Beyond cold calls

Aug 07, 1995

ONE OF OUR CLIENTS just hired a new marketing director. He’s a great guy— been in the business a long time— somebody with a firm handshake who makes friends easily. He can talk with anyone. He’s aggressive. He looks good. He’s a good speaker. One thing is for sure— this guy knows how to sell. And that’s exactly the type of person this firm’s CEO— like most other CEOs of A/E/P and environmental firms— wants in the job. Another of our clients recently did the same thing. When their marketing director decided she wanted to stay home with her kids full-time, they replaced her with another woman who would “sell” more. She’s tall, well-dressed, well-spoken, and is someone who most people would find very attractive. She got a company car and immediately hit the pavement looking for new jobs, something her predecessor never did. “What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. “Isn’t the top marketing person supposed to be a good salesman? That’s what marketing is all about, right— selling?” My answer is that there’s plenty wrong with both these scenarios. Consider the following and see if you don’t agree: Salespeople look at the world through their own eyes. I think most people feel that if they are good at something, everyone else should be (or could be) good at it, too— if they only wanted to be. Marketing directors who are good at selling tend to think this way. As a result, they often base the entire foundation of their marketing effort on making up calling lists and assigning contacts to the professional staff. Sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice. The reason is that most people become architects, engineers, or environmental consultants because they are interested in the work itself— not so they can be cold-callers. As a result, these people will do anything that is remotely related to design, production, or technical work first, before they will “find the time” to make a call. This then provides the excuse necessary for the marketing director to justify his or her failure down the road— “The people just wouldn’t do what I told them to.” Salespeople tend to over-promise and over-commit. The best salespeople are geared to one thing— selling. And if they don’t sell, they feel like failures. They need the approval that selling provides— “somebody must think I’m O.K. if he’s going to give me his money.” While I personally like that strong desire to sell, I don’t like what that mentality all too often translates into— someone who will make promises he or she can’t keep just to get a sale. That is not the way to build long-term relationships of mutual trust and respect, which should be the cornerstone of any successful A/E/P or environmental consulting firm’s marketing effort. And the younger the salesperson, the greater the tendency to do this. Client-consultant relationships that start out with a cold call may be skewed from the beginning. If someone calls you and tries to sell you something, they need you. You are in a position of buying or not buying, and that’s a position of power. You can decide how you want to treat that salesman, what you’ll be willing to pay, and so forth. If, on the other hand, you call someone about doing some work for you, the tables are turned. You need them. They may or may not be available. They may or may not be willing to do what you want at a particular price. As a principal of an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm, I’d rather be in the latter position any day. That’s why I always advise our clients to spend the time and money necessary to position themselves as expert service providers so clients call them. Yes, it can work this way! Salespeople don’t really know anything. I was a salesman once (a marketing director who sold), so I’m qualified to say this. Back 15 years ago, you could call on an industrial client and you were almost a freak. They would joke about how unusual it was to see someone from an A/E firm on their doorstep! How times have changed! But even then, I can recall a number of experiences when the potential clients I was calling on really didn’t want to see me. They wanted the engineer, architect, or environmental consultant who could help them solve their problem— not a young guy with a good-looking tie and shiny shoes! Marketing people who only believe in selling won’t try anything else. In every market sector served by A/E/P and environmental firms there is a single leader (or a few leaders) who understand the power they have by being positioned as the experts in serving that market. These firms have focused their entire organization around serving particular clients or groups of clients. They get lots of press coverage in publications their clients read. They do original research on these markets. They develop software programs or customized applications of other software that help them better serve this market. They have marketing materials that support the idea that they are, in fact, specialized. They provide specialized training that reinforces their unique understanding of their market. Then there are all the other firms whose marketing directors believe that if “everyone would just get out and sell, everything would be OK.” Funny how many more firms fit into this grouping! Relying on a “selling” marketing director is as risky as you can get. Even if the marketing director is good and can sell a lot of work, what happens when he or she gets hit by a car, dies, quits to work elsewhere, or goes through a mid-life crisis and decides that work is no fun anymore? The company goes through a crisis, that’s what happens. Because too much of its marketing effort is invested in one person’s personal selling skills. Relying on a good seller always makes an A/E/P or environmental firm much more vulnerable than it would be if it invested in building databases, getting PR, and developing informational marketing tools that are consistently distributed to its audience. These things can be done without having a superstar cold-caller and will have much more enduring value to the firm. Is any of this stuff revolutionary? Not really. But how many firms are out there right now looking for a good salesperson, instead of doing the other things they could (and should) be doing to develop lasting success? It’s a ratio of about 500 to 1. That’s why there’s such a great opportunity for any firm that wants to do things differently from the masses. Originally published 8/07/1995

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.