If I were a business development person…

Jul 07, 1997

I CAN ADMIT IT. I haven’t always been entirely charitable to business development people in A/E/P and environmental firms. I’ve met too many of them who were too good on the golf course, too quick with a joke, had hair that was a little too coifed, and who knew too much about what’s going on in the sports world. Not to mention those whose cologne can be smelled from 1,000 feet, or who grab your hand and hurt it before you have a chance to get a good grip on theirs. But don’t get me wrong. I respect these people— at least the few good ones. It’s not easy making cold calls. Certainly, no one likes to be hung up on or treated like a vacuum cleaner sales person. And I know that some of these people work their tails off, with long days or brutal travel schedules. The real bottom line is some of them are effective— they bring in work the firm wouldn’t get if not for their efforts— although most are not. Many firms have business development staff of some sort. And because the effectiveness of many members of this group is low, it got me started thinking about what I would do if I were a business development person today, working in an A/E/P or environmental firm. Here it is: Get a technical degree. If I didn’t have one, I’d get it. You always have more credibility in a firm that provides technical services if you are a technical person. Ditto with clients— if they’re hiring an engineering firm, they want to speak with an engineer! Don’t talk about things you don’t know. Why is it that so many people who sell for a living feel compelled to have every answer? If they don’t know, they try to B.S. This is terrible! And any reasonably intelligent person can tell the difference between truth and B.S. If you’re selling, and someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, just say; “I don’t know.” If you can get the answer for them, do it. If you can’t, don’t. Realize that being a business development person has a stigma attached to it. Nobody likes people who sell for a living, especially those who fit the stereotypes. It’s up to you to disprove the stereotype as quickly as you can. You do this by not using glowing adjectives (i.e., “Joe Blow is the most incredible design genius in the world”), by not looking too slick, and by getting work without making excuses. Stay out of the office. If you are a full-time business development person, that means you’re supposed to sell. You aren’t the one who grinds out the qualification documents and quarterly newsletters. You are the one, though, who is supposed to be out in front of clients, finding and qualifying leads for the people who don’t have the same interaction skills you are supposed to have. Business development people who are around the office too much are easy targets for complaining technical staffers! Dress appropriately for the clients you are calling on. I wouldn’t call on the mayor of Senatobia, Mississippi, in a double-breasted Armani suit. Nor would I drive a Range Rover if I were taking the Shelby County Public Works Director out to dinner. I wouldn’t go see the chief bridge engineer for the Connecticut DOT wearing Bruno Magli slip-ons. I wouldn’t wear 100% polyester sans-a-belts with 14 pens stuffed in the breast pocket of a 100% polyester short-sleeved dress shirt if I were calling on Nordstrom Department Stores, either! Cut out all racist, sexist, and political comments. I had someone describe a situation to me recently where a particular ethnic group was stereotyped. This person had no idea whether or not I was a member of that group. Ditto for political comments or remarks about the other sex. Work! The more calls you make, the more people you get through to, the more appointments you set, the better off you will be. Report. You have to let everyone in the firm know what you’re doing— who are you seeing, what are the prospects you’re following, how many calls you’re making, and so on. Remember— technical people view business development people with a jaundiced eye. If you don’t take the time to communicate what you’re doing, the rest of the firm will assume you aren’t doing anything. Originally published 7/07/1997

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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.