In my last post I argued that all project managers should be contributing to their firm's sales efforts. Only half do, according to the Zweig Group. A prominent reason for the low participation is that most PMs don't feel competent or comfortable in this role (and this is also true of many who are involved in sales!). As I wrote previously, I'm confident that capable PMs can successfully transfer their project management skills to selling—it's much the same skill set. Here are some suggestions for helping them make that transition:
Train them in a service-centered approach to selling. The problem most PMs have with selling is that they have an overwhelmingly negative impression
of salespeople. They have their own experiences as a buyer, and that
taints their view of selling. But rather than avoid selling, they should
be striving to change the experience for those who buy the firm's
services. Serve prospective clients rather than sell to them.
"High-end selling and consulting are not different and separate skills,"
observes sales researcher Neil Rackham, "When we are watching the very
best [seller-doers] in their interactions with clients, we cannot tell
whether they are consulting, selling, or delivering." For the A/E
professional, this means uncovering needs, offering advice, recommending
solutions—giving a meaningful sample of what it will be like working
together under contract. This kind of approach takes the sting out of
selling for both the PM and the client.
Budget time specifically for sales. The other big excuse for why PMs don't sell is that there isn't enough time. Or more specifically, that spending time developing new business subtracts from time on billable project work.
Given the obsession with utilization that exists in many firms, it's
hardly surprising that this perception is so prevalent. But the claim is
seldom supported by the facts.
Nearly all PMs
work a substantial number of nonbillable hours, a portion of which could
be devoted to sales activities. The problem is that these hours are
rarely budgeted or managed, so that in effect selling is done with
leftover time. And who has surplus time left over? You can minimize the
concern that selling displaces billable hours by managing your business
development efforts like project work, including budgeting a portion
existing nonbillable hours for this purpose.
Fit sales responsibilities to PMs' individual strengths. Selling is not as monolithic an activity as many presume, nor does it favor a specific personality type. There is a potential sales role for virtually anyone
in your firm, including your PMs. Some are comfortable at networking
functions, others better at one-on-one conversations. Some are
big-picture strategists, others more analytical problem solvers. Some
are competent writers, others better in communicating verbally. Some may
be capable in making sales calls, others are better assigned to doing
research, writing proposals, or developing solutions. The key is fitting the right people to the right roles.
PMs often claim that they don't have the personality to sell. But the research finds no real correlation
between personality type and sales success. Fit, again, is the critical
strategy. Help PMs shape their sales responsibilities around both their
capabilities and their personality.
Bolster your marketing efforts.
Technical professionals typically struggle more in starting the sales process than in closing the sale. They often dislike prospecting for new
leads, especially making cold calls, attending networking events, and initiating client relationships.
Effective marketing can shorten the sales cycle by bringing interested
prospects to your door. Most PMs are much more comfortable picking up
the sales effort at this point.
to start? Consider the marketing tactics that have proven most effective for professional service firms. These activities typically
require significant support from the firm's content experts, which
likely will include at least some of your PMs. They don't want to make cold
calls or work the room? How about giving a presentation, helping write
an article, or contributing to a seminar? Involvement in marketing not only
builds the firm's brand, but the personal brands of your PMs—making it
easier for them to sell.
Increase collaboration. Selling
is often a lonely activity, which further magnifies the discomfort most
PMs have with it. That's why I favor building your sales team, where those involved in sales regularly meet together, share information,
encourage one another, plan sales pursuits, and hold each other
accountable. Have members of the team work together on sales calls when
that makes sense. The investment you make in promoting collaboration, in
my experience, will more than pay off in increased sales productivity.
Provide ongoing coaching. Sales coaching can dramatically improve results
for your PMs engaged in selling. If you do training, as suggested
above, you'll need to reinforce it to make it successful—meaning
real-time feedback and instruction. Organizing your sales team can
provide opportunities for peer-to-peer coaching. Pairing up PMs with
your best sellers is another option. Or you may decide to seek outside
support from a consultant. A good coach helps build both the PM's
capabilities and motivation in the most effective manner—on the job.