How to sell

Mar 01, 1999

While we’re big believers in building a brand name for your firm through a variety of means so your phone rings off the hook with new opportunities, we also know that somebody has to eventually make the sale. Most people who own and manage A/E/P and environmental firms understand the importance of selling. These people tend to be good sellers themselves. That’s why they get to the top of the firm they work in or start a firm of their own that succeeds. But as the firm gets older and more successful, sometimes this selling spirit gets watered down. It’s probably some combination of factors that leads to this— the people who go to work at the firm tend to be less entrepreneurial, the owners become demotivated because their goals are met, or the firm’s employees start thinking they’re so good that they don’t need to sell. While I, like most architects, engineers, planners, and scientists, have no love for salespeople (at least most of them), I can appreciate the value they bring to the firm. I have been in a full-time selling role myself in the past so I know what it’s about. It’s not easy to do but if you can do it you’ll be the hero of the day. If you feel that your firm is losing out in the sales area, here are some ideas you may want to consider: Get a sales manager. One of the reasons that people in A/E and environmental firms don’t sell is there isn’t anyone bugging them to do it. That’s an important role of a sales manager— holding people’s feet to the fire so they make the calls they commit to. But there are other roles this sales manager can play, including following up after they pass a lead onto someone to make sure it was called. Or helping those who need to make the calls overcome their fear. And giving guidance when necessary on what to say. Or helping develop new pricing or delivery alternatives that will meet the client’s objections. Get excited. I can meet someone and after two minutes tell you whether or not that person has the personality to sell. If they sound dull, flat, and speak in a monotone, forget it. You have to be excited yourself to create excitement in others. It’s that simple. I remember a friend of mine whose dad sold a grease absorbent product called “Kleno.” He’d mix up this stuff (I think it was kitty litter and sand) in a dark factory in a dangerous neighborhood, bag it, and then go out essentially door-to-door and sell it to various businesses that might need it. The point is he loved the stuff! Because he was excited about it (and it was a boring product if there ever was one), he sold it. Your people have to be the same way. Lay out the challenge. When I worked in one of the bike shops that I did as a kid, the owner was a fellow named Don Humphries. He was one of the greatest entrepreneurs ever. He used to bet me that I couldn’t sell a bike to someone we’d see coming in from the parking lot carrying a wheel in their hand. The reward was a free dinner. And you know what—it worked. I didn’t care so much about the reward but it was fun to take on the challenge. A landscape architect/land planner that I worked with at one time, Jim Dugan in Memphis, was the same way, except he would lay out his own challenge. I will never forget something that happened during one particularly tough period for the firm we both worked for in the early 80s. Jim told me he would get five new jobs in a week. And you know what, by the following Friday at 4:00 p.m., he slammed the work orders down on my desk! Talk about it. If you never talk about selling, who’s selling, what’s selling, and where you need to sell, you won’t sell. A lot of the marketing meetings I have sat in on in client companies are boring as hell! They are supposed to get people energized but instead they take the wind out of their sales. (Pun intended.) The content is a boring recanting of proposals already made. Or the tone of the person conducting the meeting is accusatory with respect to why people aren’t making their calls. These meetings stink! But a good meeting that is energizing, brings in some new ideas and creative thinking, and focuses on sales can be very valuable. Exemplify it yourself. If you never sell anything and you are the boss, you’ve got a problem. Selling must be demonstrated. And even if you do a lot more than selling, that doesn’t mean you can always make the hand-off when a sales opportunity knocks. Sometimes you have to prove to the others in the firm (and yourself, too!) that you can still do it. It’s a confidence builder. Originally published 3/01/1999

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.