In the last post we looked at five critical tools that technical professionals can use for business development. Whether you’re considered a seller-doer, doer-seller, doer-closer, rainmaker, or account manager, if you have any sales responsibilities, it is important to understand the tools at your disposal. Remember, “selling” does not equal “cold calling,” even though so many people still closely associate the two.
We’ve previously discussed five tools: account mining, networking, email, social media, and writing. These are all effective ways to promote yourself, promote your firm, and generate new business opportunities – or deepen relationships with existing clients. Here’s another five tools:
Public Speaking – Why do so many people fear public speaking? I suppose for some it is just too intimidating to stand in front of a bunch of strangers and be responsible for giving a presentation that runs anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, or more. That’s a lot of air to fill! And for others, it is perhaps the fear of looking stupid, saying the wrong thing, or becoming tongue-tied. Believe me, all public speakers have “presentation nightmare” stories ... some by our own doing, some by factors beyond our control! But that’s no reason to fear public speaking.
The reality is that public speakers are viewed as Subject Matter Experts (SME) and thought leaders. When you present in front of an audience, you are able to shine and demonstrate your knowledge and talents. At the end of the day, buyers of A/E/C services hire people, not companies. So they are “buying” you more than the firm where you work. It’s absolutely critical for you to understand that you are the “product,” the company brand.
Speaking opportunities are everywhere. There are community groups like Rotary and Sertoma clubs. These are a great place to hone your presentation skills. Perhaps you can talk about a project you are working on, and promote it for your client (with permission, of course). An architect could talk about local architectural history while a civil engineer could talk about the state of crumbling infrastructure locally. And do you know what? Service clubs are filled with decision-makers that may want to hire you.
But you need to think broader – think local professional societies and, ultimately, client organizations. Are there local IFMA, AFE, ASHE, COAA, SCUP, APPA, APPA, ULI, NAIOP, SAME, etc. chapters? Can you get in front of them? That’s a great place to expand your network and meet new prospects and – once again – you are positioning yourself as an expert, and reaching a lot more people at once than you ever could with a phone call.
Once you are comfortable speaking locally, look at regional or even national conferences and trade shows. Where do your clients congregate? Check out the conference websites. Look for calls for presenters. Some conferences are easy to get into, while others are extremely competitive. And don’t forget about your professional societies. Even though they may be filled with your competitors, some owners may attend the conferences, and you may find new teaming partners. Presentation opportunities are everywhere. Does your local business journal host a commercial real estate forum? If you chase that market, you should aim to present there. And why not create educational presentations and deliver lunch-and-learn programs for clients and prospective clients? It’s a great way to get your foot in the door in a non-invasive, non-selling way.
Referrals – Referrals are hugely impactful, and highly underutilized by A/E/C professionals. Research from Hinge Marketing indicates that the top way owners find new design and construction firms is through referrals, with almost 27% of respondents in one of their research studies indicating that referrals is their top lead source. (Public speaking was second.)
Referrals come multiple ways. In the classic sense, a referral is when a client, vendor, or other close contact refers or recommends you to a prospect that could use your services. You’ve done this countless times. Your neighbors have their roof replaced, and you ask them who they hired to do it. “Word of mouth” referral is perhaps the oldest form of marketing. Likewise, your business has most likely benefited from a call out of the blue because a client or vendor recommended you. Interestingly, other research conducted by Hinge Marketing found that 69% of owners would happily refer or recommend a firm they’ve worked with, but 72% of them hadn’t been asked!
Of course, in the 21st century, there’s another type of referral, and that comes from someone who hasn’t used your services. Perhaps they heard you speak, read your blog, or follow you on LinkedIn. They’ve personally experienced your expertise, and when given the chance to recommend an A/E/C firm, they automatically think of you. So a steady stream of content can not only lead to direct opportunities, but can create additional referrals along the way.
Because seller-doers are in regular contact with their clients / owners / buyers, seller-doers are on the front lines of gaining referrals. But the first step is to ask!
Direct Mail – Mark Twain is often quoted as quipping, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” although the quote itself has been exaggerated through the years. However, the quote can also apply to direct mail; that is, old-fashioned snail mail. Media has been tolling the death bell for traditional direct mail for more than a decade, and yet it is still alive and well. And, as it happens, underutilized. A recent Zweig Group study found that the top performing firms still use direct mail. My firm, JDB Engineering, does a lot of work with industrial companies, and I’ve found that many clients and prospects are very poor email users. They often don’t open direct emails, much less e-blasts. But they do check their “snail” mail. And hey, in this day and age, when we receive a postcard or newsletter (or holiday card) in our physical mailbox, it can be somewhat of a novelty – or at least attention-getting.
So don’t underestimate the power of old-fashioned direct mail. Once upon a time, mailboxes were filled with clutter – direct mailers, newsletters, magazines, catalogs, prospecting letters, and more. But today, that isn’t often the case. So one way to break through the clutter is to utilize simple postcards to share a value message. Only a quarter (-ish) of email marketing gets viewed (opened). If only a quarter of direct mail recipients look at your message, you’ll be as effective as email, and will certainly be reaching some people who didn’t open any of the email marketing content you sent them. Multiple marketing channels always make sense.
For seller-doers, the call to action should involve you. Perhaps it is to call you for more information or a free consultation. Perhaps the call to action is to visit your website to read a blog or download an ebook or white paper. What’s in it for the recipient? Why would they call you? Make sure you contact information is listed on every direct mailing.
There used to be a generally understood “rule” that it takes at least seven touches to get a response or generate name recognition. So a person needed to see an advertisement on television seven times before they became aware of the product or service being promoted. Or you needed to make at least seven calls to get through to the person on the other side. Or you needed to get your name in front of a prospect at least seven times with a direct mailer before they knew who you were. Today, with thousands of messages reaching all of us daily, the rule of seven seems somewhat quaint! So persistency and consistency is the key. If you choose to use direct mail, make sure you are sending content out monthly, or at least quarterly. A/E/C business development is often a game of timing: most buyers don’t have regular, on-going needs for an architect, engineer, contractor, or specialty consultant. Therefore, by pushing out a steady stream of messages, you’re playing the timing game, hoping that when the prospect has a need, your message will arrive in front of them. But you are also building name recognition and brand awareness (your personal brand and the company brand).
Publicity – Another effective tool for seller-doers falls under the public relations realm. Getting quoted in a newspaper, business journal, or trade magazine helps establish you as an expert. There is instant credibility that comes from being quoted in an article – or even on a podcast or television broadcast.
This tool, however, is tricky, because you have very limited control. With many of the other tools, you have some element of control. You can write and send an email. You can write a blog – or author an article to send to a journal or magazine for potential publication. You can pick up the phone to make a call, and you can host a webinar featuring you as a speaker – or submit abstracts to present at a conference, although there’s no guarantee you will be selected.
With publicity, you are relying on an outside source to control your destiny. Furthermore, if you succeed in getting interviewed, you never know how accurately you will be quoted, and how much of your interview will actually get published. I’ve spent 45 minutes on the phone with a reporter, and had a one-sentence quote result from the conversation!
The first step in the publicity process is to make yourself available for reporters. Let them know that you are an expert on a certain topic – or topics – and offer to help them. I’ve often found that reporters reach out to me for recommendations about who to interview. There’s no short-term direct benefit for me and my firm, but in the long-term I know the reporter will remember that I helped them, and reach out to me for an interview at some point.
Often, if you write a blog or article, or give a presentation, media may find you. However, waiting for your telephone to ring is not a strategy for publicity any more than it is an effective strategy for business development. Identify the publications that cover your markets – and your clients’ markets. Determine what kind of content they publish, and who writes it. We’ve all had the situation where we’ve read an article in which a competitor was quoted and thought, “Well why didn’t they contact me?” Make a list of those topics where you are able to provide value, and include your credentials. Then reach out to the editors and reporters that make the most sense, and share your availability to be a resource. Sometimes they will call you for information only. Sometime they will contact you for recommendations about sources. And yet other times you will be their primary source, and be the one getting interviewed.
Warm Calling – Yes, sometimes you still have to pick up the phone, as much as most people hate it. What’s funny is that a lot of design and construction professionals I know have no problem picking up the phone when it is project-related. They’ll call the client, potential vendors, local government officials, consultants, subcontractors, or anyone else necessary in the pursuit of a successful project. Sometimes they know the people they are calling, other times they’ve never previously spoken. And yet these same, skilled phone conversers cower at the thought of calling someone they don’t know if it is done in the context of business development!
Sure, if the prospect calls them, it is an easy conversation. But when the roles are reversed, the stress levels go high! However, at the end of the day, no matter how many emails you send, social media posts you make, blogs you write, or quotes you give to media, there must still be conversation. Few projects are won without robust two-way communication.
Ultimately, you’ll want the conversation to be face-to-face, beyond a superficial conversation in a networking environment. This is where the warm call comes in.
Ask an existing client if he or she can provide the names of any counterparts at other companies. The call instantly becomes warm: “Hello, John, my name is Scott Butcher, and I’ve been working with Jane Doe at Acme Products. She suggested that we connect. I understand that…” (Ideally, Jane would have primed the pumps by first talking to John, emailing him, or doing a social media introduction. But this is not always the case.)
If you give a presentation somewhere, get the attendance list, and follow-up. “Hi John. This is Scott Butcher, I wanted to thank you for attending my program about Building Information Modeling, and ask if you would be willing to share some feedback with me.”
Remember the old adage that people hate to be sold, but they love to buy. So don’t sell on the phone. Don’t push your company, products, or services on them. Just have a conversation. Learn about them and their needs. Provide information and value. Establish yourself as a resource.
By all means, if you know that they have a need for your services right now, talk about it. But don’t sell. If they are looking to build in a municipality where your civil engineering firm has worked, share some of the processes or pitfalls they need to be aware of. If they are building a hotel and you are a mechanical firm, share with them the value of a VRF system for that type of project. If you sense that schedule is critical, tell them about your firm’s approach to modular construction on a recent project, and how that helped get your client into their facility 20% faster than traditional methods would have allowed.
But don’t say, “Do you need an architect? Oh, you have a firm you normally use? Okay. Thanks. Bye.” (How many times does that exact conversation occur around the country every day?)
Sometimes you might not easily have that “point of warmth,” like you met them at a networking event, they commented on your blog, or a client suggested you call them. So dig deeper. Check them out on LinkedIn or Twitter, if they are active. Learn about them. Look for points of commonality – shared contacts, hobbies, organizations, colleges, interests, etc. Certainly if you identify someone you know who knows them, talk with the mutual connection. Learn about the prospect. See if you can get an introduction – or at least some intelligence that will help turn a cold call into a warm call.
And this leads us to our “0.5” tool…
Research – None of these tools work without research. You can’t give a presentation without doing research. You can’t write a blog or an article without doing research. You can’t make a warm call without research.
Although research by itself is not a specific business development “tool” per se, it is the foundation for almost all successful business development. Account mining requires research. What services could you be offering? Who else in the client’s organization should you know? Are there other locations where you could be working? That’s all research. When you ask a client who they recommend you call, you are doing research.
Every seller-doer needs to be doing research weekly. In firms with dedicated business developers, or marketing staff, some of the research is often done by others. But that does not absolve you of your responsibility to conduct research. A thought leader (or subject matter expert) without research is not a thought leader. You need to be knowledgeable, not just about your profession but about your clients’ industries. You need to understand trends and new products. You need to understand project delivery approaches to determine what makes the most sense for your clients and prospects. You need to have a network of consultant and vendors.
This is all research.
Likewise, knowing which markets to target, where to find prospects, the primary contacts and their phone/email, background information on the prospects, etc. That’s all research, too.
Seller-doers who understand the value of research succeed.
A friend of mine who coaches seller-doers shared with me the “7 P’s”: Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I love it! So always be prepared!
Research can be time-consuming, and with all your other responsibilities, it will be difficult to find time. So make time. A lot of my research is done at home, in the evenings, on my iPad. Usually I’m sitting in my recliner, my son and wife are watching something on TV, and I’m conducting research. Find an approach that makes sense for you and your schedule.
Putting it Together
Few seller-doers use every tool available. It’s just too time-consuming, and face it, most of us are naturals at some tools, and not so much at other tools. So find the tools that you are comfortable using. Focus on them. In the future, you may add more tools. Some of it happens organically – like if you write articles/blogs, often times you’ll be contacted to give a presentation. And if you give a presentation, occasionally media may reach out to you to pick your brain or interview you.
Scheduling time is critical. Too many seller-doers believe that they can backfill their schedules with sales activities. They’ll schedule their project workload for the week, and plan to “fill in the gaps” with business development. But does that ever really happen? Almost never. So when you schedule your workweek, put in dedicated time for BD. What is your chargeability goal? Can you schedule an hour a day, or is it one hour two days a week? What can you do at the office during normal work hours, and what needs to be afterhours?
Rely on those around you. If your firm has dedicated business developers, use them as a resource. Recent SMPS research has revealed that many BD professionals (BD directors, managers, representatives) are evolving their roles to become coaches and trainers to seller-doers. Some are helping with research. Marketers are providing content and marketing messages to seller-doers. In the A/E/C industry, business development is typically a team-based sport, so play your position and trust in your team.
And if you don’t have internal resources, look outside to learn. Attend an SMPS business development training program. Read Professional Services Management Journal. Find books on related topics and devour them. There are countless books available for most of the tools outlined in this blog.
If you don’t know where to start, begin with what I believe is the bible for professional services seller-doers: Rainmaking by the late Ford Harding. He covers many of these tools. And even though the book is somewhat out of date with relation to modern tools like social media, the advice is timeless. And although this is a bit self-serving, my book Reputation Design+Build: Creating Winning Personal Brands for Engineering, Design and Construction Professionals covers all these tools, plus some others, in more depth. I believe that personal branding is one of the single most impactful approaches for seller-doers to build business, thus the book. Also check out the free resources from Hinge Marketing. They conduct a ton of research, and regularly publish their findings with sound business advice.
For Seller-Doer knowledge, start here:
So there’s my 10.5 business development tools for seller-doers. Do you use these tools? What important tools are missing from my list?