Business development: The challenges of finding sales representatives

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aec business development magazine
The most recent Business Development magazine issue
The most recent Business Development magazine issue
The most recent Business Development magazine issue

AEC consultant and marketing guru Larry Silver called me yesterday to seek some assistance in publishing his ongoing Business Development e-magazine, designed for architectural, engineering and construction companies. Silver and partner Ron McKenzie have been publishing this journal several times a year (monthly/bimonthly) for some time (earliest archived issue is Oct. 2013). The magazine collection — you can download individual issues at http://www.bd4aec.org/bd4aec-ezine.html — provides a wealth of information.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help Silver with his main request — finding competent sales representatives to sell advertising in the magazine. Certainly, I noticed a bit of irony in a publisher of a business development magazine encountering challenges in finding BD reps for his own publication, but of course he touches on one of the biggest challenges in the AEC — and any — business:  The relative shortage of really talented, competent and consistently effective sales representatives.

There are many reasons for this problem, and they relate to business fundamentals. Individuals who have the talent to bring in new business effectively provide so much value that an organization would be foolish, to say the least, in creating an environment where talented BD representatives think it necessary to leave and seek opportunities elsewhere. And searches for other organizations to provide the BD services run into a corollary problem — why would anyone dedicate their company’s BD resources to support someone else’s business for a commission or partial revenue-share, when we could effectively use these resources for our own products and services? Finally, of course, individuals with BD talents often are candidates to start their own businesses, and in many cases, obtain earned equity in the organizations for which they currently work.

AEC Business DevelopmentThe situation has compounded complexity in professional/technical services. Here, Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) research reports a trend towards “seller/doers” — or rainmakers; individuals who combine true professional qualifications with the ability to develop new business. Clients want to work with someone who actually understands and has the professional qualifications to suggest really practical ideas — rather than a sales rep who can only push for the opportunity to connect the professional staff to the project opportunity. Obviously, if you think it can be hard to find someone with good selling abilities, imagine the challenges of combining these skills with architectural or engineering credentials.

Consultancies, services, and scams prey on businesses trying to solve the sales recruitment challenge and I cannot claim to have the answer. (If I did, I would probably have the money to pay for first class tickets to the most expensive resorts in the world.) Ford Harding has published some worthy books on the rainmaking process, and I’ve learned that you can make the selling and sales recruitment process much easier with a combination of solid internal business practices, great marketing/reputation-building strategies, and plenty of growth opportunities. (In this regard, I wish I could have a business like Google.)

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