Now get out there and sell!

September 2012 » Columns » PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
John P. Bachner

Ask the CEO of just about any civil engineering firm about project managers' most important responsibilities and "selling" is likely to be the response. However, as important as sales may be, few firms do very much to make them. How well does your firm or office do?

Learn the answer by scoring five points for each "yes" response to the following 20 statements. If your total is 90 or more, your sales effort is great; 75-85, pretty good; 60-70, not terrible; 45-55, near lifeless; less than 45, someone please put us out of our misery. Note that the term "sales staff" assumes project managers in your firm are seller/doers, so that the sales staff comprises project managers and all those ahead of them in the management "pecking order."

  1. The firm has appointed an appropriate person to serve as sales manager, exclusively or in addition to other responsibilities.
  2. The firm provides regular, periodic sales training to sales staff.
  3. Sales staff role plays to practice various approaches, such as asking for referrals.
  4. Role-play sessions are video recorded and critiqued to help enhance the success rate.
  5. The sales manager assigns sales-related tasks to sales staff and checks regularly to ensure that staff is performing those tasks well and on time.
  6. Sales staff reaches out to others – subcontractors, peers, colleagues, client representatives – to create a casual intelligence-gathering network that keeps sales staffers up-to-date on changes within competitor and prospective-client organizations.
  7. The firm has identified and prioritized the organizations it wants to convert to client organizations.
  8. Sales staff identifies appropriate key decision-makers in prospective-client organizations and learns about their background (where born/grew up, colleges attended, degrees earned, job history, association leadership involvements, etc.).
  9. Sales staff surveys all personnel about their previous experience with prospective clients and prospective client representatives they may have worked with.
  10. Sales staff asks all personnel to identify individuals – spouse, relatives, in-laws, neighbors, friends, etc. – whose spouse, relative, in-law, etc. works for or otherwise has or had a substantial direct or indirect relationship with a prospective-client organization.
  11. Sales staff is deployed to achieve strategic association involvements so they intentionally come into contact (i.e., via committee service) with important representatives of prospective-client organizations.
  12. The firm purchases client relations management (CRM) software for use by sales staff. The sales manager ensures that staff is using the software.
  13. All those with client-representative contact responsibilities keep track of the representatives' passions.
  14. Sales staffers meet at least monthly to report on progress, share intelligence, discuss effective techniques, etc.
  15. On a regular basis – at least annually – sales staff members ask their best client representatives for referrals to other representatives of the client or representatives of other clients.
  16. Sales staff members follow up every referral and keep the client representative (or other referral source) apprised of progress.
  17. The firm gives client representatives memorable gifts when a referral they provide turns into business. (If the client representative may not accept a gift, the firm makes a donation to the person's favorite charity.)
  18. When it's time for general gift giving (i.e., Christmas), sales staff purchases unique gifts based on the passions of the client representatives they work with.
  19. Sales staffers routinely review the websites of clients and prospective clients and reach out to representatives based on developments they read about.
  20. Sales staffers find a reason to reach out to client and prospective-client representatives at least six times a year, in person, by voice, by note, etc.

Educational programs are available to help you and your firm. Look into them. It's time to take sales seriously.

John P. Bachner is the executive vice president of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association, a not-for-profit association of geoprofessional firms – firms that provide geotechnical, geologic, environmental, construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET), and related professional services. ASFE develops programs, services, and materials that its members apply to achieve excellence in their business and professional practices. He can be contacted at john@asfe.org.


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