With the competition for projects tighter than ever in the Architecture and Engineering industry, most firms are still depending on their technical staff to manage and close business. The industry has not quite caught up to the rest of the professional services world in recognizing the need for a more professional team of seller-doers.
For the mainstream A&E firm today, most business opportunities are being pursued on a part-time bases by project managers and others that have the secondary title of Seller-Doer. This basically means that they have to split their busy schedules into working on projects, managing teams, and selling services. This can be very challenging to fit into their already crowded schedule, and as a result, critical deadlines and even quality can suffer, and win rates are not maximized.
Aside from hiring a professional sales team that can be difficult to manage, compensate and hold accountable, there are some things that can be done help your seller-doers by both making their jobs easier, and improving their behavior and performance in closing work. These three improvements to your sales efforts can be broken into three main categories of Sales Process, People and Systems, and are summarized as follows:
The foundation of everything your people do every day is established by setting expected behaviors and actions. Without an established sales process, your employees will be left to their own interpretation of how to manage a project opportunity. By developing a written, detailed sales process for your seller-doers, you can start to build some predictability and consistency into how they manage an opportunity from the moment a potential project is uncovered, throughout the proposal and award.
A good sales process should identify each step in detail including their responsibility for recording information in a database, going through a Go/No-Go process, getting approval to invest substantial time and money into a competitive proposal process, following up on critical due dates, and regular communication. It should also include regular updating of opportunities in the company’s client relationship management (CRM) system, which can provide important firm-wide visibility into sales success, revenue forecasts, and assist with resource management decisions.
The sales process is the core of a successful sales effort, and without it, your seller-doers are running blind and not optimizing the time invested in looking for and closing new business.
Your seller-doers are being put in a very difficult position if they have never been exposed to sales. In many cases, project managers are automatically expected to be involved in new business acquisition, with little to no desire to be involved, or training in sales. Many of them are self-proclaimed introverts, and couple this with the fact that they often view “sales” as a dirty word, there may be very little enthusiasm for this part of their job.
The best sales people view their role as helping their clients. By viewing the sales process as uncovering problems and solving difficult challenges for them, they can start to view the sales process as an important part of the project. I am seeing more and more A&E firms engaging in professional sales training for their seller-doer teams, and it is reaping benefits.
Sales training, along with a well-developed sales process, can be a competitive advantage and make a substantial difference to increasing the firm’s win rate.
The third critical factor to helping sell-doers succeed is technology. By automating the data management portion of the sales process, seller-doers can be more effective at staying on course and following through with critical deadlines.
A Client Relationship Management (CRM) system will save your staff time as well as manage large quantities of data. By utilizing a CRM system to manage project opportunities, your seller-doers will more easily be able to:
- Track client and team contact information
- Keep track of critical deadlines
- Record notes from meetings and phone calls
- Better analyze what is working and not working
- Track detailed data about the projects they are pursuing
- More easily create the project scope
- Track the probability of winning and potential revenue from the project
Additionally, the leaders of the firm will have better insight into cumulative potential future revenues and sales performance, as well as protect the firm in cases of turnover. In some systems, the entire Go/No-Go process can be captured as well as competitive analysis and win-loss statistics by lead sales person, location, project type, or industry. This data can be extremely valuable when seller-doer performance is not at the level needed or expected.
Your seller-doers have a tough job these days and anything you can do to help them succeed should provide a measurable pay-off. Not every seller-doer is going to be successful at sales. By improving their sales skills, and providing them with the tools to be successful, your seller-doers will either soar to success or fail. The sooner you can help them to do either will ultimately affect the bottom line in a positive way.
How do you help your seller-doers succeed? Have you tried these or any other methods? Please share your thoughts.
June Jewell is the author of the book “Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms.” She is the president of AEC Business Solutions, focused on developing business assessment tools and online training for project managers to help AEC firms make more money on their projects. Connect with her on LinkedIn and learn more about how to improve your project management performance at www.AECBusiness.com.