Removing the Biggest Obstacle to Success in Professional Services
When Hank told me that I had to develop a plan to take our fledgling professional services organization from $12 million in annual revenue to $40 million, I immediately dusted off my resume and wondered what my next career move would be. Hank was the Senior Vice President of Sales and Services for my new employer, a $300 million software company.
I had been working for this mid-sized software company for a little less than 6 months. I knew when I took the job that I was being hired to grow the professional services side of their business, but I was not told by how much. My career up until then had been spent working for large IT consulting firms. Although I had seen those firms grow during my career with them, the growth had not been as dramatic as what I had been challenged with now.
As a partner with large consulting firms, we were typically expected to bring in $2 to $3 million in annual revenue. At least that is the number that was discussed around the coffee pot. My primary role for the 10 years I was a partner with those firms was business development, but in those 10 years I was never given a specific goal. I surely was never asked to increase revenue by almost 4 times.
To add to my fears, the vice president of software sales for North America had told me during the interview process that I would not last more than six months. “Our software is shrink wrapped”, he said. “There is no need for professional services. Our customers won’t pay the fees and my salesmen won’t sell your services.”
Although my new employer was collecting fees for some of their services, they gave away a lot of services to help close software sales, and they were definitely not known for their service offerings. The two most senior people in their services organization did not even know if the projects they worked on were profitable.
When I overcame the initial shock of the challenge Hank had presented me, I decided to assemble my directors and inform them of the $40 million goal.
They were even more shocked than I was. “He must be nuts!” They said, referring to Hank. “You need to go back and tell him it can’t be done.” They knew that this was not an option. Telling Hank it couldn’t be done would be committing suicide. He would be finding my replacement before I left his office.
Somehow we needed to figure out how to reach the goal or we would all be looking for new jobs.
After the dust settled, we put our heads together and spent the next two days analyzing the obstacles that stood in the way of us growing our professional services business.
In the course of that two days something miraculous happened. The more time we spent focused on the goal and working through the issues, the stronger our belief in our ability to reach the goal became. Our confidence grew hour by hour.
By the time the two days was over we had totally turned around. It wasn’t going to be a cake walk, but we now had a plan we believed in. Two weeks later we walked into Hank’s office and sold him on our plan. We let him know what resources we needed from him, what we wanted him to commit to, and what we would deliver in return.
In less than three years we had not only reached the $40 million, we surpassed it by $15 million.
As I reflect back on the experience, I am convinced the process we went through to get to the point of believing in the goal was the most critical step on our journey to success. Getting the rest of the company to believe in us was another matter, for another time.
That has been the only time in my career I have worked for anyone who understood the importance of believing in a goal. Hank could have just told us our goal was $40 million and left it at that. By forcing us to develop a plan and work through the details; he knew we would not only convince ourselves of our ability to reach the goal, we would also develop ownership in the goal.