Scared of selling?

May 05, 2024

With the right approach, our people can develop the skills and confidence needed to excel in business development, contributing to our collective success.

Annually, I organize an off-site leadership summit for my senior leadership team. This event serves as an excellent opportunity for deeper connections, collective problem-solving, and envisioning the future of our industry.

At our most recent summit, we concluded with a brainstorming session aimed at enhancing our operations to bolster our reputation, profitability, and overall growth. We identified several areas for improvement, including internal communication, template development, guidance documents, and optimizing our accounting software. However, one topic stood out.

Many senior leaders expressed a lack of confidence and even fear regarding business development. This revelation was surprising and led me to ponder the underlying causes: Are we adequately preparing our technical leaders for sales roles? Are our expectations realistic? Are we equipping them with the necessary tools for success?

In adopting the seller-doer model prevalent in engineering firms, such as Pennoni, it’s crucial to recognize three key factors:

  • Technical background. Our senior leaders typically possess technical backgrounds, having pursued degrees in engineering, science, or related fields.
  • Introverted nature. The majority of technical experts tend to be introverted, often feeling less inclined toward extensive social interactions, especially small talk.
  • Lack of sales training. It’s rare for consultants to receive formal training in sales techniques, leaving many ill-prepared for business development responsibilities.

I stand apart from the norm, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree, which afforded me ample opportunities to develop communication and interpersonal skills. However, this isn’t the case for most engineers and scientists within the AEC industry. It’s essential to acknowledge that while these professionals excel in their technical domains, they may lack foundational communication skills necessary for effective interaction.

Conducting personality assessments among our team members has consistently revealed a prevalence of introverted personalities, which isn’t surprising given our industry’s nature. Introversion often translates to a discomfort with small talk and a preference for direct, purposeful communication. As an introvert myself, I understand the challenges firsthand and the importance of adapting to engage effectively in various situations.

Lastly, we must consider the insufficient provision of comprehensive sales training across firms. Learning to sell is a skill that requires dedicated mentorship, access to high-quality resources, and professional development opportunities – not merely a brief webinar or book recommendation.

While selling may seem daunting for many of our staff, including senior leaders, it’s imperative to acknowledge these apprehensions and address them proactively. By recognizing individual differences and providing the necessary support and training, we can empower our engineers to embrace the seller-doer model confidently.

In conclusion, selling doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right approach, our team can develop the skills and confidence needed to excel in business development, contributing to our collective success. 

Alan Lloyd, CIH, CSP, ENV SP, WELL AP is vice president and EHS practice leader at Pennoni. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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.