iMPOWER - empowered to transform

As the largest independent management consultancy focused purely on the public sector, iMPOWER’s strap-line is bold and unambiguous: to help local authorities transform public services.

 With many years’ experience in this area, the consultancy had established an in-depth understanding of both the similarities and differences within and between authorities. In addition, iMPOWER’s size and approach had also enabled the consultancy to create flexible and bespoke solutions benefiting the individual local authority and, ultimately, the public it serves.

To achieve its ambitious growth objectives against stiff competition iMPOWER’s senior management team recognised the need for a radical review of how it managed client relationships.

“In competing with much larger management consultancies,” says director Paul Diamond, “we saw that we had to get much better at building and demonstrating value for our services. At a brand or corporate level too, we had to differentiate the business more strongly around our ability to innovate, to establish credibility with clients in driving fundamental change. To achieve this level of improvement, we had to move away from a ‘product-oriented’ selling style and adopt a fully consultative sales approach.”

This has proved a tough, yet not insurmountable challenge. Working closely with specialist behaviour change consultancy, Huthwaite International, iMPOWER has developed and implemented a tailored training initiative, resulting in the transformation of the sales team.

“The results speak for themselves,” Diamond confirms. “For the first time, we have hit substantially higher year-on-year sales and profit targets – often winning business against the Big 4. We are confident that this improvement will be sustained, as we have put in place a robust blueprint to drive future top and bottom-line growth.”

Speed, not comfort
The details of the solution were quickly identified and agreed. “These centred on three key aspects of successful, consultative selling,” recalls Huthwaite business development consultant, Nigel Owen.

“First, the sales team had to move out of its existing ‘comfort zone’ and develop relationships with more senior influencers and decision-makers,” he confirms. “The sales process within a local authority is complex where the decision making team could include problem owners, budget keepers and door openers. It is critically important for the sales person to expand their contact base to include all three customer types wherever possible – in order to best understand all the issues involved and put forward the most persuasive and appropriate solution.”

“It was also important to engage with clients in a more consultative way, resisting the temptation to leap in too early as ‘the expert’ before the client’s challenge was properly identified and agreed. And finally, better account management would improve conversion rates and speed up the decision-making process.”

Improving client relationships
In order to meet these objectives and enable iMPOWER’s sales team to break into and operate effectively at a higher level within its client base, a four-day training progamme was specially designed which recognised the high level of sales and broader management experience of the directors, assistant directors and managers attending the course.

Key to the success of the training was the inclusion of specialised account management tools and techniques. These were designed to help iMPOWER plan how to navigate through local authorities and the decision making teams, effectively differentiate the consultancy and ensure more effective planning for their sales meetings.

“This was vital,“ says Owen. “In the past, some meetings lacked clear focus, so that all too often there was little or no progress towards securing new business and the sales process was taking too long.”

The bespoke course also supported a company-wide change initiative within iMPOWER, which redefined its value propositions and adopted a much more targeted approach to business development. “Previously, we had chased too many business opportunities, including those which were not suited to our key strengths,” says Diamond. “What we needed was to concentrate our sales effort on those areas where we had a realistic chance of success.”

“In short,” he says, “the training was geared to providing our sales team with the tools and personal skills necessary to get to the right people at the right time - and talk about the right things.”

After taking part in the Huthwaite training, Diamond followed up by running a series of internal coaching sessions to reinforce the skills and techniques learned.

Major impact
“At the start, taking time out of the busy schedules of senior staff was not easy and Huthwaite’s contribution to securing staff buy-in early on was key,” he says, “Feedback today from those who attended the training remains wholly positive.”

“There is no doubt that we now have much greater confidence in identifying and searching out senior staff within local authorities, with a proposition that is different in each case and clearly geared to meeting their requirements.”

“Over the past year, we have achieved more consistent growth through better targeting. We are delivering clear messages to the right people, at the right level, and converting a higher percentage into clients as a result. With Huthwaite’s support we are confident of hitting our growth ambitions for next year.”