Editorial: The charlatan business developer

May 14, 2014

They sell themselves into the job but do little else, Mark Zweig writes.

We have a big problem in the A/E/P industry. As good as most of our people are, after 34 years of working in this business I continue to see a small group of charlatans working out there. These charlatans are working as business developers, market sector leaders, and in some cases other supposed “seller-doer” roles. They get hired into the firms they work for because they are good at selling one thing: Selling themselves into a job. What they AREN’T so good at is selling work. They’ve got a thousand excuses. They don’t have enough time to sell. They need a better brochure. They don’t have the right people. It’s all B.S., of course, and it’s a big problem because they were hired to do one thing: sell. These people are also easily distracted. They like to spend too much time in professional societies, or working on standards, or developing plans, but the bottom line is that this all keeps them from selling. So what else – besides the ability to sell themselves into a job and the inability to sell projects – typically characterizes these charlatans?
  1. They’ve often been job hoppers. Because they are good at selling themselves but not so good at selling anything else, they usually last no more than one, two, or three years in ANY job. Since we are slow to address non-performers in this industry, sometimes they last longer.
  2. They look like losers. Whether it’s the polyester jacket that’s one size too small, the dental work that’s been deferred too long, the car that’s a little too worn out, or the shoes with worn soles and rounded-over heels (“roundheelers,” as one of my early bosses used to call them), these are signals sent out that say, “I’m a loser.”
If you have one or more charlatans working in your firm, you’d best be thinking about getting them out. As expensive people (salaries of $100K, $150K, $200K or more – along with their benefits and BD-related expenses) they can burn up $500- to $750K pretty quick. That’s the profit you’d make on $5- to $7.5 million in revenue – not chump change by any means. 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 #1056, originally published 5/19/2014. 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.