Key Ingredients to Selling Leadership Solutions

by Greg Surtman

Back in 2003, I was tasked to sell leadership training (among other services) to large organizations in the greater Cleveland area. Finding leadership conversations was not difficult at the time, as many organizations were having issues identifying and developing leaders. As a rookie in this area, I carefully listened to the issues and tried to identify competencies that were important so that I could come back and propose a program (series of courses) that would address the need. I worked out the logistics as quickly as I could, then closed the deal. This approach made sense to me at the time; however, after delivering a handful of leadership engagements with different organizations, I was frustrated to learn that we were not achieving the level of behavior change the client expected. Needless to say, I was looking for a different approach.

I needed to take a step back and really understand the world of Organizational Development. Fortunately, I had the privilege of working with a very talented team with backgrounds in organizational development and industrial organizational psychology who have transformed my approach to selling leadership development over the past 10 years. The folks I have learned the most from in this area include Jody Wheaton, Meghan Bilardo, and Hugh Littleton from Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College. This team really understands the entire process which is grounded in the ADDIE Model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate). I’d like to thank this team for providing me what I feel is equivalent to a masters degree in Organizational Development. Following are just a few of the practices that have helped me drive higher levels of Leadership Solution revenue:

Back Off the Solution

When I hear a decision maker say “We need a leadership program for our 100 managers” I still get excited, however, I know it’s not the right time to discuss logistics (what, where, when) and I need to focus on gathering more data related to current leadership behaviors (the evidence) and how these behaviors are impacting the organization. Also, one person can only provide one perspective about the need, so it is our job to gather different perspectives through activities such as focus groups, interviews, and surveys. The totality of this data should tell us a “story” about what is really happening at the organization and what will be helpful to support behavior change that will ultimately achieve expected outcomes. By the end of that first one-hour meeting I always ask myself if I accomplished two things: 1) did the decision maker feel like I understood him/her? and 2) did I earn permission to talk with other stakeholders within that organization? If I could answer yes to both of these questions, it was a very successful 1st sales call.

Training is Not Always the Answer

“If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Training is not always the answer when addressing leadership issues. Other services that I consider “Talent Management Consulting” can provide the full array of service offerings to meet your clients’ needs. These services could include any/all of the following: Strategic Planning, Executive Coaching, Assessment for Selection and/or Development, Job Analysis, Skill Gap Analysis, Performance Management, Succession Planning, Change Management, Talent Acquisition, & Learning Strategy. Providing these services will help you become more engaged at the strategic level… which will better position your team as the vendor of choice for training activities.

Consider a Behavioral Self-Assessment Tool and Workshop

Behavior change begins with self-awareness. Tools like Myers Briggs (MBTI) and DiSC can provide a level of self-awareness so that participants have an opportunity to better understand themselves and others. A Myers Briggs or DiSC workshop (4-8 hours) is a great way to begin any multi-competency leadership engagement.

Get the Participant’s Boss involved

Learning new approaches and tools to becoming a better leader is exciting, however, learners need to be supported by their boss when they get back to work. It is important for these bosses to understand the experience their direct report is going through and what their role is to create an environment that will support the application of these new approaches and tools. A dedicated session for the bosses can be helpful to set these expectations and get them engaged in the process.

Have Access to Standardized Content

An issue for some colleges is lack of leadership content. Your college may own a few course titles and have a few instructors who are comfortable with using them. Your college may also be working with some instructors who “have their own stuff” to bring to the table. Both of these scenarios can create challenges related to flexibility and scalability. A “standardized content” approach can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to design and develop leadership solutions which will enable your team to spend more time on business development activities. I highly recommend a partnership with Development Dimensions International (DDI). DDI provides content to address every competency I have come across. Their material is instructionally sound, has proven results, and their team (Jane Whitmore, Nancy Petricko, Jan Dominick, & Patty Neiderhauser) will provide the right kind of support. This partnership will position your team to provide high-quality leadership solutions, the scalability you will need to grow this service area, and the flexibility your clients will appreciate. To explore a partnership with DDI, contact Jane Whitmore at 412-220-7984 or

Celebrate Success

At the end of the engagement, all stakeholders should be invited to a graduation event so that participants can demonstrate what they have learned, how they applied new approaches and tools in their work environment, and the impact on their department. This should be a time to celebrate success and determine how the organization should move forward with their leadership journey. This is also the time when leaders may discuss how many more employees should go through the learning experience, which makes the graduation event an actual “sales call” in disguise for your team. Co-branded certificates and cake both add a nice touch to the event.

If you would like to explore how Contract Training Edge can help your team grow revenue by selling Leadership and Talent Management Solutions, please contact Greg Surtman at 216-509-6398, or

Happy Selling, my friends…