Outsourcing is the rage for virtually every back office function from tech support, to accounting, fulfillment, customer service, and compliance. Even law departments are outsourced to India and other less developed countries because the labor is cheaper. So, I suppose it should not be a surprise that sales outsourcing companies have been popping up recently, offering to undertake the revenue generation function for businesses.
Selling Can Be Nerve-Racking
I can see why the suppliers think they have happened across a winner. Almost everyone, including many salespeople, is uncomfortable with selling. To some, selling feels like going on a job interview. Your voice is shaky, your stomach is turning, your palms are sweaty, your heart is racing. You might be tempted to trade your first-born to avoid having to experience those emotions on a regular basis.
But is it a good idea? Putting aside, for the moment, the ethics rules that apply to lawyers, is sales outsourcing generally good for any business?
Factors to Consider before Outsourcing
I would not presume to decide for you, but I will give you some points to consider as you’re making the decision. First and foremost, sales isn’t really a back office function. It’s how you earn revenue, and making money is why you are engaged in a for-profit enterprise. Money’s ability to keep you in business makes sales as important as the goods and services that you produce and provide to consumers. If fact, some companies, including Apple, outsource the production of their products and focus their efforts on research and development, design, and marketing. A company that is willing to outsource production quality would appear to view revenue and, by extension, sales as more important than the stuff it is selling. So, do you feel comfortable outsourcing the most important aspect of your business?
Another factor to consider is the level of service the outsourcing company is likely to provide on your behalf. Will there be dogs barking, motorcycles humming, babies crying, and car horns blowing during an important sales call that a prospect is having with your company? Further, if you ever have employed anyone, or interviewed candidates, or reviewed stacks of resumes, you know that, sadly, less than half of people with jobs are any good at performing them. Are you really going to trust an outsourcing company to hire, train, and supervise your sales team?
I called them “your sales team,” but that is an overstatement. This outsourcing company, and the team it assigns to you, will be representing numerous other firms and businesses, within and outside your industry. They’ll have generic, one size fits all, selling techniques, and because they’re not your full-time staff, they won’t spend a lot of time researching and learning how best to sell your particular goods and services. The real problem isn’t that they won’t know your industry or your services. Rather, it’s that they won’t know your client—what motivates your client or prospect to buy, what is the impact of your services on your client or prospect. Without understanding your client profile, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to achieve consistent conversions for you.
And then there are those ethics issues that I set aside for later discussion. Well, it’s later. Even though I’m a lawyer, I do analyze the business justification for a decision first before analyzing the ethics of it. If an activity doesn’t make business sense, it does not matter whether it’s ethical or not as I am not in the habit of undertaking senseless business activities. If, however, it does make sense from a business standpoint, I can then expend the time and mental energy necessary to try to find a way to undertake the activity within the ethics rules.
With that order of operations question resolved, I now address the ethics issue for anyone who has concluded that using a sales outsourcing company is better for their business than not using one.
As tempting as it may be to leave the selling to someone else so that you can focus on practicing law, such a decision is fraught with ethical risk. Remember, attorneys are responsible for the activities undertaken by our employees and agents as if we had undertaken those activities ourselves. With employees, we have control over their actions. We train them or ensure that they are properly trained. They likely work on our premises or with our equipment and software, giving us the ability to monitor their activities and take corrective action as necessary. By comparison, an outsourcing company is not our employee. We do not train or supervise their team. Even if we give them guidelines on how we want to be represented, we cannot be sure that they’ll follow them consistently, if at all. Therefore, to engage a sales outsourcing company would be to place your law license and livelihood in the care and custody of a third party.
In conclusion, although companies are beginning to supply sales outsourcing services, I feel certain that lawyers and law firms should not count ourselves among any businesses demanding such an offering. I’m also skeptical that nonlegal businesses will be well-served by outsourcing their revenue generation function to a third party. When it comes to your business’s financial security, that is a buck that you should not pass, in my humble opinion.