Why Should AEC Firms Cultivate Seller-Doers?

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The seller-doer model is considered the preferred form of cultivating business within the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries (AEC). Seller-doers are individuals who not only win projects but are also technical professionals who can deliver the work. A successful seller-doer requires more than technical expertise. It requires excellent soft skills such as building deliberate relationships or simply knowing the right questions to ask potential clients.

According to industry surveys, it is estimated over 70% of AEC firms utilize this selling methodically, either exclusively or a combination of seller-doers with business development representatives.

The Problem – most architects and engineers are not wired to be in sales. Sales is not in their DNA nor the reason they chose their profession. In my 30 years of recruiting and interviewing executive level architects and engineers, I have never heard a candidate say, “I can’t wait to graduate college and sell architectural or engineering services”.

To a large majority of architects and engineers, “sell” is a four-letter word. Sales is a tough profession filled with rejection and can be highly intimidating to professionals in the AEC industry. Bottom line successful selling requires certain personality traits not typically found in either of these disciplines.

The Reality – the quality and sophistication of decision makers at the client end has increased. In many cases, clients are licensed architects or engineers or from the construction side of the business with extensive practical knowledge and experience. As a result, they have much higher demands right from the first conversation, preferably with seller-doers rather than dedicated business development representatives.

Clients like to meet the people leading and managing their projects. Concern with non-technical business development representatives struggling to articulate offerings and value propositions is the primary reason firms use the seller-doer model. Continuity of a relationship from the initial stages through a project’s life cycle is another advantage. Seller-doers are often tasked with “mining” relationships to generate repeat work from their clients.

The Quandary – most successful doers are usually steeped in technical education, training and experience. The successful doer has little or no education or training in marketing and business development. Most colleges and universities have no room in the architectural and engineering curriculum for sales, marketing and communications courses.

The Solution – provide a combination of informal and formal sales and business development training for technical professionals and project managers. Some will want to spend more of their time on business development than others. Encourage those with business development aptitude and ability to develop their skills and given greater responsibilities.

Informally, firm leaders can identify young professionals with innate people skills and invite them to client facing activities such as client meetings, presentations, project interviews, development of proposals, and industry conferences or networking events. This will give the next generation exposure to a vital piece of the business early in their careers. Hopefully, remove the fear associated with that four-letter word “sell.”

Most AEC firm leaders ignore formalized business development and marketing training programs.

The Priority – project management and technical training. What is the point in having excellence in technical and project management skills if you don’t have enough work? A formal training program consists of teaching marketing and business development techniques that develop skill sets, processes, and practical applications. Implementing a formal program will result in repeat work from existing clients as well as a catalyst in cultivating new relationships.

Investing in a formal program is investing in the future and should be an integral part of any firm’s long-term strategic business plan.