Editorial: Becoming a better seller

Jan 15, 2014

The seller-doer model works best for design firms and Mark Zweig shows how you can do it in your firm.

2014 is going to be the year of the seller-doer for those of us working in the A/E/P and environmental industry. Why, you may ask? There are a couple good reasons. First, 100 percent dedicated business development/salespeople are pure overhead. When you actually figure out how much someone who does no billable work has to sell to cover their salary, payroll taxes, expenses and other overhead, based on your typical firm profitability, it’s staggering. For example: a $100K annual salaried person who has $20K in payroll taxes and $5K/month in travel and entertainment expenses in a firm that makes a 10 percent profit would have to bring in $1.7 million a year in signed contracts just to cover their basis costs without any overhead applied. That’s a big number! Second reason is the clients. For the most part, they don’t want to see salespeople who can’t help them. They want to meet the architect/engineer/planner/designer/scientist who can help them. It’s a really simple idea. Why filter your needs through someone else who cannot really solve your problem or do what you want them to do? In any case, the seller-doer model is one we all understand. The problem, of course, is that many doers aren’t very good sellers. And even if they are able to sell, their first priority is typically doing, versus selling. As long as there is work to be done, they “do.” They sell when they need to. But if you wait until you need to sell, it is probably too late. Hence the sine wave workload pattern that many firms or units or individuals within firms go through. If you want to employ the seller-doer model in your firm, here are a few things to consider that might help:
  1. Talk about selling. Promote the idea that selling is good. Celebrate sales successes. Make sellers heroes in your firm. You have to keep talking about selling or people won’t think it is important to sell.
  2. Track sales success and report on it to the whole firm. You can’t track only utilization and never any data on selling and then expect your people to understand that selling is an important activity. People respond to what you measure and report.
  3. The best doers – and I mean really the BEST doers – should be people who can sell. After all, they are the best at what they do. That should be apparent to any client who meets them. They should be able to generate a following and follow-up work solely based on their talent. I think the problem many firms face is that they don’t really have outstanding doers. They have so-so doers who don’t have a following and don’t like to sell. Then they are tempted to go hire sales/BD people to promote them. The point is that maybe you need to hire some better people who can sell and do, both.
Because of point number three above, I am hesitant to offer up large blocks of time to seller-doers where they don’t have to do but can instead only sell. Doing is critical to selling. I haven’t seen this be real successful. What I have seen, though, is THE most successful seller-doers in this business out selling $5, $10, or even $20 million in fees and also being 50- to 70 percent billable. That’s really earning your keep! I’d love to hear your comments or thoughts on selling and doing. Drop me a line. But meanwhile, go sell a job! Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

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.