Becoming a better business developer

Sep 09, 2016

Your ability to sell work is probably the most crucial skill you can have IF you really want to maximize your opportunities in the AEC world we all live in. Here are a few pointers that may help increase your effectiveness:

  1. Know who you are trying to sell to. This is step one. You have to target your clients, figure out who in those organizations could hire you or influence the decision to hire you, and then learn all you can about those people. The goal is to look smart when you finally get in front of them.
  2. Be helpful! No one really wants to be sold to. But who doesn’t like to be helped? If you want to be a more effective seller all you really need to do is be more helpful to the right people. Those who have problems you can solve that don’t take everything you have to fix them. Free advice, input, a quick look at a problem – a referral to someone else or some research – these things will endear you to your clients and help you sell more work as a result.
  3. Make friends first. Stop trying so hard to sell people stuff and instead make friends. Once you do, the trust level will go up and selling will simply happen on its own as friends help each other. Make friends by showing real interest in the other person and looking for common interests/conditions that you can bond over. And of course, just be nice.
  4. Undersell. Don’t B.S. your way to making a sale. Just be honest and truthful and create expectations no greater than what you are sure you can meet. Creating expectations you can’t meet is easy to do but hard to overcome if you are successful in making the initial sale. People will be angry and disappointed, and there probably won’t be a second sale if you oversell.
  5. Be experimental. There’s just not enough willingness in this business to take chances when it comes to selling. I don’t know if it’s because people in this business are conservative and introverted, or if it’s that every project tends to have a lot of people involved and the group-think process takes over. But the fact is there’s too little creativity and humor in most of the sales pitches/presentations I see. In fact, the stuff is so boring it puts me to sleep. I can’t sit there while one presentation is being made, much less multiple ones as a typical client would have to sit through. Why is this OK? How did this become a good way to do things?
  6. Be flexible. When you’re selling, you have to be sensitive to the cues of the people you’re selling to. Are they nodding in agreement? Or are they secretly disagreeing with everything you’re saying? Watch facial expressions, body language, and listen carefully to their questions and comments. You have to be prepared to make a shift – emphasize a different benefit – move off the topic – to change things up. This is really important!
  7. Be positive. Positive people believe they can overcome difficulties and succeed. People like being around other people who are positive. This expectation is often transmitted to the client you are trying to sell services to. Negative people see why things won’t work right away. No one likes that.
  8. Work at it! Make a lot of contacts. Pick up your phone. Go see people. Selling is all about the possibilities you’ll create through a lot of activity. Want five times as many potential projects as you have now? Rev up the calls/meetings fivefold over what you are already doing and good things will come from it. Nothing will happen if you just wish to sell more but don’t do anything.
  9. Once you succeed, train other people. Take them with you. Show them how it’s done. Demonstrate your approach. Help others overcome their reluctance to selling and you’ll improve your own skills in the process.
  10. Repeat! Keep doing what works. And if it stops working, try something else. You have to keep going, keep working at it, and improving your methods to become more and more effective. There really isn’t any limit to what you can achieve unless you stop.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.