The sales and business development challenge: Is there a magic answer?

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The Rain Group's Sales Performance Wheel.
seller doer symposium
The Seller-Doer Symposium at SMPS Build Business in Philadelphia this August will address the research into the most effective sales and business development processes for AEC businesses and practices.

It’s a perennial challenge for businesses of all sizes: How can we improve our sales results/achievements and grow our business/practice’s profitability?

You can be pretty sure that anyone who suggests a magic bullet quick-fix solution is either helping to correct a glaringly obvious problem (yes they happen), or is running a scam. Simply put, developing an effective business development organization/system isn’t easy and no one I know has achieved perfection, at least sustainably.

Nevertheless several firms, services and organizations provide varying levels of resources to help in the process.  I’m especially impressed with the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) initiatives in this area, first in determining through research the importance of the seller-doer model for the AEC community, and secondly, in developing a multi-faced professional development program to bring businesses and practices (and individual practitioners) up to speed.  The concept increasingly is to empower front line project managers to capture and participate in business development opportunities, while professional business developers provide mentoring, training, support and sometimes door-opening services. Principals and leaders of course also have major business development roles, even if they rise through the technical rather than sales side of the organization.

You can see other ideas, such as the Rain Group’s Benchmark report: The Top-Performing Sales Organization. This document of course sets the stage for selling Rain Group services, which I haven’t tested personally, but I’m sure are worthy of attention for corporations with the budget for these resources.

The Rain Group's Sales Performance Wheel.
The Rain Group’s Sales Performance Wheel.

Refreshingly, the Rain Group steers clear of magic bullets, observing, “Indeed, there’s no common definition of top performance, so it’s not easy to isolate what the better performing sales organizations do differently than the rest.”

The observation — there are eight categories, and 75 factors that influence success — and you need to take steps across the different categories to come up with an understanding of where you stand against the best and most successful organizations. These are organizational and individual, relating to topics such as operations, enablement, motivation, training, strategy, structure and talent management.

An interesting observation relates to the importance of managing and enhancing the relationship of key accounts — your best current clients.  Great sales organizations spend resources and efforts in enhancing these relationships and opportunities, realizing that cross-selling and add-on selling to established clients almost always is more profitable and effective than drumming up new business. And guess what, your clients need to realize you provide real value to them to achieve sales success.

Sometimes I think it can be a matter of deciding that your best approach to improving sales is to treat your current clients like royalty and really do your job exceptionally well. Then you can capture the repeat business without stress; and most importantly, set your stage for referral and great word of mouth.

But you need to work on your sales and business development strategy to succeed. You may score some quick wins with simple strategic and practice changes, but in the end you will need discipline to assess the priorities and implement the improvements you need. It isn’t an entirely easy journey, but it can be done.

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