Dedicated sales reps vs “seller-doers” for AEC practices: What is best?

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Rich FriedmanRich Friedman has written a thoughtful and challenging newsletter posting: “Full-Time Sales Professionals: Caveat Emptor!” where he tackles the somewhat complex and challenging question of whether AEC practices can justify full-time sales reps, in place of seller-doers (otherwise known as rainmakers).

His conclusion will not satisfy anyone seeking a one-size fits all answer:

“In a fragmented industry of diverse firm disciplines, size, geography, target clients, and cultures, one thing is certain — what works for one firm is doomed for another, so a formulistic approach is doomed.”

Some of his examples, based on interviews with relevant practices, show why you need to take a diversity of individual circumstances into account.

“I think there’s an optimal mix of dedicated sales staff who are more effective at opening doors than seller-doers, who can spend more time on billable hours or closing,” says Gary Bowman, CEO of 400-person Bowman Consulting, which has five full-time sales professionals. “We have a company target utilization of 73%, and we throw our dedicated BD reps into that pool to keep the right balance. At one time, we put them in the corporate pool and there was no accountability regarding sales force creep.”

Conversely:

There’s a concern among many (including myself) that full-time BD professionals can enable a culture that says, “My job is to keep the client happy; BD is so-and-so’s job —  that’s why we’re paying him or her.” “Sales folks can give people an out,” says Scott McFadden, Chief Development Officer at 325-person engineering and consulting firm Birdsall Services Group. “It’s not uncommon to hear staff say, ‘I talked to so-and-so and gave the contact to one of our sales folks.'”

I’ll invite you to read/subscribe to his newsletter for more details. (You may also want to check out the archives — lots of interesting stuff in the pages.

I agree with his conclusion, as well.  The challenge in discovering/nurturing business developers for the AEC practices and businesses (as for any type of enterprise or professional practice) is that this incredibly valuable talent is almost always difficult to discover and that the best “salespeople” often do not quite fit the stereotypes, even though studies have shown certain personality traits are more likely to lead to sales success (and so these qualities can be tested/evaluated.)

A practice built on seller-doers — usually the way new practices are built; as someone with the requisite skills and professional qualifications sets out on his or her own business — can find it difficult to transition to a sales-oriented model, yet the organization will die with the founder(s)’ retirement unless new seller-doers are nurtured, or the organization can develop a system/model to recruit and develop dedicated sales reps, or a hybrid model.

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