Behind the Curtain: Are Sales Consultants Wasting Your Money?

By Tom Searcy

I’ve been living in the world of sales training, writing, hiring and strategy for quite some time now. I’ve had the chance to look behind the curtain and see what’s back there.

And here’s what I’ve found: a lot of misspent money.

The consultants and trainers working in the field are well intentioned, and many are very talented and effective. There is among all of us, however, a myopic view of solutions and consulting.

For example, if I sell selection testing, then I see testing as the solution to everything. If I’m a trainer, then guess what — training is the answer. Process guys love process. Of course, the CRM people believe activity tracking is the panacea … and so on.

The fact is, though, that there’s not a universal solution to a multi-faceted problem. As a result, your risk in buying into one solution to solve all your problems is that you’re bound to overspend on one part and get poor results on another.

The Big Picture

Companies hire my company when they’re ready to double the speed with which they will double their company. We help them develop the strategy, process and techniques for big sales. But such exponential growth is not everyone’s goal. Some companies just want to grow at a more manageable rate. This means that, sometimes — actually a lot of times — I’m the wrong consultant for the job.

Look at it this way:

  • If you want to grow five to 10 percent per year, then skills training with your current sales staff can help you make that improvement. It’s a smaller investment and requires the least amount of organizational change to accomplish it.
  • If you want to grow 10 to 20 percent per year, then you will need to change personnel and the way that you attract and select them. It is a bigger investment in dollars and culture change. If you want to get bigger in this range, you have to bite the bullet and make the choice.
  • If you want to grow 20 percent or more per year, then you can’t just use the same people with some better techniques to get there. You can’t just use new people to sell into your current market. You are going to need a few new players and a much better market/message/sales process strategy to land your transformational accounts.

In the ideal world, you do all three of these because no single approach will give you the sustainable growth and solid sales organization necessary. But because most organizations have a finite amount of resources, sales consultants wind up selling you their solutions as the complete answer. It’s not accurate, and that’s where consultants get a bad name.

The Quartiles

If no one solution is the best for everything, then how do you figure out what is best for you? I believe you should use the Quartiles method: Break down your sales staff in blocks of 25 percentile performers, based upon raw gross sales. Be careful — you can over-analyze this. Just force-rank them by sales and you can evaluate for exceptions later.

When you break down that group, the general guidelines look like this:

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 8.43.46 PM

What you apply universally will kill the productivity of half of your team.

Let me say that again: Whatever you apply to everyone reduces productivity in half of your sales staff. You’ll need to apply a blended approach if you want to dramatically change your sales results as it relates to your team.


  • CRM. If you start using CRM as an activity measurement tool, then your top two quartiles are over-managed and annoyed. You’re wasting their time by managing them like your lower 50 percent. The unintended outcome is that the best performers get marginalized
  • Selection Testing. You’re not going to hire your next rockstar through testing alone. Testing is great for identifying potential. It keeps you away from hiring those who don’t fit the job and dramatically increases the possibility of high-potential candidates who will develop into top-quartile producers. This process doesn’t guarantee all top quartile hires, but it does avoid almost all bottom-quartile performers.
  • Strategy. Half of your team isn’t prepared to learn the strategic and nuanced call-coaching information that you ‘e providing. They will take misunderstood ideas to their customers and confuse them. Strategy is lost on people who need tactics, and those people who want strategy are bored by tactical training that they learned a long time ago.

The Trumps:

Here’s my rule of thumb if you have to make trade-off choices rather than implementing all of these investments at once:

  • Strategy trumps talent;
  • Talent trumps skills;
  • Skills trump activity; and
  • Activity trumps inactivity.

In best-in-class companies, there’s an attention and investment in all four. Picking consultants has to be an outcomes-first consideration. Decide what you want, then look at the changes in which to invest.

And, as always, buyer beware. If someone promises a fast and effective answer, it’s probably neither. And if anyone promises a universal answer, they probably don’t understand the problem in the first place.

The founder and CEO of Hunt Big Sales, Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account selling and has made a career out of doing big deals and creating explosive growth. Read more about Tom here.
Originally published: Jan 13, 2012

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