Seller-doers and the AEC business development and marketing challenge

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smps fellows
A meeting of SMPS Fellows at the association's national convention in Philadelphia last year. SMPS provides some of the best resources for AEC professionals seeking to resolve seller-doer challenges

There’s no secret that selling professional services, especially for architectural and engineering, has a challenge that is greater than many other businesses. The reason: Clients often want to deal with the “doer” — the actual professionally qualified person — in making their decisions; and that means the practitioner needs to be a seller, as well.

The “seller-doer” model previously (and in some places still) is associated with the Rainmaker concept — that is, principal(s) or senior partners with full professional qualifications who seem to have the uncanny ability to bring in the business. They effectively combine selling and personal marketing skills with their professional qualifications. Often, they start up or take control of the professional practices.

The challenge of course is that if the seller is doing, there often isn’t enough time for both. And not everyone is suitable or likes doing the job that brings in the cash.

The solution often comes down to the third element: marketing.

We can argue about definitions, but I see marketing as the awareness and reputation-building process increases the pool of potential clients and reduces their resistance to making the purchasing decision. Solid marketing generates plenty of qualified leads, and effective branding successfully differentiates the professional practice/service from the competition to the extent that the purchasing decision-makers don’t need too much nudging to say “yes”.

In a very small/start-up business/practice, the principals have to combine responsibilities for all three tasks: Doing the work, developing the marketing and closing the sales. Usually they find the time to do all these things by delegating non-essential administrative tasks and possibly some technical responsibilities, where skills are reasonably common (and labor supply/pricing isn’t too high.)

However, there certainly are challenges in growing the business, because of the quantum jump in costs for in-house sales, business development and marketing abilities, and because external consultants are often expensive, ineffective, or may lack the deep understanding of the business/practice to be effective. “If only” the organization could find some more seller-doers, who could bring in the business and provide the services — carrying their time/labour overhead by the revenue they attract.

While this is easier said than done, employee ownership business models, and possibly environments where the culture, history and practice support effective rainmakers can be successful.

We can also benefit from relationship-building within the marketing and business development community, if only because we’ll know where to call for resources and who we can trust if we wish to nominate external contractors to help out. That is why I think investment in time and energy in participating in local Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) chapter initiatives makes good sense for principals interested in growing their practices.

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