say that it is the thought of selling ourselves that we don’t like. I beg to differ. Most professionals I have worked with, tell me that if you put them in front of a potential client, they are normally quite good at having the conversation and generating new work, if there is work there to be had. That in my book is selling. What professionals quite often hate is the idea that they need to get out and actively promote what they do so that they can actually earn the right to these conversations. This is often couched in the language of ‘they need to create more conversations’ or ‘grow their profile to generate more potential opportunities’. Of course, given the readership of my articles, you may not suffer from the british cultural reserve at blowing your own trumpet. Regardless of where you come from, the need to ‘get your name out there’ and ‘actively start conversations’ is one which many of us recoil in horror from. It doesn’t need to be like pulling teeth without pain killers. Very often, the way to get over the marketing block is have a plan and take action. Even if you are not yet in this position, take a look at the lan to help you understand what you will need to do in the future. The Go-To Expert a very valuable roadmap to help you in a systematic and step-by-step way build up a strong market value. I guess what I am saying here that in short, do everything you can do to strengthen your personal brand and market value BEFORE you take the leap from industry back into the professions
How to overcome the challenges of learning to generate work-winning opportunities yourself
I think that the best way to overcome these challenges is to firstly build up your network of intermediaries and potential clients BEFORE you leave industry. This will probably be easier to do in the 12-24 months BEFORE you leave industry as you can go under the radar and build strong relationships BEFORE needing to sell to them or through them. The second thing I would do is ask yourself is what technical areas do you need to strengthen if you are to sell yourself as a sector or technical specialist? What do I need to get exposure to NOW to increase my internal/external market value when I return to the professions.
As one of my clients found, despite his many years in industry, he found himself quite a natural at selling himself. Like anything, learning to sell is like learning any new skill.