Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why That Dog Don't Hunt

If the current economy won't motivate senior professionals to get out and sell more, what will it take? Not different circumstances, but a different mindset. I've been trying to nudge principals and PMs into taking a more active sales role for years. In most cases, they're fully on board in terms of the need-to. What they lack is the want-to.

There's no mystery why this is. When I do sales training, I usually start by asking for general impressions of salespeople. The responses are overwhelmingly negative. Probably unfair, to tell the truth. But the perceptions persist, and most technical professionals want no part of it. That's not why they went to school, some will complain.

Here's the odd part. When I ask what it is about salespeople that turns them off, I typically hear the following: They talk too much. They don't listen. They don't really care about me. They're focused on their own needs, not mine. Now take one of those same technical professionals on a sales call and what do you normally see? Too much talking, too little listening, too much focus on the seller.

We may not like it, but isn't that what selling's all about? Not necessarily. There's a better way. I had to discover it years ago when I finally admitted I hated selling. Funny thing was, I was a business development manager. That was my job. I was reasonably successful, but it wasn't all that satisfying. There were too many times that I felt I was wasting the client's time.

I had received considerable sales training and read a lot on the subject. I knew my craft well. But in sales, doing things right is no substitute for thinking rightly. Why? Because our motives and attitudes color the transaction, for both parties. Buyers resent the perceived self-centered motives of most sellers. Sellers default to the caricature of the stereotypical salesperson because they're acting rather than interacting.

So I recognized the need to overhaul my thinking about selling. Same for most technical professionals who are asked to sell. The secret is to stop selling and start serving. Sounds simple, but it's not. It involves a heart transplant, where you begin to care more about the client's needs than your own. It's not easy, but it sure is satisfying. Now your want-to has caught up with the need-to.

How can you promote such a change in your firm? Keep in mind that most A/E firms are probably not equipped to make such a nuanced transition. So if yours can pull it off, you'll be in rare company. Isn't that what differentiation is all about?

Change the focus. You have to stop focusing on your needs (i.e., budgets, metrics) and shift the emphasis to clients' needs. In this tough economy, are you following their market trends or yours? Which do you talk about in your sales meetings? Which motivates you to call on clients? I'm not suggesting that you ignore managing your business, but that you keep why you're in business (to serve clients) at the forefront.

Change the terminology. Have you ever considered how much of our sales terms relate to conquest? It's about winning, competitors, pursuits, capture plans, and overcoming objections. Do these sound like service-oriented words? Don't dismiss the power of the words you use. They convey more than meaning; they shape perceptions and influence attitudes. If you want people to think differently about selling (i.e., serving), you need to speak of it differently.

Change the approach. Sales training typically starts (and ends) here. Most of today's sales literature and training programs stress a client orientation. But it's not simply about tactics. Pretending to care is easily distinguished from actually caring. But if you can begin to successfully change motives, you'll want to learn compatible techniques for working with clients. Changing both attitudes and aptitudes is required to truly succeed at what I call service-centered selling.


True Colors Consulting said...


Well said. There's what I like to call an "invisible wall of distrust" between buyers and sellers. The buyers can see it crystal clear, but sellers often haven't got a clue. They often ignore the wall, try to circumvent it (good bridge burner), try to sell through it (show up and throw up), discount their prices, or simply give up.

I really like your suggestion to shift your mindset, rather than your process. Lots of programs talk customer focus, few deliver.

You might want to check out the blog I wrote on Sales Benchmarking: What Should You Measure in a Tough Economy? at I share the recommendations of an international sales training company and why it's really not customer focused.

Keep up the good work! I'm subscribing to your blog.

Mel Lester said...


I really appreciate your comments. I checked out your website and it appears we share a similar philosophy about sales. Also appreciated the article you referenced. Thanks again for your contribution.