Everyone agrees that most of the value of a professional consulting firm comes from the people within the organization. In fact, staff in a consulting business are so important that ‘consultant loyalty’ is one of Equiteq’s 8 levers of equity value. So if you want to grow your firm with a view to selling it one day, then nurturing and developing your staff has to be one of your priorities. Unfortunately, when looking to improve financials prior to sale, training is one of the first budgets to be cut. However, this strategy is undertaken at your peril and will end up doing more harm than good.
To build value, your staff team needs to have a shared language and consistent ways of working. This will allow different groups of consultants to come together quickly to form a cohesive unit for each client engagement, meaning truly chargeable work starts more quickly. This ultimately protects your margins and when the value of the whole exceeds the sum of its parts, your bottom line performance will benefit, meaning you’ll be more appealing to buyers.
Distance learning can be used to embed individual technical skills and professional techniques, but it cannot give individuals the expertise and skills required to work together as a team, face to face with your clients. Teamwork can only be successfully learnt by taking small groups of your staff ‘off the clock’ into a safe learning environment. Yes: into a classroom environment. This is proven over and over again by the brand-leading professional businesses — there is no short cut.
Naturally while you might want to train everyone at once, financial constraints often mean some prioritization is necessary. I advise that sales training be the first priority. All consultants should be trained in selling on, selling further services to a client they’re working with. This skill is an essential part of their kit bag and will be the bedrock of your bottom line performance. From my many years of consulting experience, only about 5% of staff in your team will have a real talent for new sales; these are the ones who should be trained to make cold calls and bring in brand new clients.
Your second priority for training should be in delivery. Some consultants may balk at the idea of delivery training, believing that they know best. But having your whole team trained in the same processes and ways of working means that on a new engagement, the time taken for that group of your consultants to get up and running is dramatically reduced. Every minute they’re working on the client’s issues, rather than on getting the group assembled, is less potential overrun that you need to worry about.
The third priority should be your management team. They rarely spend enough time on training and, especially if they’re planning to sell in the next two to three years, they may see no reason to invest in their own leadership skills. However, leading and motivating your staff team to continue growing your business in the run up to a sale is no small feat. Dedicating time away from clients and the business to develop your leadership team’s skills is essential.
Competition for good quality consultants is tough; they will be the difference between your consulting organization growing profitably and reaching a successful sale, or your hopes for a sale being disappointed. Your staff will become more loyal to your business and will build its value if they feel valued. Investing in proper group learning and development is therefore critically important to your value generation and long-term success.
If you are preparing to sell your consulting firm and would like to discuss your plans, please get in touch.
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