Jun 20, 1994

Twenty contacts per month! To know why we have a problem selling services in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business, look no further than the goals we lay out for our marketing and business development people. According to our research, only 14.8% of business development representatives and 12.9% of marketing directors even have contact goals, and when they do, the median number is only 20 contacts per month! (Source: 1994 Mark Zweig & Associates Marketing Survey of A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms) That number blows my mind. I can remember making 50 or more calls in less than four hours as a young marketer in this business. Twenty contacts per month is ridiculous— that’s only 240 in a year! No one can be effective with those kinds of probabilities working in their favor. It’s time we get back to the basics of selling or we deserve to go out of business. Here’s my advice: Enter the firm at the highest level. One of the classic mistakes made by marketers in our industry is that they don’t call on the right people. They call on people who are easy to talk with, or people they’ve talked with before, or anyone who will talk with them. The best way to sell is to get to the person at the top of the organization. He or she can push you down to those lower in the hierarchy, but rarely can you go the other way. Make lots of calls. One of the best educational experiences I ever had was working as a graduate assistant for a marketing research professor. I learned all about probability theory. This was reinforced when I started selling. I knew that the probabilities were only 40% that I could get through to someone and about 30% that he or she would have a possible need for my services and agree to see me. I then knew that I had at least a 20% shot at getting the job. Experienced sellers of anything know exactly what their success rate is and know that every call they make, whether it results in a sale or not, takes them closer to hitting their goal. The probabilities take care of them. That’s why 20 calls a month isn’t enough! Practice makes perfect. Whether it’s tennis, carpentry, water colors, or selling, you’re bound to get better if you practice. Someone who makes 100 calls a month is getting five times the experience of someone who makes only 20. The person getting five times the practice will probably be comfortable with selling sooner and be more effective at it than the other person. Selling is a sequential process. Too many people seem to forget that selling is a step-by-step, sequential process and are disappointed if they don’t make a sale right out of the chute. It’s just like learning how to walk. First you creep, then you crawl, then you stand and hold on to things, then you walk unassisted. Selling works the same way. Very rarely will someone buy something from you on the first contact. When making cold calls, your goal should be to determine if a need exists or not and set up the next contact. Once a need is identified, your goal should be to get together with the client to talk and perhaps see the situation first hand. The next step is to have the opportunity to make the client a proposal. The final step is closing the sale. Rarely do you go from meeting the client directly to closing— all of the steps in the process need to be followed. Experienced sellers simply try to keep their clients in the process. As long as the client doesn’t say no, they keep moving them on to the next step. Not everyone is good at selling. The fact is that some people have the ability to sell and others do not. I’m not sure it can be taught. We have a hard time with that concept in our business. Since we want all of our employees to be successful, we push people into roles they have no interest in or aptitude for. Selling is one of those roles, since the sellers usually get the most recognition in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm. Everyone deserves a chance to sell if they want it, but not everyone will be good at it. Sell when business is good— not just when business is bad. Last, and perhaps most importantly, is the concept that “when you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not.” Applied to a selling context, this means that when you have lots of work is the best time to be out selling. Your confidence will come through, you’ll negotiate a better fee, and you’ll have a lot more fun doing it than when you really need the work. Desperation always shines through! Originally published 6/20/ 1994

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.