One of the most prominent struggles consultants and independent entrepreneurs face is to sell themselves. Typically, the amount of experience is not enough if you don’t get the value of business development. Chris Spurvey possesses the perfect amount of knowledge and understanding from the big consulting firms, such as Plato and KPMG. Founder of Chris Spurvey Sales Growth Consulting Inc., he breaks down the differences of consulting firms now and then, from the traditional way of making sales to adding value and creating relationships. As Chris highlights the importance of consistency in doing business, he reveals the secret formula to reframing sales for business growth, setting up meetings, and overcoming ineffective business strategies.
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Business Development Lessons From The Big Consulting Firms with Chris Spurvey
I’m excited to have Chris Spurvey joining us. Chris, welcome.
Thank you, Michael. I’m looking forward to this. This is going to be a real treat.
Chris, let’s start off. For those who don’t know you, explain what you do.
My name is Chris Spurvey. I live in Newfoundland, Canada on the East Coast of Canada. My main claim to fame is I published a book in 2015 called It’s Time to Sell: Cultivating the Sales Mind-Set. The impetus of that book way back then was I noticed that consultants and independent entrepreneurs struggled to sell themselves. As you peel back the layers of the onion, it was the mindset that it was grounded in. I went to work and said I’m going to tackle this problem. At the time, I was with KPMG leading business development/sales for KPMG Canada and started working with consultants across the country in an effort to grow their sales, skills, mindset and so on. That ultimately led to what I’m doing now, which is I’m an independent consultant working with a consulting boutique size organization growing out sales capacity and mindset.
There’s a lot in there that I want to unpack and dive into. Before you got into working in business development for KPMG, what were you doing?
I was one of the original leaders of a boutique IT consulting company. I was chartered with finding new business for the consultants. We had fifteen consultants when I first joined the organization. That was my job. I go out as a leader of sales and sell the services of the company. I figured there had to be a better way essentially and we ended up exploding the company to over 70 and that’s when we decided to sell the company to KPMG. Certainly, the path I brought that organization down was to not have me selling the consultants to have each of the consultants engaged in the sales process themselves and growing up their own networks, goodwill and so on. That’s what ultimately created the success of Plato Consulting.There’s only so much time in a day that one person can only do so much. Click To Tweet
What did things look like when you started at that firm? Was it easy you came into the role of growing sales and things took off right away? Were there some challenges early on in terms of figuring out how do we grow this thing?
There was a ton of challenges. When they first hired me, I eventually became a part owner in the company. When I say they, there was a belief that you needed to be a salesperson. A traditional salesperson out there banging on doors and doing all the things traditional salespeople do. That was the belief that they needed to hire somebody effective at that. When I approached the company with this new idea that I thought I had which was, “Yes, you need somebody leading, guiding, strategizing around sales, but let’s tap into the efforts of all the consultants.” They bought into that idea. I went into the company and began implementing that. I can’t say it was an overnight success. We started to see immediate dividends simply because immediately we began to tap into the networks of each of the individual consultants. We became more deliberate, focused and proactive around delivering the value proposition of the company. There were some immediate returns, but it did take a little bit of time, effort and focus. It took a couple of years to get it going full steam and we started to see some significant growth.
For everyone reading this, I need to dig into this further because everything you shared there sounds exciting. I can see people lighting up with this idea that there’s a difference between what he was doing before and then what he was doing later and getting the consultants more involved. Let’s get specific. What did it look like before? When you came into Plato Consulting at the beginning, they hire you. They were making a typical approach. What did that look like? Paint a picture of maybe what a day or a week in the life of a consultant or the sales function of that consulting firm.
The sales function was owned, led, done and conducted by the CEO of the company.
What were they doing?
The CEO was out there networking, going out and creating relationships, finding problems to solve and selling the solution himself. He was out there doing it on his own and obviously running up against a major issue and that there’s only so much time. When you’re working in the business versus on the business, you struggle with that. The idea initially was to hire me or hire a salesperson who could go out and pick up those tasks. That’s what he was doing. He was truly selling, and the company was hitting a growth ceiling simply because there was only so much time in the day.
Chris, was the approach, the strategy and the tactics that the CEO was implementing at that time effective?
They were effective because he was cut from a cloth that is relationship-based and nurturing and so on. However, you can only manage a network of a certain size on your own. There was no real tapping into the efforts of all the other people that were employed there.
The actions he was taking on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to generate sales were working. He was focusing on meeting with people who could become clients, building relationships, looking to add value, talking about how the firm can help and that was leading to business. Is that correct?
Yes, he was leading the business. The company had grown significantly in the United States, in Ottawa, Canada and so on. It was successful, but how do we become more successful?
He hit that plateau because there’s only so much time in a day. One person can only do so much. The idea was, “Let’s bring on a salesperson,” which was you. It sounds like your approach and recommendation wasn’t, “Let me replace you or add on to you. Let’s get other consultants that we have in the firm to be a part of our sales engine.” Talk to us about some specific steps that you and the other members of the team took to grow sales. What happened at that point?
First and foremost, I began a deliberate approach to meeting with these consultants as a group selling them on the idea of them having more rewarding careers and futures as a result of growing networks and bringing solutions. Reframing sales from a traditional point of view. I used car salesman, for lack of a better word, into bringing solutions to the market. Reframing was a task out of the gate. The second task out of the gate was let’s get more deliberate around finding circles of influences within the market, places to create a trusted advisor type relationships and so on. We became more deliberate around that and I started to hold each other a bit more accountable around that. That led to a whole transition or a whole change within the mindset of the company. We became a growth company. We, as a company, wanted to grow and all of the consultants became incentivized to grow with that.If we maintain some degree of consistency in getting out there and sharing what we do, it can lead to consistent revenue growth. Click To Tweet
I want to dig even deeper to this. I understand that you rally the troops. You had several conversations around shifting the mindset from one where sales is a bad and uncomfortable thing. It’s a pushy thing that the traditional view that a lot of people have to one of maybe more of service, support, creating relationships and value. That part is clear for everyone. You went out then or you helped them to find centers of influence, what happened? What did the best performing consultants do to bring in new business for the firm?
They began joining organizations, joining boards of directors, began putting themselves out there in a more deliberate way. They began to grow their own personal brands such as reaching out to publications and authoring articles. These things began to bubble off whereby Plato Consulting became known as experts. The brand of Plato became known as an expert in the areas of security consulting and different variations SharePoint within Microsoft Stack and so on. I won’t get too technical. We began to grow the individual personal brands of the consultants. The positive byproduct of that was the Plato brand became entrenched within certain aspects of IT consulting. We began to grow the personal brands of each individual.
It sounds like the brand and the authority building strategies and focuses shifted from the CEO to other people within the organization and there’s a multiplier effect. There are a lot more people having a lot more conversations, a lot more awareness and a lot more attention. Did the compensation model for the consultants change?
Not initially, but we decided that as we moved along to create more of a tiered approach, project teams made up of project managers who are more senior individuals, analysts underneath the project manager and so on. We eventually did add more rigor to the compensation plan which would reward the more senior people who create larger circles of influence and bring in new business into the company.
Did you find that even without changing the compensation model that people were more active, they were building the authority of the brand and additional revenue was coming in as a result of that?
That was a cultural shift. As the leaders of the company began to work with the consultants and they began to buy into the future of the company, it became a bit of a rallying cry. We became the growth IT consulting company. With this model and this culture of, “We’re going to go out there, we’re going to find more work, find more solutions and problems to solve and so on.” We became a tribe effectively.
Let’s now move to your time at KPMG. My understanding is you’re the VP of Business Development for KPMG in Atlanta, Canada. Is that correct?
I was. In 2017, I resigned my role and now I’m doing what I do full-time.
During that time at KPMG, which is now a much larger-sized firm known globally in the consulting and finance and so forth space. Was the approach to business development there that you were tasked with your real role, were the strategies that you were using for sales and business development the same as you were using at Plato?
Yes, KPMG is unlike any of the other big four consulting firms. They’re seen as being far more robust and they would have all of this stuff. In terms of methodologies and these approaches, they had all that. What I would say is immediately I saw that it wasn’t overly effective.
What wasn’t effective so we can better understand? What strategies or maybe tactics were they using that you found not to be effective?
In terms of strategies and tactics, I won’t say they weren’t effective. What I will say is like any consulting environments I find, subject matter experts have a tendency to go out and land a new client. They’re focused on the delivery of that client and forget that the effort they’re putting in from a business development perspective is going to be what they end up harvesting in a few months’ time. What I was noticing is these cycles of up and down and then the lack of growth versus if we maintain some degree of consistency in getting out there in the market and sharing what do can lead to consistent revenue growth for our company. That’s what I was noticing within KPMG. We partnered with other companies when we were at Plato and it’s the same thing. It’s this inconsistent approach throughout the organization in growing the business.We just got to get out there and do the pitch. Click To Tweet
What’s interesting about that is that impacts or affects the largest companies in the space. It’s the same issue for independent individual solo consultants. Whether you’re one person or your 1,000 or 10,000 people, the same issue is present. What have you found as the best way to overcome that? We’ve established that and it doesn’t matter what size organization you are. This can be a big issue. What have you found is the best way, a hack, a tip, a trick or a mindset that is most beneficial to help people and get over what’s holding them back to break through that inconsistency they have to create more consistency?
First and foremost, let’s put the mindset aside. Let’s assume everyone reading this is ready to get out there and start to build and grow their businesses. You mentioned the word consistency. What I find business development within non-sale sellers, people who don’t have sales in their title. If they’re not deliberately putting in their calendar business development time, then business development becomes the first thing that falls off the radar. What I would encourage anyone reading to do is on Monday morning from 8:00 to 10:00, put it in your calendar as your business development time. What you do during that time is you plan out what you’re going to do from a business development perspective in the upcoming week. I’m not talking about the week you’re currently in, I’m talking about the upcoming week.
If you want three meetings, make sure you plan five meetings and realizing two are going to fall off if it got canceled or shifted out. In that Monday morning, 8:00 to 10:00, plan your upcoming business development for the week upcoming. The next Monday, plan out the next week and then go ahead and start executing on what you planned to do in the previous Monday. If you consistently do that, you’ll always have new opportunities and fresh problems to solve. It’s about consistent scheduling of business development proactive time.
Let’s say someone else gets that Monday 8:00 to 10:00 AM and they’re going to work on developing their business, they’re going to work on getting meetings. What have you found as the most effective way in your own experience while you were at Plato, KPMG and even now in your own firm to get meetings? That’s an area that a lot of consultants have a challenge with. It’s getting in front of their ideal clients and being able to set a conversation with them. What are some of the best practice that you’ve found or the best steps that someone can take to set up meetings?
This is something we can all play in our heads. It’s something that is a stumbling block. Personally, I am a fan of doing whatever it takes fundamentally and reaching out and setting up a conversation where you indicate to the individual whether over email or over the phone. You’re in the market, you’re looking to have a conversation with X, Y, Z to talk about what it is you do and learn more about what they do. Figure out if there are any problems that we can solve or help you solve. I don’t find spending a lot of time complicating in our own heads. We’ve got to get out there and do the pitch. However, it feels good for us. It is, to some degree, a numbers game. Make sure that if your percentages are low, you’ve got to throw the line a few more times to catch the right fish and you’ll learn from what’s working. Do more of what’s working and do less of what’s not working effectively.
Let’s bring mindset back into this because a lot of people or some people might hear and go, “I’m not comfortable with talking about myself or reaching out to someone I don’t know and making a cold call or sending a cold email and going right to that. Isn’t there something that I should do first? Shouldn’t I provide more value for us or shouldn’t I try and focus on the relationship or whatever it might be?” What would you say to someone who understands what you’re saying, but finds it challenging to take that step to be direct about, “I’d like to meet with you, talk what you’re doing and what we’re doing here and see if there might be a fit?”
It’s important to work on the relationship. I use an acronym FORM, Family, Occupation, Recreation and Motivations. I’ll follow that acronym in a way that I’ll ask questions of the person I’m talking to. I’ll try to get to know them a little bit, find uncommon commonalities whether I’m a snowmobiler and finding out if the individual is interested in certain things that I’m interested in, playing tennis and so on. I’ve observed the people I work with and myself when I’m talking to somebody. It’s easy to find some form of commonality that creates energy in the conversation. From there, what I’ll say to you is a lot of my meetings are typically ones that I generate through being out there in the market doing a little bit of networking.
I will get out there and meet people in networking environments and find commonalities, find reasons to have them to coffees and so on. It’s consistency in those networking opportunities. I rarely do true cold calls. With that said, I’ll use LinkedIn and find people I want to talk to. I will find commonalities maybe in their LinkedIn profiles and send notes over LinkedIn or find people who’ll introduce me to certain people I want to get to know. That’s most of the way I suggest we build businesses. Getting out there and finding ways to meet people in their natural environments. Cold calling, while it can be done, is a bit more of an archaic method of building a business.
Let’s talk a little bit more about that. You’re saying meeting with ideal clients through networking, going to events or whatever it might be. What does that look like for you specifically? What type of events are you going to or what are the criteria that you use? How do you suggest the people apply that? Saying that you go to networking events, you understand what that means to you. For someone reading and saying, “I don’t want to go to events and waste my time, but I do like the idea of being able to have a more natural conversation where I don’t have to cold call. What are maybe some steps that I can implement in my own business?”
Board of Trade events and Chambers of Commerce events, those things are low-hanging fruit, things to do because they’re great opportunities. Many of us have it set up in our heads that they’re a waste of time, but it’s our approach to them and our mindsets around them. Every opportunity to meet, I always say we’re one conversation away from a breakthrough. Open yourself up to meeting new people by getting out and doing those things. There are also all kinds of other opportunities. If you’re at a hockey game, you’re sitting next to an individual and you’re having a conversation. You’re figuring out if there’s a mutual thing in common and then taking that conversation and going one-on-one with it.
When you asked me that question, I was visualizing myself at a coffee shop talking to an individual. The president of a company came over who knew the guy I was talking to. The guy came over, they shook hands and said, “It’s great to see you again.” My friend Steve looked at me and said, “Steve, do you know John?” I got to meet John, we shook hands and he gave me a business card. I gave him my business card and I followed up with an email when I got home. He’s the president of a scientific organization here in St. John’s, Newfoundland. What I would say is you’d always be wanting to put yourself in front of opportunities to meet people, be curious and looking for ways to move from beyond that superficial idea phase into having a deeper conversation. Those opportunities are everywhere. You’ve got to be opening up your eyes for them.
You live in a city with a population of 23,000 to 24,000 people.Do more of what's working and do less of what's not working effectively. Click To Tweet
I live in a city called Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, which is 24,000 to 25,000. We’re attached to a bigger city St. John’s, Newfoundland, which has about a 100,000.
It still may be small for some people or maybe large for others. At times, people look at the size of their city and feel that maybe that’s going to be a disadvantage or other times it could be an advantage for them. Here you build your business in a small city to most people’s standards. Have you found being in that type of environment as a disadvantage or an advantage? How have you approached it? Is there any impact at all on your business?
There is none at all. What I’ll say is I made a purposeful decision back in 2015 when I caught a vision for what I could be doing with this. I decided I wasn’t going to purposely focus on my home city. What I decided to do was build my brand, which started with writing my book and starting my podcast. I’m putting myself out there as an expert and a person who wants to share their experiences with others. I put myself out to more of a global audience by leveraging LinkedIn and so on. Lo and behold, when I did that, I found my hometown woke up and was curious about who this Chris Spurvey guy was. When I decided to quit my job back in 2017, moving forward was easy. By not focusing on it, I’m not perceived as begging anybody. The people who want to talk to me, they reached out to me, and we go for coffee and it’s taken off from there.
I’ve seen this. I know a lot of people have that concern around. People typically look like the grass is always greener if they’re in a small town and they think that’s a disadvantage. If they’re in a big town, there’s so much competition. If they’re young, it’s, “I don’t have enough experience.” If they’re old, it’s, “I’m too old.” The grass is greener somewhere else. I’m glad that you’ve shared that. Here’s the other question I have for you here, Chris. Through everything that you’ve been doing in this transition from working with Plato then KPMG, now, through your own consulting business working with leaders and teams. What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced within the business that has taught you a lesson or opened your eyes up to an opportunity that maybe you didn’t see before?
The problem is near and dear to me. I found that easy to go out and find a bunch of clients. Now I have seventeen organizations who look at me as their sales strategist, trusted advisor and so on. I’ll be frank, that’s all great and I’m doing extremely well in many regards, but time has become a real factor for me. I’ve hit the ceiling from a time perspective. If I look back to 2017 when I made this transition, my vision was that I was going to leverage some tools in the backend so I wouldn’t have to be always delivering. An online learning management approach. I’m in the process of getting myself reacquainted with that and moving forward with that. I had a person who gave me some advice who said, “Go broad with your offering when you first jump out like this because it will give you an opportunity to fine tune what you truly love to do.” I took his advice and I did that. I now know what I like and what I don’t like and I’m finding multiplier opportunities to spread myself out over more business.
You’re looking now at how to leverage your time more efficiently, more effectively and how to be able to continue growing. These are at capacity right now. It’s a good problem to have. The nice thing is that there are always solutions when you look at it. It sounds like you already looking to some of them around like LMS type of Learning Management System or ideas maybe on productization. There are lots of things there to dig in and I look forward to hearing about those and what you’ve done going forward there. Chris, I want to thank you for coming on, sharing a bit of your journey and some of the best practices that you’ve learned along the way. I also want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work and what you’re up to. What’s the best place for them to go to?
Go to my website, ChrisSpurvey.com and you can subscribe to my newsletter as a part of that. You can get an electronic copy of my book. You’re more than welcome if you want a hard copy of my book, go to Amazon or Chapters here in Canada, and you can get my book. From a social network perspective, LinkedIn is my platform of choice. Check me out there. You can search for my name. I’m the only Chris Spurvey in the world. I look forward to connecting with anybody who’d like to.
Chris, thank you so much.
You’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure.
- It’s Time to Sell: Cultivating the Sales Mind-Set
- It’s Time to Sell on Amazon
- It’s Time to Sell on Chapters
- Chris Spurvey – LinkedIn Account