“How do I motivate my technical people to sell?” It’s one of the most intriguing and complex problems faced by Architecture and Engineering (A/E) firms. Many don’t have a full-time business development specialist so the burden of increasing revenue is placed on billable folks such as project managers and senior management. Your goal should be to create a sales flywheel.
Dictionary.com defines a flywheel as “a heavy disk or wheel rotating on a shaft so that its momentum gives almost uniform rotational speed to the shaft and to all connected machinery.” Envision the flywheel as your process, the connected machinery as your business and people, and the energy produced as potential new business. A well designed and maintained flywheel can produce a steady flow of business over time.
What Causes Resistance to the Flywheel?
You must understand what causes the resistance in order to create momentum with a flywheel. The gist of the problem is that technical people, while highly intelligent, rarely possess the skillset to communicate effectively and develop business. There are exceptions. Compounding that problem is that business development in the A/E industry, like Rodney Dangerfield, “gets no respect.” Some esteemed architects and engineers believe that it’s beneath them. We all know the term “overhead drain.” I know some very talented business development professionals that don’t get the recognition they deserve because of this mindset. It’s nothing personal; it’s just that business development is misunderstood by some technical folks. Your business development and operations staff must work together in order for the flywheel to function properly.
Get All Components Working Together
A properly functioning flywheel requires smooth operation of all components. Getting your sales flywheel moving is assisted by the importance of teamwork in the A/E industry.
There are powerful emotions behind this resistance to develop business. One is fear. Do you think it’s a coincidence that many engineers travel in a wolf pack and socialize amongst themselves at networking events? It’s not. Technical people are often introverted. Perhaps the greatest power of team selling is that it can help to overcome fear and develop social skills among these folks.
Spice things up by creating an environment of friendly competition. Create measurable goals and convene the group regularly to identify and publicly acknowledge the winning team. Make sure you have a quarterback leading the effort. That might be your Business Development Director, an outside consultant, or even a project manager that gets it.
The Components of a Strong Sales Flywheel
So what does it take to make a strong sales flywheel? For one, it requires leadership from the top. Some firms make the mistake of assigning full responsibility, including enforcement, to the business development director. You know why that doesn’t work? Because they don’t sign the paychecks. Even if your director is part of the senior management team, and a charismatic leader, your employees may stonewall them. The team needs to know that the executive is committed to the process.
There are employees that I call “mules” because they refuse to cooperate. They represent a small portion of your team. Only the strong hand and authority of the chief executive can effectively motivate these team members. Your flywheel won’t run properly if all machinery isn’t running concurrently.
The good news is that technical people can be taught to sell. So what are the secret ingredients? Invest in ongoing training. Whether you recruit your business development director or an outside consultant is a personal choice. If you have an in-house specialist and you’re not tapping into their knowledge, you’re missing a great opportunity. Group or one-on-one training? That is the question. I prefer the latter because it’s more personal, less threatening, and harder to ignore.
Creating a sales flywheel works best when you create a culture of performance based on high morale. If you have employees that show up to collect a paycheck, you won’t motivate them to outperform, even with incentives. Don’t waste your time designing a sales flywheel unless you have a foundation of high morale.
Incentivize to Accelerate and Create Momentum
Once you have the components of your sales flywheel in place, you must get it moving. Architects and engineers are billed out to design, build, manage projects, etc. You can add business development to the project manager’s job description and hope for the best. Or you can accelerate the momentum by incentivizing.
I believe the unspoken mindset behind many architects and engineers that resist sales is, “that’s not part of my job description.” Most AEC executives disagree. They say things like, “If Jane wants to move up in the ranks, she had better show some commitment to this firm and bring in some work.” One of the problems is that this expectation isn’t always made clear. And it should be at the time of hire to avoid mismatched goals. Let’s talk reality. It’s understandable to expect technical people to bring in work, but it truly is an extra effort that should be recognized as such.
So how can you overcome the “not my job” mindset? Incentivize. In other words, devise a process to reward those that put in the extra effort. Money is the greatest motivator for most people.
Here are some ideas on how to incentivize your technical folks to fuel the sales flywheel…
- Bonus based on project profit
- Bonus based on project value
- Fixed amount of your choice
- Gift card or physical gift
- End of year bonus
You’re thinking that’s not in the budget. Remember that the reward doesn’t have to be a budget breaker, but it should be meaningful. Add subtle public recognition to enhance the effect. Most of your people are not glory hounds so too much recognition could have the reverse effect. Tailor your recognition effort to the individual for maximum results.
Start the Flywheel
Now is the ideal time to start designing your sales flywheel so it’s up and running for 2015. Get your senior management team together to make sure the aforementioned components are in place and then develop a plan. Present it to your team with enthusiasm and passion. The delivery is key to buy-in.
Don’t make the mistake of designing your sales flywheel and disengaging. It’s crucial to stay with the effort and to make sure all components are running properly. The momentum produced will energize your operation for many years to come.