Editorial: Managing BD efforts

Aug 15, 2014

Mark Zweig expresses frustration about the mishandling of the sales process at design firms.

It is a hard to manage the business development (BD) effort in the A/E and environmental consulting industry. To start with, we don’t have many good BD (i.e., sales) people in this business. Good ones are very valuable and hard to find, especially if they can actually do something that helps clients (seller doers). It seems so many full-time BD people in this business are really best at selling one thing – themselves – into a job. They tend to have short lifespans. Seller-doers always have something else to do (i.e., doing billable work!). There are many challenges and demands placed on these people’s time. Project work will always rule. Clients come first, as they probably should. That means that selling will take a back seat. That makes it hard to get people to sell! Seller-doers don’t usually report to the person who is responsible for managing the BD effort. Their primary home is in the line organization. They report to another line manager – probably a principal or officer in the company. Compared to a marketing director or BD manager, they have a lot more power and clout in the organization. Whose demands therefore are listened to? Line management wins every time. We have serious accounting problems. The majority of firms don’t track the number and value of incoming project leads. Many firms don’t even track what they are selling or who is selling it. Backlog is a mystery unless an all-day meeting is held to review it. Then we have the issue of time recording. BD is always a good place to dump your unbillable time on a timesheet because it sounds better than “unbillable.” On top of it, many companies in this business charge time to BD numbers that as soon as a project is won they convert into billable charges. This distorts the entire BD cost accounting; time on jobs won is deducted from marketing, yet still a very real part of marketing costs (I don’t understand WHY some firms do this). We are as a group afraid to recognize people for selling. The problem with attaboys or other public accolades for anyone who sells something is determining who was involved in the sale and how critical they were to it. Many fear they have forgotten someone else who was involved in the sale. So they do the worst thing possible – say nothing. Some firms are afraid to develop people who can sell. Their fear (which has actually been expressed to me) is that if their employees can sell they will steal their clients away from them and start their own companies. The employee who can sell no longer “needs” the company. Seems pretty silly to me. How else will you be able to grow the company and create something that can survive when you are gone if you don’t teach other people how to sell? It won’t happen. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1068, originally published 8/18/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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.