Before I give you the answer, you need to empathise with the problem, so bare with me!

This client’s challenge is no different from the one we’ve all faced and continue to grapple with in SME consulting firms…How to get the consultants in your firm to have the machine-like discipline to consistently and persistently play their part in business development.

You know the scene…

Get on the phone, call your contacts and arrange some meetings

The pipeline is running dry, feast is about to turn into famine and you respectfully ask your consultants to call their contacts, arrange some meetings and develop some leads. They have the will but they don’t have the time, delivery comes first and when a rare window of opportunity opens up to get on the phone, a needy client calls and the window closes again. For all the calls they made before they got distracted, most of their contacts weren’t available anyway! Even if the window stays open, you then hit your second issue – disorganisation!

We really ought to put all our contacts into one place!

Your consultants pick up contacts one way or another, usually held in the form of business cards and email contacts. These contacts get stored all over the place and there’s certainly no management knowledge of where these contacts fit in terms of their position in the relationship pipeline. Notwithstanding the damage these things do a decent calling campaign, equity value is haemorrhaging from the firm because there’s no management control over one of its biggest assets. You’ve thought about investing in a special CRM technology like Seibel or, but it’s too costly, too complicated and your consultants wouldn’t use it anyway.

So what’s the big question I hope you’re asking by now?

How can we get more meetings than we’ve ever had before, using a system that busy consultants will actually want to use?

The answer is staring you in the face as you read this email, no, really!

The client of mine is using plain old Microsoft Outlook, I’ve seen it in action and believe me it works. They were introduced to this simple solution by SBR Consulting who specialise in the development of high performance selling for consulting and IT firms.

Here’s how to do it. I won’t go into great detail because you can work it out for yourself and it really is very simple. Go into Microsoft Outlook, then Contacts and open up any individual record. In the bottom right hand corner you will see a button called Categories. Create eight new categories from A1* to A7. Assign one of these categories to every contact using this relationship pipeline grading:

A7 - the place to keep the details of all contacts that are not prospects
A6 - all unqualified contacts that must be called and moved to another category
A5 - first meeting set up
A4 - long term prospects in 7 to 12 months
A3 - potential clients in 3 to 6 months
A2 - prospects where proposals are underway
A1 - clients with whom we have no current or future business planned
A1* - clients with whom we're doing more business

This is just one example as used by my client, but you can customise it in a way that serves your business the best. However remember, this is really IMPORTANT!

You can choose whatever categories you like, but they must create a relationship and meeting pipeline, leave no gaps for contacts to slip through, and no hiding place for contact owners in the firm. Put a little monthly action plan and reporting process around this and imagine the management control it will give you over your contact database and sales pipeline. Your consultants will feel accountable because no one likes the wedge to be thin in the A2 to A5 categories and thick in A6, and have to explain why nothing’s moved when they get to the next monthly sales meeting!

What I like about this is that it costs nothing, it’s quick to implement, it’s not complicated and it drives equity value. Best of all, you can take action on this right now, there’s nothing stopping you.

About SBR Consulting

This idea was introduced into my client by SBR Consulting and it’s just one of the many tools they have in their armoury to help companies develop high performance sales skills and habits. If you’re in any doubt about how to implement this, or want to get some momentum from people who know how to make it happen, I recommend that you call Lars Tewes at SBR Consulting on +44 (0)20 7367 5061 or email If you’d like to find out more, visit their website at

About the Author

Paul Collins is Managing Director of business advisory firm Equiteq. Equiteq works exclusively in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the European consulting industry. For more information on Equiteq go to or call +44 (0)1252 724264.