Seller-doer, doer-seller, closer-doer, rainmaker … all terms used to reference a technical professional (architect, engineer, scientist, construction manager, etc.) tasked with bringing in business to his or her firm. We know why this model is important: clients are increasingly demanding it. We know who is typically involved: SMPS/SMPS Foundation research found that the most common titles for “seller-doers” are principal, partner, CEO, vice president, president, project executive, project manager, and lead designer.
So we know the “why” and we know the “who.”
But what about the “what” and “how”? As in, what tools can seller-doers use to make new contacts, gain new opportunities, and land new business for their firms – and how can they use these tools?
The tools for seller-doers are no different than the tools for dedicated business developers. However, seller-doers, because of their education and experience, are positioned to use some of the tools differently than their sales-focused counterparts.
Here’s a quick overview of the effective tools that seller-doers could and should be using. Note that very few people will use all of these tools; rather, each person needs to decide which tool, or combination of tools, makes the most sense for them.
Account Mining – Most A/E/C firms find that the Pareto Principle is alive and well when it comes to the ratio of repeat business to new business. Surveys have demonstrated again and again that most firms get approximately 80% of their work from repeat clients, and 20% of their business from new clients. So seller-doers are often the “front lines” when it comes to generating repeat work. But seller-doers need to think in broad terms and look beyond the current project(s) they have with a given client.
Take Acme Corporation. What services are you currently providing? Are there services that your firm offers, but Acme Corporate hasn’t yet hired you for? This is cross-selling. Likewise, does Acme Corporation have multiple locations or divisions which aren’t working with you right now? If so, you have an opportunity to more deeply penetrate the account.
You’ll be hard-pressed to maintain that 80% volume if you only rely on the same contacts at your existing clients. Meet new people. Meet your client contacts' counterparts at other divisions/facilities. You are already pre-approved to work with them, so take advantage of it. And remember, the easiest sale to make is an existing service to an existing client (conversely, the most difficult sale is a new service to a new client).
Networking – Many people avoid networking like it is a bad thing. Some are scared of it. Others believe it is beneath them. And yet, the business world is still very much about relationships and who you know. Unfortunately, most seller-doers don’t know enough people. Do you? If not, why not get in front of prospective clients on neutral turf?
Think about where your clients congregate. What are their professional associations? What trade shows and conferences do they attend? If you work in the higher education market, perhaps your clients and prospects can be found at APPA or SCUP. If you work in the healthcare market, ASHE probably makes more sense. And if you chase government work, you’ll find prospects at APWA (public works) and SAME (military). If you don’t know what these abbreviations stand for, you have work to do!
There are many organizations and conferences that need to be on your radar. Don’t start too big. Look for local chapters or regional conferences and trade shows. Joining a specific organization is not enough. You must attend the meetings and (gasp!) engage in conversations. However, attending meetings is often not enough, either, so get involved: join a committee, serve on the board. This will allow relationships to grow organically, and not require you to “sell” (four-letter word); in fact, selling could get you kicked out of these organizations!
Email – Yes, it often seems that email is the bane of all of our existences. And yet, email continues to be an effective business development tool, as long as you are targeted. Mass “hire me” eblasts often serve the opposite effect and get you blacklisted. But a single email written to a specific prospect can be effective, if you have something worth sharing. “I’m writing today to introduce you to ABC Design and see if you have any projects coming up” will not – I repeat, NOT – get it done. We all get dozens of these a day. We’re all so attuned to this crap that we instinctively know which emails they are, and automatically hit the delete key without ever reading them.
However, if you have something of interest, something of value, then you may very well get a response. Never sell, only offer value. The value could come from a piece of content that your firm has published (research, white paper, blog post). Perhaps you’ve gained some client intelligence, and know that you can help solve their problem – even if they don’t yet realize they have a problem. “I just finished reading an article in College Newsletter about how University XYZ is seeing record enrollment. My son received his BS from University XYZ, and I know from countless visits to your campus that the dorms haven’t been updated in quite a while. Are you looking to renovate and expand your housing options? My firm, ABC Design, recently published a report about the latest student housing trends for colleges and universities. It covers everything from room configurations to aesthetics to amenities and technology. I’m attaching a copy for your review. I’d be happy to bring our lead researcher and meet with you and anyone in facilities or administration that would be interested in learning more about our findings.”
Something like this positions you as adding value, and doesn’t require any selling. Sure, the recipient understands that you’d like to design the student housing, but they also understand that you have some unique insight that could benefit them. And that differentiates you from the pack, and serves as the perfect door opener.
Social Media – It continues to amaze me how bass ackwards some firms can be when it comes to social media. There are still A/E/C firms that prohibit social media use at work. I know marketing professionals in this industry that are either prohibited from maintaining company social media accounts, or must do so on their own personal time. The social media ship left the port a long time ago…
Today, social media is a major part of most peoples’ lives. And yes, many decision-makers are active on social media, so much so that a new approach to business development – known as social selling – has become prevalent. At an absolute minimum, you should have an active presence on LinkedIn, which is the B2B social media site. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – these are just a few other outlets, but LinkedIn is the baseline.
Your clients and prospects are checking you out. They are Googling you and looking at your LinkedIn profile. And guess what – if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, they know that you are an old-school, low-tech kind of firm. At least that’s the perception that you create. So make sure you, your other seller-doers, and your company all have a robust presence on LinkedIn. Complete your bio. Connect with people you know. Join and participate in group discussions. Share updates, particularly if they could be of value to your clients and prospects (think industry news, trends, new products, etc.). When the time is right, reach out to connect with a prospect you’d like to get in front of, but once again, think “value.” Why would they want to connect with you? What value could you bring to them? Make that value message part of your introduction.
Although this shouldn’t need to be stated, please avoid lightning-rod subjects like politics and religion. Just as social media can create new opportunities and build your personal brand, it can also destroy relationships and negatively impact your reputation.
Writing – Whether writing for a company newsletter, writing a blog, or authoring an article for publication (or white paper, ebook, or book), you’ll find that you gain a certain level of credibility when you write. And when you write content worth reading, your personal brand will be enhanced, and prospects will want to connect with you.
There are companies out there building and expanding their practices based solely on thought leadership, so this approach certainly works. Write for your company blog – or write your own blogs on LinkedIn. Guest blog on other sites. Write articles for print and electronic magazines. Write an op-ed for your local newspaper or business journal.
Writing positions you as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) or thought leader. Be sure to provide value in whatever you write. Your clients – and prospects – are really not interested in reading you bragging about your latest project or how awesome your firm is. However, lessons learned, challenges solved, or new products used on your last project make for interesting content. Keep your writing light, tight, conversational, and useful. And keep it coming regularly to build an audience – which in turn will open new doors for potential business.
Account mining, networking, email, social media, and writing are all sales tools at your disposal. And they are really non-threatening tools, either to you or your clients/prospects.
One of the most common reasons that the seller-doer model fails is that people spend too much time doing and not enough time selling. Well, at least that is what many seller-doers want us to believe. But there’s always time available if you make a concerted effort. And these tools fortunately do not require a lot of time. Case in point: this 1500-word blog was drafted in just 45 minutes. Is there anyone who can’t find 45 minutes in a week? (In fairness, I write a lot, so I can pump out content fairly quickly. But that wasn’t always the case.)
Social media activities could only require 10-15 minutes a day. Networking events are often only once a month – or maybe twice. Email prospecting is so targeted that it doesn’t take much time or effort if you know who you are after and what value message you want to share. Sure, everything requires some commitment of time. But time is money: and if you want to make more of the latter, you need to dedicate more of the former.
In the next post we’ll look at another 5.5 tools – yes, that’s right, there is a .5 tool which is actually foundational to all ten tools.