Crisp DNA

The inner workings of a rather different consulting company

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How we do sales

Crisp consultants mostly sell themselves and each other. Most of our sales is reactive (clients contacting us) rather than proactive (us contacting clients). That’s why we don’t have a sales department (although we do have a business developer, explained further down) - our strong brand minimizes the need to “chase” clients.

As a consultant or contractor, timing is a huge challenge. How likely is it that my next client, client B, will come knocking on the door precisely when I’m done with client A? Forget it! Instead, client B will get in touch while I’m still busy with client A. Or I’ll finish with client A, and there’s no other client knocking on the door. Consultants tend to have too much work or too little work, never just enough.

The solution is load balancing - having a group of trusted colleagues that you can send clients to and receive clients from. And that’s exactly what Crisp is - a bunch of trusted colleagues!

The bun protocol is our main tool for routing client requests between each other. It helps connect the right client with the right consultant at the right time, which benefits everyone! And it works pretty OK without any kind of central control :o)

How do we handle conflicts, such as two consultants competing for the same client gig?

See the bun protocol page for answers to that and many similar questions about how we route clients internally.

Do we have a “finders fee” for finding client gigs for each other?

Nope. If you pass a client on to a colleague, you won’t earn a provision or finder’s fee or anything like that. Why? Because the underlying purpose of Crisp is not to maximize profit, it is to maximize happiness. We earn money from our clients, not from each other.

Once upon a time, we actually did have a finder’s fee model. Each client had an “owner” (the person who was first contacted by the client, or the person who first started working with that client), and we had a spreadsheet to keep track of which consultant owned which client. If other consultants work with that client, they had to pay 10% of their revenue to the “owner”. After a few years we realized that this model wasn’t helping us at all. It was just causing a bunch of bureaucracy, sub-optimization, and confusion. Who “owns” a huge client like Ericsson? Do I still count as owner for client X if they get bought by client Y? Is ownership permanent or time-limited, and if so how do I “renew” it? Needless to say, we dumped the model many years ago and haven’t missed it one bit. Instead the guiding principle is “what goes around, comes around”. Today I give you a client, tomorrow someone else gives me a client, and over time it more or less evens out. 100% “fairness” just isn’t worth pursuing.

What about the business developer role?

Our business developer adds an element of pro-activeness and long-term strategy to our otherwise mostly reactive sales process.

As opposed to most traditional consulting companies, her job is not to maximize profit or sell as many consulting hours as possible. Instead, she optimizes for the happiness index, which means learning and adapting to each person’s individual needs. Some want to work a lot, some don’t. Some want a lot of help with sales, some want just a little bit of support, some don’t need any help at all.

The business developer complements the consultants by focusing on things like long-term strategy, seeing connections between different clients we’re working with, networking with possible future strategic clients, spotting market trends, etc. As an individual consultant that kind of stuff is harder, because you spend most of your time in the trenches with client X.

The business developer also provides practical assistance around the sales process, things like contracts and negotiation that many consultants are bad at (or just don’t like dealing with).

Does the business developer earn a provision?

No. The business developer is strictly speaking a contractor, but her only client is Crisp and she charges a fixed fee per month.

We’ve found that monetary incentive schemes invite sub-optimization (yes, even in sales). People tend to focus on whatever gives them a bigger bonus, instead of what truly benefits the company. Instead we just pay a good fee and trust that the business developer works in the best interests of the company (just like everyone else at Crisp).

Monetary incentives are often pitched as way to motivate people to work smart and improve, but we find that transparency and feedback is a much simpler and better way.

Is the business developer an employee?

No, she is a contractor. We let people choose which model they want. Our default is to minimize the number of Crisp employees (because it causes more admin overhead), so almost everyone at Crisp is strictly speaking a subcontractor rather than an employee. But the office team wanted a more traditional employee-employer setup, which is fine.

What power does the business developer have?

No formal powers at all! Although, like with all Crispers, there’s plenty of informal power to go around :o)

In more typical consulting companies, sales people and business developers “own” their “resources” and can move and allocate them to clients as needed. At Crisp, however, we have no managers; people are people (not resources) and are free to do whatever they want! Since the business developer can’t force anyone to do anything, she needs to work in close collaboration with the consultants. Basically, check with Jim before offering him to a client!

This makes the job a bit more complex, but the returns are very high, because motivated consultants do a much better job.