The seller-doer model has its advantages. Practitioners are best positioned to sell their own expertise, and clients are typically most comfortable in engaging those who will actually be managing and performing the work.
But the average seller-doer prioritizes the
doing over the selling. And when there's an abundance of doing to be
done, selling often takes a back seat. Such is the case in most A/E
firms these days, with burgeoning workloads making it extremely
difficult to find time for business development.
seller-doers free up more time for selling without shortchanging their
project responsibilities? Here are five strategies that I've found
Projectize business development.
Unplanned sales activity can never compete with planned project activity
for seller-doers' attention. Unfortunately, a reactive, unstructured
approach to business development is the norm in most firms. To combat
this tendency, treat it like a project. Business development is readily
converted into the core elements of project work—tasks, assignments,
schedules, budgets, deliverables, reviews, metrics. Key pursuit and
proposal plans facilitate this conversion.
Plan and schedule sales activities.
Don't consign sales calls and related tasks to leftover time; that is,
"when I get the chance..." If you've projectized BD, you've defined a
set of actions with assignments and deadlines. Many firms take this
step, but fail to capture these planned activities in some form (e.g., a
CRM system) such that they can track follow-through.
At a personal level, a basic time management principle applies here: If it's worth doing, make a specific appointment and get it on your calendar.
Then treat that appointment like any other—schedule other activities
around it or reschedule it if you must. But don't simply put it off,
something that's easier to do if you only add it to your to-do list.
Budget time for BD. One
of the most overused excuses I hear for seller-doers not selling is
they can't afford the hit to their utilization. Most seller-doers I've
worked with have utilization goals in the range of 50-70%. The issue
isn't how much project time they have to sacrifice for BD, but how much
of that nonbillable time can be devoted to it.
If you don't
specifically allocate a portion of nonbillable time to BD, you likely
perpetuate the impression that BD time competes with project time. It
doesn't, I would argue; it competes with other nonbillable activities.
So budget how much of that time goes to BD—with individuals having
specific time allocations—and then track "BD utilization."
way, I need to address a misguided perception that I think is at the
heart of our struggle with giving appropriate attention to nonbillable
activities like sales and marketing. The common notion in A/E firms is
that billable time is good and nonbillable time is bad. You want to
maximize billable time and minimize nonbillable time.
don't. If you were able to carry out that logic to its extreme—100%
billability—you'd be out of business in a month. The fact is that
nonbillable activities are just as important as billable ones; you just
can't have too much of them. Without sales, you don't have billable
work. Without human resources, you don't have the people to do the work.
Without accounting, you don't get paid for the work. It's critically
important that you properly value and manage nonbillable time!
Thus...treat it like project work.
Be selective in what you pursue. I've
never been a fan of volume selling, which many A/E firms practice by
default in submitting proposals for just about every opportunity they
feel they're qualified for. A better approach is to outwork the competition
on fewer sales pursuits. As I continually remind my clients, every hour
spent on a losing proposal is an hour that could have been redirected
to more effective sales or marketing actions.
you're busy, spending time on low-return sales opportunities just
doesn't make sense. On the other hand, the best way to convert
opportunities into higher-probability ones is to exert more effort than
your competitors. So choose how to spend
your BD time wisely. Don't pursue opportunities where you don't have
the capacity or the commitment to give it the time warranted if you
really want to to win.
Free time for BD by delegating more. Some
seller-doers are busier with project work than they should be. Yeah,
that's easier to excuse when we value project time above all other. But
seller-doers have been entrusted with a high-value responsibility—to
bring in enough work for the firm to be successful. Many fail to fulfill
that responsibility by not properly allocating their time and their
work. They don't delegate effectively to lower-level staff.
I wrote previously
about the concept of leverage, pushing work activities to the lowest
practical staff level. Besides boosting profitability, leverage also
permits senior personnel to have more time for higher level work
activities befitting their experience and expertise. Those higher-level
activities include BD. Some seller-doers are in fact accurate in saying
that spending time on BD would lower their utilization. The question is:
Is this a good thing?
Generally, when senior managers and project
managers are running higher utilization rates than junior staff, that's
an indicator of poor leverage. In some firms, this situation is even
lauded. But there's a cost for consuming management time with project
work. And BD is only one crucial activity that suffers from not
optimally distributing the work among staff.
I'd be amiss if I didn't acknowledge that many seller-doers these days
aren't feeling the compulsion to bring in additional work because their
firms can barely keep up with the projects they already have. I can
empathize. You certainly don't won't to secure work that exceeds your
capacity to perform well (and staffing up is difficult now), thus
failing to satisfy clients and sullying your firm's reputation.
Business development when you're really busy shouldn't simply be about acquiring more work, but the right
work. That is, better projects, better clients, better opportunities
for staff, better financial terms, better returns for owners. Focus on
growing key client relationships, expanding into growth markets,
building new capabilities, strengthening your work processes and
I recently sat in on a planning meeting where my
engineering firm client was talking about building hedges for the coming
economic downturn. They weren't venturing any guesses about when this
would happen, only confirming that it was an inevitability. As I noted
in a previous article on marketing, now is the time to fortify your BD capabilities for whatever is coming. Don't wait until you're facing a crisis.
busy to worry about that now? It's too critical to put off, so consider
the above strategies for creating more space to tackle those
important-but-not-that-urgent activities that can deliver success not
just in a booming economy, but over the long haul.