Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in the numbers of professionals looking to either transition back into professional services, or move into it for the first time. Going from industry into practice as a junior partner, director, senior associate or partner-designate can be a good way of making it to equity partner. As with all the routes to making partner, this one has its benefits and challenges.
Remember that a partner has to handle client relationships, ensure that new business is coming into the firm, and keep expenses in line. Partners also meet periodically to make decisions regarding hiring, firing and compensation decisions, as well as the overall direction of the firm.
When moving back from industry into practice, one of the greatest challenges is the fact that you may not have had to sell anything for a number of years. As a senior member of any firm - whether legal, accountancy or consultancy - you will be expected to bring in your own work. Or at least have a strong black book of senior-level decision-makers who will be falling over themselves to buy from you and your new firm.
So how can I learn to sell services again?
The majority of people at senior management or leadership level who decide to move to practice typically end up in a Big 4 or Top 10 firm. With the recent growth of service lines within professional services firms, the appetite to hire industry experts or leaders has definitely grown. Areas such as Finance Transformation, Accounting Advisory, Strategy & Operations, People Advisory, etc. are all strongly focused on developing strategies for changing or scaling companies. Your industry experience could be invaluable here.
If you look at the new marketplace you will be joining, I expect you will find that your competitors will all offer the same or a similar type of service. What many of your peers within the professions haven’t yet realised is that to stand out they really must specialise, and not try and cling on to being the generalist who can work within all sectors.
When you have been in the industry, it tends to give you a strong specialism, normally within a sector. The key to selling yourself is to realise that you need to capitalise on your industry expertise and network. We have spoken with many professionals who have made this transition and they consistently underestimate how their specialist sectorial knowledge puts them ahead of competitors. That same knowledge is also key to the sales success - building relationships with people is almost a given for anyone who has progressed to a leadership role within industry or practice. Having to sell a service is essentially just selling your own individual experience as the USP, so if you are a market or industry expert that is exactly why a company will hire your services. That, in my book, is selling.
Finding the time to sell
Perhaps the biggest challenge to selling professional firmS services is getting the time to do so. Most firms will want to make sure that they get their monies worth right from the word go. This means that you could find yourself with a high chargeable time target. This doesn’t leave much time for you to nurture your network and stock your pipeline with opportunities. If this state of affairs continues, what you will find is that you could gain a reputation as a great person to give work to or use to strengthen a bid, but not partner material as you can’t go out and find your own work.
Is it marketing or selling which is the problem?
Often, professionals struggle with the idea of marketing their skillset. Most are conservative and reserved, but developing a successful business within a practice means promoting your service at every possible chance. The majority of Big 4 and Top 10 firms will have a dedicated marketing team who should be well versed in developing strong marketing strategies to generate interest and business leads.
How do you generate work-winning meetings or conversations?
Before you ever actually set foot into a firm, you should work on developing your network, from former colleagues and business acquaintances, or anyone who’s relevant to your new line of work. You’d be surprised how quickly you can fill an Excel sheet with potential contacts.
Promote industry-specific content on your LinkedIn profile and be seen as an industry expert before you announce your return or move to professional services. It's equivalent to building a business from the ground up. You may have world-class support teams and peers, but nothing will work unless you do.
To conclude, the transition to professional services can be a very astute career move for those with ambition and people skills, and can be very lucrative depending on the area of specialism. Usually speaking, if a firm is open to bringing a professional in from industry at a senior level it’s due to the high demand for, or potential of, advisory work in that space.