When JA Consulting carried out research to establish the success factors when selling professional services and how things had changed since the pre-global downturn years, we discovered the critical factors that really make a difference.

Take a look at what the research showed firms should be doing.

We identified 17 Success Factors from researching pre-downturn sales literature and recent publications:

  • Adapts to different personalities
  • Asks questions effectively
  • Builds rapport
  • Builds relationships based on trust over time
  • Closes the sale effectively
  • Delivers added value and insights
  • Delivers compelling messages using a range of media
  • Delivers persuasive pitches/presentations
  • Follows a sales process
  • Handles objections effectively
  • Influences people to buy
  • Listens effectively
  • Negotiates effectively
  • Profitably manages the client account
  • Recognised as the go-to-person/expert
  • Sells benefits not just features and advantages
  • Writes compelling proposals

The 17 Success Factors were then grouped into three catagories.

Then we asked sales professionals which ones they thought were important.

We surveyed Partners and senior fee earners from different professional services firms and asked them to rate the success factors on a scale of 1-8 of importance.


The top five success factors are all in the RELATE & PERSUADE group. The key factors all relate to how you build truly effective relationships to win work.

1. Builds relationships based on trust over time
2. Listens effectively
3. Asks questions effectively
4. Builds rapport
5. Adapts to different personalities

The next three highest factors were in the BUILD VALUE group:

6. Delivers added value and insights
7. Profitably manages the client account
8. Recognised as the go-to-person/expert

APPLIES (SALES) TECHNIQUES had some of the lower rated factors, such as, perhaps surprisingly, Follows a Sales Process (SF 16).

Build business relationships that are truly valuable to the client

The top rated factor to ‘Build relationships based on trust over time‘ (SF 1), was defined as ‘Develops relationships with a broad range of targets/clients over time, in order to gain trust to generate the desire to buy’. That is one of those things that is very easy to say but somehow very difficult to do. The key is to make the relationship truly valuable to the client. In too many cases the relationship is purely “social”, “we get on” therefore we have a relationship.

That is not enough to cause the desire to buy!

There has been a lot said by many about trusting relationships in the professional arena and it is clear that despite the challenges of recent years, they remain the most important factor for partners and senior fee earners when selling….but building those relationships takes time.

And the people who need to do it are often your most valuable resource.


How are you helping people to build relationships that are less time consuming?

Processes can be used to review, map and prioritise relationship plans, but often people still don’t focus on relationship building. Why? If small things make a big difference in sales, such as Effective listening (SF 2) and Effective questioning (SF 3), how clear are business development expectations to your people? Also, how are people being measured, and are your measures aligned to achieve your growth plans? Without this clarity many professionals will focus on lower factors which, while seemingly productive, aren’t necessarily the most efficient and effective ways to build long-term, productive relationships.

This research shows it’s important to Build Rapport (SF 4) and to Adapt to Different Personalities (SF 5). We know from other research that firms attract people who are motivated to become technical experts and may say things like, “I didn’t join the profession to be a salesman”. This can affect their confidence and the amount of importance they place on developing ‘soft’ relationship skills.

So what does all this mean for Partners and fee earners of professional services firms?

The research is clear – and supported by many other studies – developing and harvesting relationships is really important when selling. What this latest study does is raise a number of questions about relating and persuading skills in the upturn. If good relationships convert to paid work, why is it much more difficult to build and maintain them than it appears and why don’t people do it well?

We believe it is a lot to do with confidence and leadership and we have some strong views on how that can be addressed – slightly too complex to go into here – but we challenge your firm to ask us what you could be doing differently to build greater success.

Consider the leadership messages within your firm. Ask yourself:


Do you value business development and selling skills, or is it all about utilisation?
How much time are partners investing in developing others to sell?
When is it important enough for your fee earners to really focus on developing sales competencies?


Here's how Partners and senior fee earners ranked all the success factors in order of importance.

Other Case Studies

All the work we do is based on deep experience and we utilise the most comprehensive research sources to ensure that whatever we do will deliver results. Our broad experience means we can quickly make interventions that are pragmatic and built on what the best do – and often brought to life with real case illustrations.

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JA Consulting delivers development capability across a range of business environments – from the Defence industry to professional services – the typical situations dealt with range from few £ thousands to £ billions – and at all levels in industry.