About a year ago at MetaLab, everything was growing quickly. We’d just landed four massive projects, and had hired a dream team to execute on the creative side. After some discussion, we decided that business development needed to grow right alongside the rest of the consultancy. After all, a bigger design and development staff meant that more work needed to flow in, so the math seemed obvious. We went out, and we found a couple of tremendously talented people to start beefing up the sales team.
It was mere months later that we realized we’d never really asked ourselves why our sales process had been so trustworthy and — most importantly—successful. For years, we had been getting the big projects that we wanted, and the company was growing steadily. At this particular point in time, we were addicted to explosive growth.
The funny thing is, we’d already found the sales process that worked for us. We just hadn’t realized it yet.
For as long as we’d been around, we’d had trust in our sales process. We couldn’t say why. Sales was always done as anti-sales—no scripts, no stuffy meetings, always retaining the ability to walk away. Never aggressively pursuing sales, because the next great lead always seemed to be right around the corner. People were either talking to me or Andrew right off the bat, and we knew exactly which type of client we wanted to work with.
When we turned our focus to growing the sales team, we took inspiration from successful SaaS business models. The first thing we did was hire excellent salespeople. They were great: intelligent, motivated, fans of the company. You know, though, SaaS makes extensible sales look easy—and it is: if revenues keep up, SaaS sales can be expanded infinitely while following a simple onboarding process—since they present a particular value proposition, a clear pricing model, and copy that clearly communicates the what and the why. All that’s left for the SaaS salesperson to do is the perfunctory answering of a few lingering questions and a gentle neck massage.
By moving these sales principles into our consultancy, we were trying to put a round peg in a square hole. And we weren’t giving ourselves enough credit.
Before we started experimenting, sales always worked well for us because of our intuitive understanding of what we were selling.We weren’t selling a product, we weren’t selling a subscription. We were selling MetaLab: our origin stories, our rationales, our experiences, and the scars to prove that we’d been there and slogged through it all. Good clients—the ones that you should be working with exclusively—don’t care about a sales pitch. If you’re a consultancy, they want to buy into you and your company, not your ‘product’.
What you’re really selling is the path to the final product, and using your experience to assure them that this isn’t your first rodeo. And it’s only those people on your team who have walked through the fire that can sell this with compassion, interest, and the ability to execute. It’s that simple.
Your consultancy’s salesforce cannot be comprised of people who got a crash course in why your company is great and successful: it needs to be people who understand this intuitively. A line from “Kyoko’s House” by Yukio Mishima comes to mind: “Stage blood is not enough.”
Realizing this, it began to dawn on me that in many ways, we were dooming our new and talented sales team by ignoring the successful and gratifying sales process of earlier times. Within months, both of these salespeople ended up leaving the company, and when this happened, we decided not to experiment further with business development expansion. Looking at it one way, we were denying ourselves an opportunity for limitless revenues; looking at it another way, we were diluting our services by offering them up to people as nothing more than a product detached from our passion, expertise, and experience.
Our business development team did great work and even landed large projects. So yes, we were getting work, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were getting it the wrong way. Now we’re back to where we started, and what we’ve lost in potential revenue we are gaining in quality work, and quality work comes from selling that doesn’t require a pitch. Things never felt as right as they did when Brandon, Jason, Andrew, and I were driving sales.
So here is the lesson, as I’ve extracted it from our story: leave the selling to the people who know your consultancy best, even if it feels like a lateral move. In our case, that’s our department head, our founder, and our directors—the senior people whose once fresh faces are now ravaged by MetaLab battle scars. Nothing contributes to buying resistance from clients more than the feeling that you won’t be able to guide their project through the hard times: the brick walls, the tense meetings, the endless revisions, the uncertainties. Everything else is just sales.