Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Unleashed - How to Thrive as an Independent Professional

Nov 13, 2023

In this episode of Unleashed, Will Bachman talks to Scott Ratliff,  who is a principal at the search firm Beecher Reagan. Beecher Reagan is a specialty retained executive search firm that works across three industries: professional services, digital and technology services, and private equity. As a principal at Beecher Reagan, Scott leads the commercial excellence sales and marketing practice, focusing on growth roles across these industries. Scott talks about commercial leaders within professional services, specifically in three forms: true Hunter BD people, who are responsible for going out into the market, setting meetings, driving revenue, and bringing in new logos; a hybrid, who owns client relationships, farming large accounts, finding new lines of business within those accounts; and a commercial operations type of role, who sets up and builds out a sales structure, identifying the right people to process technology to build or develop a sales culture within a firm. Depending on the size of the firm, its growth journey, and the talent available, firms may have specific roles specific to one of these verticals or firms looking for someone who can come in and play across.

Scott explains that some types of professional services firms have people who are separate from the actual delivery teams brought in as commercial salespeople effect. The traditional model in consulting involves starting as an analyst and working your way up to the manager level, where you shift into being commercially wired and focused. However, there has been a spike in commercial leadership in several places, such as the lower middle market, high growth, emerging market, and larger firms looking to build out new functional capabilities or geography. In addition to selling services, commercial leaders should also understand how to sell services specific to that functional area. This helps firms continue to supercharge growth and drive revenue.

The Roles of Hunter/BD People in High Growth Firms

Scott discusses the roles of Hunter/BD people in high-growth firms. He explains that these roles can range from five to $10 million firms looking to grow organically to $25 million and potentially leverage M&A. The role involves understanding prospective clients, targeting companies, gathering data for an effective approach, outreach, scheduling meetings, and creating a lead generation engine. The Hunter BD person's role is crucial in identifying potential clients and building relationships with them. They are responsible for taking initial calls, developing relationships, and deciding whether to bring in a partner or subject matter expert. Different firms have different compensation structures, with some expecting the sales leader to close business and the delivery team to execute or the role may be to generate meetings. There are two types of Hunter BD profiles: those who understand the business well enough to take the sales cycle from start to finish, build relationships, understand the selling proposition, and close deals. Another version of the role  involves supercharging what partners do well, pitching services, and understanding the problem statement of potential buyers. Scott suggests that the effectiveness of each role depends on the business's needs at its current stage of growth and the resources available. It is important to consider the business's staffing and talent requirements when choosing between meeting setters and sales leaders.

Sales Success Strategies

Scott emphasizes the need for a combination of strategies to achieve success in sales. First, a strong strategy is needed. Second, having the right technology in place to generate strong leads is crucial. He shares a few steps and mentions how important relationships are in selling services. People who have worked in the industry and built up a network can leverage their network to sell directly to potential buyers or introduce them to potential buyers. The best salespeople are not only doing one or the other, but also setting the engine, pursuing cold outreach, getting their story out there to the right people, and leveraging their own network and relationships. The typical background of successful salespeople is in the digital and technology services space, where they have exceptional sales training programs. However, when hiring commercial talent into professional services, it is important to see their experience in selling services and speaking to different types of customers. In conclusion, a combination of strategies, including cold calling and cold outreach, is necessary to achieve success in the sales world. It is essential to find individuals with a strong sales DNA and experience in both sales and professional services to ensure a successful transition into the industry.

Evaluation Process for Sales Candidates

Scott emphasizes the importance of communication skills and the ability to quickly connect with people within an organization. He also emphasizes the importance of talking in numbers and making things simple for clients. The typical compensation range for salespeople is typically between 150,000 and 250,000, depending on their experience level. However, at the high end, senior sales people typically earn between $350 and $400,000. Scott talks about attracting talent.  One of the most common questions asked by candidates is whether they are ready to walk away from their current position with existing relationships and recurring business. To help incentivize or help with the ramp period, firms should focus on having someone who can bring existing relationships with buyers who are fit for the role. This could include senior executives, civilian clients, or heads of business units at large companies. In summary, Scott emphasizes the importance of communication skills, numbers, and a strong understanding of the company's business processes when evaluating candidates for sales roles.

Support Teams and Building a Commercial Team

Scott suggests that hiring someone at this level should build a commercial team around them. This could include someone handling marketing, leveraging LinkedIn, and generating leads through marketing. A research person is also crucial in this team. In a professional services firm, the number of people involved in lead sales is considered a team number. The first 30-60 days should be spent identifying the right setup of the team and finding ways to make the most out of their resources. The sales leader or Chief Commercial Officer would lead the team in lead generation, research, and building lists for target audiences. The research capabilities may include using tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator to build lists and target different businesses. The audience for the firm will impact the size of the research function, but it is essential to leverage existing technology for lead generation and segmenting for cold outreach. By targeting the right people and buyers, the team can create targeted messaging and drive sales growth. 

Compensation for Sales Leaders 

Scott discusses the compensation for sales leaders in a professional service firm, including the process metrics for hiring salespeople, such as meeting frequency and revenue generation. For a salesperson at a higher level, the goal is to generate millions of dollars in revenue. However, the number of meetings may vary depending on the size of the deal and the industry. For a sales leader at a 150,000 base, the typical number of meetings would be two meetings per week. The number of meetings depends on the size of the deal and volume expectation. If the salesperson is selling large deals or farming accounts, the number of meetings may decrease. However, the goal is to maintain double-digits of meetings once the business is up and running. When hiring a sales leader, professionals should consider their organization's capability to handle downturns and be agile in their offerings. Scott believes that hiring a sales leader can help the company adapt to market changes and build new capabilities. By identifying different markets and products, the sales leader can help the company handle downturns and rapid changes. The best sales leaders are creative and can sell their product in various places, allowing the firm to hire against these expectations. This approach allows the sales leader to continue growing and function in challenging times.

Incentive Compensation for Commercial Leaders

Scott shares what a company should address before bringing in a sales leader. He discusses the normal rates of success expected in a sales leader and the incentive compensation for commercial leaders, and the different ways firms structure it. He talks about the various models for building a strategy,  how long the new logo belongs to the salesperson, and how much of that is shared with the partner who delivers the work, leading to recurring business. Some firms have a higher volume, a less consolidated sales model where the income is going elsewhere, while others focus on maintaining relationships and expanding on new accounts. Scott emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the core DNA of successful salespeople, which includes competitive spirit, motivation, commercial mode, and strong communication skills. The best salespeople are motivated, commercially awaited, and have a piano driver of their own success and fulfillment through their work. They also have strong interpersonal skills and a sense of people. By testing for these qualities and the experience of the sales leader, organizations can feel comfortable in the value they can bring to their organization. 



00:40 Recruiting commercial roles in professional services firms

01:49 Commercial leadership roles in professional services firms

06:14 Sales roles and responsibilities in consulting firms

12:04 Sales strategies for professional services

17:56 Evaluating sales candidates for consulting roles

20:38 Sales compensation and ramp time for high-potential salespeople

25:32 Building a commercial organization for a consulting or professional services firm

31:15 Hiring a sales leader for a professional service firm

36:25 Sales leadership and incentive compensation strategies








Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which has a mission of connecting independent management consultants with one another, creating opportunities for members to meet, build relationships, and share lessons learned. Learn more at