Scaring the sell out of you

Jun 02, 2024


Sales is not the monster under the bed – it’s just a conversation, a shared meal, and a chance to offer solutions and forge lasting connections.

Once upon a time (that’s always a good start to a story, right?), the very thought of sales sent shivers down my spine. You’d be hard-pressed to find any person trained as an architect or engineer who dreams of selling.

But there I was. Fresh into a new position. A sales position. I braced for a crash course in the art of persuasion, expecting to morph into a smooth-talking seller. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I learned something unexpected: sales wasn’t about selling at all; it was about solving.

The discovery was as liberating as it was surprising. Meetings and client calls turned from battlegrounds of negotiation into bridges of genuine connection. This shift in perspective turned sales from a fear into an enjoyable, even energizing experience.

Here’s the truth: Sales is just an extension of what we already do best – solving problems and building relationships.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Cool story, Tyler – but how can I shift my own perspective?” You’re right. This isn’t about me. This is about how to scare the sell right out of you.

What’s so scary about sales? Sales, for many seller-doers in AEC firms, is the boogeyman. It’s seen as pushy, demanding a knack for smooth talk that engineers and architects think they lack. But much of this fear stems from misconceptions:

  • Sales is manipulative. The stereotype that sales involves tricking clients into agreements.
  • Sales is a talent. The myth that only people with a “sales personality” can succeed.
  • Sales steals from technical work. The belief that time spent selling is time not designing or engineering.

These fears are exacerbated by a lack of sales training in our education and an industry culture that seems hell-bent on the idea that sales is antithetical to the “purity” of technical work. (Technical work that you wouldn’t be able to do without a sales motion.)

Sure, we’ve all experienced an unwanted salesperson encouraging us to pull out our wallets while embodying all the negative stereotypes. But let me be clear: that is not sales. That’s just greed.

Shifting your perspective. Shifting your perspective on sales is transformative for you and your career. There are three key components that, when embraced, can turn sales into an aspect of your role that you’re genuinely excited about. Let’s dive into these components:

  1. Be empowered. When you start seeing sales as something you “get to do” rather than something you “have to do,” the whole dynamic changes. This perspective invites a more purpose-driven approach to engaging with clients.
    Sales is a chance to positively impact your team’s well-being and contribute to the overall success of your projects. It fosters growth, innovation, and stability for your firm and yourself.
  2. Be client-focused. Remove the pressure to “make the sale” because it overshadows the real goal: understanding the obstacles that prevent your client from reaching their ideal outcome. By removing this pressure and going into conversations with the sole aim of comprehending the client’s needs, you shift the focus away from transactions and toward building relationships.
    This approach not only relieves the stress associated with sales but also aligns with the natural problem-solving skills that architects and engineers possess. It’s about applying the same investigative and analytical skills you use in your projects to understand what your clients truly need. Continue asking great questions until you have a detailed understanding of their situation.
  3. Be solution-oriented. Reframing your role in sales from selling to solving fundamentally alters how you approach interactions. You’re not just offering a service or product; you’re providing solutions to real problems. And you’re genuinely interested in making their lives easier and better.
    This mentality puts you in the role of a consultant or advisor rather than a salesperson, making the process more fulfilling and aligned with the core values of most AEC professionals. By focusing on how your expertise can address specific challenges, you’ll find the conversations to be all about collaboration, not persuasion.

Let’s go to lunch. There may be no better environment to test your new perspective than with a few lunches. “Let’s go to lunch” symbolizes the informal, relationship-building aspect of sales. It’s a casual encounter that promotes deeper connections and keeps formalities at bay.

So here’s my challenge to you: Send three prospective clients a message that says “Let’s go to lunch!” so you can embrace your new perspective. Sales is not the monster under the bed. It’s just a conversation, a shared meal, and a chance to offer solutions and forge lasting connections. And once you see it for what it truly is, it’s not just easier; it’s rewarding and fulfilling. Happy solving and enjoy your lunch! 

Tyler Suomala is founder of Growthitect. 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.