There’s a term in the A/E/C industry that most firms will do anything to avoid, whispering it in quiet rooms as infrequently as possible: sales. Drop the “s” and “sales” becomes a four-letter word. And we too often treat it that way.
Instead, as an industry we’ve adopted “business development,” even though everyone knows that “business development,” or “BD” for short, is simply a euphemism for “sales.”  In fairness, clients don’t particularly care for the term "sales," either. In fact, their disdain for the term may be spreading: I recently heard a story from a colleague about a prospect refusing to meet with her simply because of her title: “Director of Business Development.”  
To avoid the negative connotation associated with sales and BD, both internal and external, some firms use the titles “client development” or “client services.”
And yet, we have this extremely important tier of people in our firms that are charged with both getting the work and doing the work. They eat what they kill (catch what they eat?) – and often have to feed their teams. And despite our cultural avoidance of any terminology related to sales, we inexplicably refer to them a “seller-doers” or “doer-sellers,” depending upon the firm or the individual’s balance of selling versus doing.
Basically we don’t like to use the term “sales” in our firms, going out of the way to use other terms to avoid using the dreaded word. Then we turn around and ask our sales-adverse technical professionals to become “seller-doers.”
Does that make sense to you?
Sure, firms have “Rainmakers,” which are often described as senior people, usually technical in nature, who bring in an inordinate amount of a firm’s work. But they are few and far between, and as many A/E/C firms move toward implementing robust business development cultures, we have technical people with sales accountabilities, but not to the level of the true rainmakers.
So what should we call them?
“First they were called seller-doers, but then some firms gravitated toward the use of doer-seller as well broadened this category to include more ‘operations’ folks who also needed to assume some sales responsibilities, and to make it clear that it did not place their operations role (serving the client) in a subservient way,” says Alfred K. Potter, II, FSMPS, retired Senior Vice President of Gilbane Company and a recipient of the prestigious Weld Coxe Marketing Achievement Award from the Society for Marketing Professional Services. 
He adds: “To me, though, the distinction is almost a moot point, because the term seller-doer or doer-seller is almost always an internal term used casually to describe a group of professionals who also bear some sales responsibility as part of their ongoing roles. Which is used is typically a matter of corporate culture. The seller-doer or doer-seller term is almost never used on a business card or as an official title. That almost always remains their normal operational title, like project manager, principal, department manager, etc.”
Al Potter has not been the only one in the trenches when it comes to getting technical staff involved with the sales process.
“I’ve been dealing with this topic my entire professional career – know it well, as a seller-doer myself, and training other seller-doers to think more like marketers,” says Thomas Smith, AICP, FSMPS, CPSM, former SMPS National President.
“Seller-doers are trained to do, not to sell,” he adds. “While few will admit it, they do need training on how to be really effective with their selling activities. In my experience, too much of their non-billable time lacks real focus – unfortunately, few seller-doers are willing to take direction from non-technical marketing staff….” 
Other industries grapple with this, too. Just look into the non-profit realm, where “selling” is often the same as “fundraising.”  But that’s a bad word, too, so they often call it “development.”  My wife was the director of development for a non-profit organization, and her job responsibilities were grant writing and convincing people to donate. Sounds like proposal writing and selling to me.
Would our sales-resistant technical doers be less resistant to “sell” if we called it something else? To be fair, it’s not like we’re putting the title on their business card. As Al Potter noted, “seller-doer” is often just an internal designation for staff with BD responsibilities.
Still, selling brings fear to the hearts of professionals trained to creatively solve problems. So is there a better term? 
John Meng-Frecker, PE, LS, CFM, CPSM believes so: “At E & A Group, we have the doer-seller model for project managers. Our brand revolves around genuine relationships. Relationships are formed directly with clients, but they don’t produce as much fruit unless they are genuine – they are founded in trust. Clients look for this. They want an engineer they can trust in a relationship where they feel comfortable asking questions. They want a consultant. Putting yourself in that position leads to work from repeat clients. It also travels by word of mouth that you are a trusted consultant. This is not to say that business automatically walks in the door when you follow this model, but it sure helps. The project managers make all the fee proposals in our firm and the quality-based RFPs are done by the BD and Marketing team with oversight by the PM.”
Terracon Consultants’ Kathryn Curtis, CPSM, concurs: “I agree the appropriate term would be ‘consultant.’ We use a similar model at Terracon Consultants, working hand-in-hand with project managers to deliver RFPs and build relationships. I’ve never heard the term ‘seller-doer’ within our walls because everyone is required to ‘sell’ if they are employed at our consulting firm – it just comes with the territory.”
Gregory Beckstrom, CPSM, managing principal at American Engineering Testing, Inc. has served in a number of roles in his career, and has found that certain titles are more acceptable to clients: “I have had management/leadership roles at three engineering/consulting companies and well before that I was a seller (80%) / doer (20%). We used titles that were technically grounded because those of us who had these sorts of roles were able to use our technical qualifications to get in the door at client companies, more than our strong interpersonal relationship and communications skills. So titles such as ‘consultant,’ ‘senior consultant,’ ‘practice leader,’ or ‘subject matter expert’ were more palatable to prospective clients than ‘business development manager or sales manager.’”
Interestingly, Gregory also points out the technical vs. sales dynamic that exists internally at most A/E/C organizations as well: “Technical people tend to respect other technical people much more than someone who is sort of technical, but better at BD. So in a way, it’s better to be a decent technical person with passable BD/communication skills than being a super seller with no technical qualifications. Life’s not fair, but there it is.”
Ultimately, everyone in a company should be involved with bringing in work, according to Peter Kienle, FSMPS, CPSM, former SMPS National President: “Many years ago a social expert said in a presentation that a person generally knows on average about 200 people. ‘Know 200 people’ means that 200 people know you by your first name – see you on the street and say ‘Hi.’ So if a firm has 20 people, then those 20 are connected with about 4,000 people … now you are talking about a lot of people that the firm is connected to. Talk about getting word out to the masses.”
Pete adds that every employee has a critical reason for being involved with the BD process: “My thing is that everyone markets or should market in the firm. It is in their best interest. No workie, no money. Even a soft sell by letting your friends know what your firm is doing could, through the six degrees equation, get to a prospect who contacts you. The rank and file just do not understand the marketing power they have!”
Selling, developing business, rainmaking, whatever you want to call it, should just be an inherent part of what construction managers, project executives, architects, engineers, and other technical professionals do. That’s far easier said than done, of course, when the collegiate curriculums in the profession provide little meaningful training for sales, marketing, presentation, and other soft skills, and then A/E/C firms focus on making junior staff technically superior until they reach a certain level, then turn around and say, “Okay, go sell.”
While changing curriculums and job responsibilities may be a solution for the future, we’re still stuck with the now. Most companies need seller-doers, but shouldn’t we really call them something else a little less unflattering to them? Or maybe we all should just admit that without selling there can’t be doing, and elevate the “selling” process to be equal to the “doing” process – and then maybe the terminology will no longer matter.
What do you think? What’s a better title than seller-doer?