Successful sales initiatives

November 2011 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Douglas Reed, P.E.

Engineers and architects studied to be technical professionals, not to be salespeople, but these professionals are what clients buy, so they are essential to lead sales. However, programs that push individuals to function as new business developers frequently stall. A key to influencing positive change in this regard is to transform sales into an activity that is both desirable and valuable to employees.


Consider this true account of two companies. Company A had the CFO as the central focus of each management meeting, during which utilization, multipliers, claims, and revenue dominated written and oral reports. When it came to new initiatives to increase sales, staff received a pep talk and was instructed to "try harder."

The handful of individuals who were sales successful over a period of years were made shareholders, as well as given nice titles and big salaries. During a 10-year period, Company A employed the same number of people. Its few sales-responsible people all comprised the senior management team of the company.

Company B rarely spoke about utilization and numbers at management meetings. The executive team often created task forces comprised of middle managers who had demonstrated an interest in client relationships. Twice a year, the company had a management retreat at which mid-management was asked to present. Outside business experts were brought in to add to everyone's business acumen. The retreats were a mix of business and networking; many activities were turned into fun games. With this approach, staff looked forward to being invited and attending the events. After 10 years, Company B had grown three-fold and had double the number of shareholders.

Multiple-technique approach
To be successful, a company must impact behavior from many angles. A key technique that often is missed is the ‘person of influence' – individuals both inside and outside a company with the ability to motivate persons to change their behavior. We often call them "leaders," but in this context, the term leader is too generic and is often viewed as someone with a big title. The influence referred to here is social influence. Individuals who have social influence are well respected and looked up to by the rank and file. They may also be among the most junior people in the company. They are social insiders, and what they say and think, as well as how they behave, can make all the difference with a sales initiative.

Ensure that persons of influence are pre-sold on an initiative. Get them on board with corporate communications, workshops, discussion groups, and committees that support the initiative. Doing so will help your initiative catch on much more quickly and with certainty.

Appropriate metrics also are important to the success of initiatives. Metrics that are in conflict with the initiative's goals should be put on the back burner.

Qualitative ("fuzzy") metrics often can be turned into quantitative metrics if one thinks of the outcomes of behavior change.

How much time do project managers and engineers spend on developing client relationships? How many clients did they spend time with? How many proposals were submitted last quarter? How many were from business opportunity requests from clients with which there was a previous solid relationship? Create a charge number and let staff see one another's results.

Programs that help employees make better use of sales opportunities – at modest cost – are crucial. To ensure these programs are successful, firms must guarantee that outcomes benefit an employee's sense of accomplishment and achievement, as well as make participation in sales a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Douglas Reed, P.E., has practiced, managed, and led engineering/architectural firms as a principal for most of his career. As president of, he applies his more than 30 years of expertise to professional services consulting, business analysis, and change implementation. He can be contacted at

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