I’ve said it before. The standards— what we expect— from people who are supposed to sell the work to keep our staffs busy in our A/E and environmental firms— are woefully low. Forty calls a month?? That’s ridiculously low. Other types of businesses expect their sellers to make 40 calls before lunch on Monday.Until we get some REAL sellers working in our companies, I honestly don’t think any of us knows how much work we can bring in and how big our firms can get. We need some people who live to sell, who think about it 24 hours a day, who are willing to do darn near anything to get the job. If this sounds good to you, here are some ideas on how to make it happen:Be careful who you hire to sell. Sellers are best at one thing— selling themselves to potential employers. I know this sounds negative, but honestly, I think about 19 out of 20 sellers I encounter who are interviewing for selling or BD roles in A/E firms cannot do the job. They may have looks, or a good handshake, or an ability to remember names, but they don’t have what it takes to be a successful seller. That’s a “do-or-die” spirit that tells them they will succeed in making the sale and an ability to stick it out over the long haul to make it happen. Too many of these so-called sellers only last a year or two on the job and then go sell themselves to another firm. The cycle repeats, and 20 years later, they have had 10 or more jobs. The best sellers may not be the best looking, or the flashiest, or even the most articulate. Create a strong incentive program. I have never been a fan of outright commissions on sales— there are too many other variables to consider like the profitability Ü of the job. That said, the best sellers want to make some money. Why not? They can do it in other businesses and should be able to do it in a design or environmental firm. They are hard to find, and most aren’t very good. If you get a good one, you need to pay them such that they do better than everyone else who can’t do what they can.Give your sellers the tools they need. BlackBerrys, cell phones, credit cards with sufficient credit limits, and a green light to spend a little cash if need be for entertainment, client gifts, or whatever else they need to do (as long as it is legal and ethical, of course) to make the sale. This is a big problem— credit cards with low limits OR just a feeling sellers have that if they spend a nickel on a client they will be criticized for it. I have also found that having a really great newsletter, both print and electronic in form, as well as a client gift program with company logo’d items, can be very helpful to your sellers. Add all new prospects to the distribution list and remind them of your interest in their work regularly. And while I’m on the subject, there’s no benefit that is more valued than a company car— especially for sellers who are locked into a particular locality or region. Make sure that others in the firm don’t ruin the impression your seller is trying to create. Sellers work hard to get prospects in the door. If they ask someone else in the firm to send some information to a prospective client and it never goes out, that makes the firm look bad. If the receptionist cannot pronounce the prospect’s name, that looks bad. If the e-mail system bounces back their incoming e-mails, for one reason or another, that looks bad. You have got to take every one of these situations seriously if you want your sellers to be able to sell all they can.Keep score. Maybe this is even more important than the incentive compensation— keeping score on who is selling and publishing it widely. Those who sell want some recognition. Sure, they may be insecure, but that may be why they are so good at selling— so they can constantly reaffirm their self-worth. And if more than one person is involved, give multiple sellers credit. But the alternative that most firms in this business follow— that is, NOT keeping score— is unacceptable. I don’t know why firms are afraid to report who is selling the work, other than I think they are afraid of upsetting those who aren’t selling. That’s the wrong crowd to be worrying about. It’s easier to find those who can’t sell than those who do. Hire sellers when you get a chance to do so. These people are rare, and they don’t always come around at the most convenient time. They will come around when something happens that makes them feel like they are stuck where they are at present, such as the door to ownership is closed, or they get the idea that the owners of their present company aren’t committed to growing it. Too many companies still don’t understand that you have to strike when the iron is hot. That means an expedited hiring process for someone you know has a solid track record.Originally published 06/20/2005
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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.
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