“Timid salesmen have skinny kids.” Zig Ziglar
It doesn’t matter what you do or how you define yourself, you’re in sales. Whether it’s conveying your point of view during a coordination meeting in your office or closing a contract deal for a multi-million dollar design with a prospective client, you’re in sales. I have the opportunity to work with many business development professionals in the architectural/engineering industry and most will tell you that their job would be infinitely easier if the architects and engineers in their firms knew a thing or two about selling.
Selling isn’t a skill that most engineers have and it certainly isn’t one that we learn in college. In fact, most will go through an entire career without any type of formal sales training. Count me among this statistic – I’m twenty years into my professional career and have never had a formal training course. However, I’ve read a lot about sales, I’ve learned how to convey my point of view, and I’ve experienced what works (and doesn’t work) in sealing the deal on a project.
These four steps are essential to sales of any type:
1. Qualification. Qualifying is a two-way street, both your qualifications to deliver the goods you’re selling and the buyers qualifications for purchasing what you’re offering. If you’re trying to get a new job by talking to the person who’s not making the hiring decision, then you’re not likely to sell yourself into the job. Same holds true if you’re attempting to sell a capability of your firm to someone who doesn’t need it, can’t afford it, or isn’t the decision maker. Do your homework and qualify your buyer before starting the process.
2. Rapport. Cold calls don’t work, at least not very often. The reason they don’t work is because they’re impersonal. We tend to buy from people we trust and trust only comes through rapport, which is a friendly relationship. I’m amazed at how much emphasis is placed on telephone calls or email to make sales…it doesn’t work. Only through relationships can you assure yourself of eventually making the sale. Without rapport, don’t plan on selling anything.
3. Education/Information. It may be obvious but it needs to be said – know what you’re selling. If you reach this point in the sales process you need to be educated and have the right information tailored for the person, or organization, you’re talking to. Again, do your homework in advance so you can tailor your knowledge of what you’re selling to your audience. This holds true whether you’re selling design services or selling yourself into a new position.
4. Close. It’s trues, a sale isn’t a sale until the money’s in the account, you’re in the new position, or your point of view is accepted. And there won’t be a sale unless you’ve qualified the buyer, built a rapport, properly educated them (and yourself) with the right information. There’s a lot written about good and bad methods for closing a sale, but the one that works the best is a closure based on the trust established through a relationship. If you’ve accomplished your work correctly on the previous three steps, closing will come without a lot of drama.
If you ignore, skip, or attempt to rush through one of the steps you’ll come across as pushy and whom ever you’re selling to won’t like you. For me, one reason that I didn’t like the thought of selling myself was from bad experiences of people skipping Step 2 (connecting with me), rushing through Step 3 (or having no idea what they were talking about), and pushing right to Step 4. It’s why we loathe the tele-marketers who call at dinnertime every night!
You can avoid being hated and feel good about selling by following these 4 steps every time you sell, whether it’s your skills and abilities to a prospective employer, or your firm’s capabilities to a potential client.
Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leader, civil engineer, and author. He’s an accomplished professional specializing in A/E/C work internationally and author of The Engineer Leader, a recognized blog on leadership and life success for engineers and professionals.