Barry Kain is passionate about sales in the design and construction industry. As former president of Pennsylvania-based contractor H.B. Alexander Enterprises and a national accounts exec for Armstrong World Industries before that, Barry has spent his career honing skills as a seller-doer and coach. For the past twenty-plus years, he has focused his sales consulting business on the A/E/C industry.
In his years as a practitioner and consultant, he has seen many technical professionals who became successful sellers, but also a road littered with failed seller-doers who didn’t commit to being successful: “The single biggest challenge is the status quo,” he says. “That is, wanting to change, but not being willing to do what it takes.” The problem is prevalent within the industry, according to Barry: “Many people recognize the issue, they know what to do, they even know how to do it, but the challenge is execution in the moment – to experience the experience.”
Some people are born business developers, he says: “They have the ability to walk in a room and have the trust factor evident in seconds. Clients get the feeling their situation is more important than the fee/revenue the firm is going to get from them.” Times are changing, however. “These born naturals are few and far between anymore,” says Barry. First generation entrepreneurs who built companies are retiring, meaning that for businesses to succeed now and in the future, the need for effective sales training is critical. Most successful sales people today have been trained; however, not all training is equal.
One of the least successful techniques for training technical professionals to sell, Barry says, is to put them in a classroom environment. “When it comes to training, one of the worst things a boss can say to technical professionals is, ‘You need to do this.’ They’re already 80% against doing whatever it is you want them to do.”
Rather, he believes that training must be real-time and real-world: “The business development learning technique that works best is when there is a specific situation that’s real, and moves forward in the traditional way, but entails drilling down to a few things that ultimately make the difference.”
So what does he believe are the most critical elements of the sales process? It boils down to two essential skills to get in step with the customer. “First, create enough interest to earn early involvement in the buying process. Second, build enough trust to discover pivotal decision factors sooner. But many of us get too focused on our firm and services, and we forget the buyer’s unique puzzle pieces. In fact, we even fail to show empathy for the customer’s point of view. We need to be the differentiator – to demonstrate, by example, and take the selling out of our sales.”
For firms looking to identify candidates to evolve from doers to seller-doers, he believes that the most important thing is attitude: “The ideal seller-doer candidate is one who says, ‘I really want to do this, I’m willing to do what it takes and I’m willing to practice the basic fundamentals to see if this is really what I want to do.’”
And practice is the operative word. “We need to be given the chance to succeed and fail with real selling situations. When it comes to getting new and better work consistently, it’s more important to do the right things than it is to do things right. Once we’re doing the right things, then we work on doing the right things right. But if we don’t practice, there’s no way it will become a skill that’s better than 80% of the competition.”
A lot of the “right things” come from looking at models of other successful seller-doers and realizing there’s not just one way of doing it. “We can’t treat designers and contractors alike. We can’t lump them together because they think differently from one-another.”
Companies should provide different model options to their seller-doer candidates, Barry believes: “If there are enough models to choose from, the technical professional can build on what’s already working, align that with their natural strengths and talents, and make a match with something that works best for them.”
What do you think? Are seller-doers receiving quality training? Are they too focused on areas that aren’t of primary interest to their prospective clients? Are business development failures often directly related to a failure to execute?