Time to sell and excel

June 2014 » Columns » Engineering Our Future
Chad Clinehens, P.E.
Selling, or business development, is really a learned skill. It is not nearly as difficult as most people think it is.

Let’s face it. Most design and technical professionals are not naturally wired to be sellers. There are some who are naturally good at it, but for most, it is a learned skill. There are countless training courses and seminars to improve sales skills, but very few that provide the unique training needed by those in our industry. 

I teach a new seminar titled “Becoming a Better Seller.” We developed it specifically for those who are interested in bringing in more work while still being able to practice their profession. That is being designers and project managers in the field they have a passion for. Now is the perfect time for you to create a new trajectory for your career path. There is finally work out there and those who can reel it in are guaranteeing themselves tremendous job security and are going to make more money than their peers. 

One of the first things we do in our seminar is break down some of the myths that many design and technical professionals believe in when it comes to selling work. Here is a sample of some of the myths that keep many from trying to participate in the selling process:

Myth 1: You have to be an extrovert to sell — This could not be farther from the truth. Some of the most effective sellers in our industry are very much introverted. Developing business with many of our clients requires credibility, trustworthiness, and reliability. Some clients have a “prejudice” against slick and polished extroverts. Those important qualities listed above are harder for extroverts to prove than for introverts. It’s not about being a great golf player and having a nice tan. It’s about being an authority on the challenge faced by your client. Earning trust wins projects.

Myth 2: You have to call on a client seven times before they buy — This is a complete misconception of business development. Whether you have heard the number seven, 10, or 12, it is simply not the case. There are many instances where you can win a project the first time you call on a client. I have seen this happen many times. Once you decide you are going to target a potential client, then be driven to get through to them. Be creative when you are having trouble getting through. Sometimes getting an appointment can be as easy as scheduling it with their assistant. Cold calling can work great.

Myth 3: It’s all about relationships — Relationships are important, but so are many other features such as marketing, branding, quality, reputation, and the list goes on and on. Frankly, we talk too much about relationships, and when that happens, many other critical functions lose focus. Relationships can often be the difference in a tight competition, but it should not be the biggest factor in your go/no-go exercise. As a design professional, you need to be engaged in the entire selling process. Sometimes that starts too late to authentically build a relationship. If you get really engaged and contribute to the proposal and interview process, you have a decent chance of overcoming the lack of a relationship.

Selling and developing business in the design and technical professions is not nearly as difficult as many perceive it. For those who can get out there and be successful in bringing work into their firms, it is like pressing the accelerator on their careers. The secret is being fully engaged in the entire sales process. It includes input into the marketing foundation, developing relationships, and full participation in the development and delivery of proposals and interviews. For the ambitious technical and design professionals out there, find and develop the tools and resources you need to add business development to your list of skills. Empowerment comes from knowledge and action, not genes or personality traits. 

Chad Clinehens, P.E., is ZweigWhite’s executive vice president. Contact him at cclinehens@zweigwhite.com.


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