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Consultants pressured to sell

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These days, Mike Jette, a senior IT consultant at Tigris Inc., is spending less time advising clients and more time trying to scare up new ones.

"The culture that’s been promoted is to make sure that everyone is aware that they are active participants in the sales process," Jette said. "It’s equally important to some of the technical work we’re doing."

Jette’s not alone. Battered by dwindling client spending, consultants at IT and Big 5 firms alike are being asked—and trained—by their company’s leaders to become better marketers. Rank-and-file consultants used to advising clients on router selection and code writing are now being pressured to work their Rolo-dexes and bring in new business.

Big 5 firms, including KPMG Consulting Inc. and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young L.L.C., and e-business-centric shops such as Tigris and Cotelligent Inc. are leading the way in pushing their consultants to market and giving them the education they need to do so.

What remains to be seen is whether the firms’ junior advisors can convert themselves into plain-speaking closers.

For younger consultants used to having more work than they can handle, the slowdown is a shocking reversal of fortune. For their firms’ leaders, many of whom have counted on their salespeople or rainmaker partners to keep the "pipeline"—consulting jargon for engagements—flowing, the changing environment is equally distressing.

Although hard figures aren’t available, some industry watchers estimate client spending has fallen by as much as half. Smaller consultancies are most at risk and have the most on the line with regard to marketing.

"Everybody’s putting emphasis on the pipeline," said Allan Steinmetz, CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting Inc. and former head of marketing at Andersen Consulting, predecessor to Accenture. "If they don’t replace the pipeline in 45 to 60 days, they’re out of business."

To make matters worse, consultants are battling a public relations backlash brought on by the demise of companies, including MarchFirst Inc., which left clients hanging when they shuttered.

"You have a more cynical customer base, and consultants on some level dug their own graves," said Nadine Leonard, VP-marketing strategy at Modem Media Inc.

Also working against the consultancies is a bias among some veteran advisers against marketing and selling. "If you’re my age or older, you were taught that [selling] was bad," said Dean McMann, CEO of The Ransford Group, Houston, a leading advisory firm to consultancies.

Indeed, for big consultancies, the anti-selling bias comes from a legacy in accounting, a marketing backwater. "Marketing in professional services firms is still very much a frontier discipline," said Rick Segal, CEO of Cincinnati-based HSR Business to Business Inc.

Tigris tackles marketing

Unlike many of its technology advisory competitors, New York-based Tigris has mandated that its consultants know how to market and puts them through selling bootcamps to get them up to speed. It’s also recently tied its advisors’ compensation to their success at bringing in business.

"Everyone on staff in a consulting role is considered a salesperson," said Chief Marketing Officer David Camp, who was hired nine months ago to create a sales-centric culture at Tigris. "There are formal expectations to be met, there are targets and they are rewarded on those targets."

Tigris’s unusual approach turns a handful of consultants into primarily marketers, a move that one industry watcher said is shrewd.

"It’s going to have to be a permanent and ongoing change," said Raymond Manganelli, senior managing director at New York-based Strategic Decisions Group. "Some consultants need to have a primary role where selling is first and performance second."

Camp, formerly VP-marketing at GovWorks Inc., said Tigris shuns having a dedicated sales team. Salespeople often over-promise their consultants’ abilities, something that can scar a firm’s reputation, he said.

"Salespeople can be too slick and too much and get themselves into trouble because they don’t understand the solution," Camp said. "[Tigris’ consultants] are taught to be the perfect product and the seller of that product. We see it as much more efficient to be both."

Cotelligent, a Tigris competitor, does have dedicated salespeople, and leaders view them as key to the firm’s marketing formula. San Francisco-based Cotelligent recently started a program in which its consultants work together with its salespeople at trade shows to market the firm to potential clients.

The approach leads to an integrated marketing message that works with clients, said Greg Duke, VP-sales. "You have the gain between sales and technical knowledge," he said. "Everybody sells at Cotelligent."

Big 5 marketing

In the early 1990s, KPMG Consulting became one of the first consulting firms to start building a sales force, which today numbers 200 people. Other consultancies, both large and small, followed its example.

In an effort to stay ahead of the pack, McLean, Va.-based KPMG has begun training its consultants to sell, as well. Last year, it started putting its senior manager consultants through a series of relationship marketing courses.

Hundreds of consultants have now been through the courses, which are meant to teach the importance of keeping current clients satisfied, said Ross Curtis, exec VP-worldwide sales. "It’s about the whole importance of developing long-term relationships," he said.

For a Big 5 firm such as KPMG, where a handful of big-spending Fortune 500 clients bring in much of the business, the approach is invaluable. "You’re expected to sell your own business, and it’s something we’ve done very well," said Deborah Eastman, senior VP-field marketing.

KPMG competitor Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, meanwhile, recently started putting its top 500 North American consultants through marketing training courses, said Randy Love, VP-service offerings. Previously, only its top 50 were trained. The firm has 12,000 consultants in the U.S. and Canada.

"It’s tough out there, so we’ve put the marketing spin on our service offerings," Love said. The Paris-based firm has also begun supplying its top 500 consultants with sales kits, and offering courses that educate them on how to position the firm from a marketing perspective to clients. It has also begun running weekly marketing Webcasts, the most recent of which attracted 100 consultants. "They educate on our points of view, and how to position these to clients," he said.

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