You missed the number last year. You have decided to hire a sales consulting firm to help you make the number. You are assessing potential vendors. One critical step is a detailed evaluation of your short list through a reference check. Recovering from hiring the wrong sales consulting firm can take between 1 and 2 quarters. The disruption of your sales force is something you can’t afford. Having your boss question your judgment is even worse. This best practice will help you avoid hiring the wrong firm.
The Wrong Way
Currently, your process may look something like this:
You narrow down to 2 or 3 companies.
You ask them for industry references or companies similar in size.
They provide you with 2 or 3 names.
Sales operations conducts the call; the references sing like canaries for all the firms.
You learned nothing new.
The Alternative—Execution Team Reference Check
The Execution Team Reference check is the best practice.
What is it - A peer to peer discussion centered around project execution from working with a consulting firm. Stakeholders from your company call their peers from the references provided.
Who does it - The execution team from the sales force must be involved in vetting the references. If only 1 of 5 stakeholders reaches out, you would be better off not bothering (if a consulting firm doesn’t have references at each level, that is an automatic knockout; they obviously are not embedded in the client organization).
Typically, each stakeholder has a couple key objectives in a sales consulting project. To illustrate, let’s say you are getting ready to roll out a new sales process. These would be some of the items your reference check should dig into:
Sales reps - They will be executing the new process. They want to know if the new process will help them max out their comp plan this year.
Sales Managers - They are coaching the new process. How much is the consulting firm going to add to their plate? Is this going to be something they can use to make next quarter’s number?
Sales Operations -They will be managing the data and using it for forecasting. How will the consulting firm drive the adoption of the new process and will it be automated?
RegionalSales Leadership - You want to know if the consulting firm will help you develop more ‘A’ player sales managers. Will they expose you in front of your boss or can you trust them?
Your Boss - He wants to make the growth number. He needs to know the firm you hire will improve field execution to drive this result.
Execution Team Reference Check: Download it here. You will receive a breakdown of the 3 most important execution concerns key sales force stakeholders have. You will get the questions to ask and a rating scale.
What Type of References
Ask each consulting firm for 2 references. You want one from the past and one from the present. Why? You want to understand how the consulting firm has evolved. The past can tell you about the results the firm helped deliver. The present can tell you if the firm is evolving. You want to partner with firms whose capabilities rapidly evolve and bring bleeding edge best practices.
What to Do with Score
Once you get the completed reference checks back, review the scores with your team. There are 90 possible points. What you should be looking for:
77-90 - Firm is a winner. Proceed to the next step
63-76 - Firm is worthy of consideration. You need more proof.
<62 - Firm is not for you.
The other element to look at is the cluster of the high or low scores. For example, you may conduct the reference check and the firm scores well with reps and front line managers. If you are looking for a more tactical partner, this may be what you want. Contrast that with a firm who scores well at the SVP level, but missed the mark with sales reps. This may be your strategy partner but you need an execution partner to drive field adoption.
Call to Action
Over half of B2B sales forces will embark on a sales consulting project each year. The importance of vetting references is critical. As a sales leader you cannot afford to select the wrong partner. Using a Peer to Peer Execution approach will help you understand who these firms really are. With this information, you can make an informed decision as you finalize your partner. What have you done in the past to pick the right partner? Share a comment below.
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