The seller-doer model and the challenge of thinking like a professional as you develop new business

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At the SMPS Ontario meeting where national president Paula Ryan discussed the seller-doer model

Back in the olden days (like the 1970s and earlier), marketing for architectural and engineering professional practices was restricted. You couldn’t advertise outside of “tombstone” ads naming principals — and so the way professional services discovered business usually was through networking, connections, and rainmakers — professionally qualified individuals (often the company principals) who knew how to sell.

The rules changed with the lifting of restrictions on advertising and marketing, resulting different practices — and the formation of a new association dedicated to marketing for architecture, engineering and construction organizations — the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). Rainmakers continued to do their thing, but AEC practices began hiring marketing specialists and even sales representatives (business developers), without professional qualifications.

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SMPS national president Paula Ryan in Toronto

Things fell off the rails in 2008/09 especially in the US as a massive recession decimated the AEC sector. To survive, businesses and practices slashed their marketing budgets — and departments. Professionally qualified practitioners were expected to go out and drum up business and they had time to do it, because of the volume of work drying up. (And if they didn’t go out and hustle for work, their own jobs were in jeopardy.) The seller-doer model was back in vogue; but this time it wasn’t just rainmakers; everyone was expected to get into the act.

Fast forward to this decade. The SMPS Foundation commissioned an extensive study of business development practices and discovered that clients want to meet qualified practitioners, not sales representatives. So the seller-doer model made sense from the procurement perspective, as well.

But what about the professionally qualified people who don’t want to sell? And how can practices manage the challenge of time management and emotional rejection in the business development process?

These questions are subject of further initiatives, but the trend appears to be for the return of the non-technical business developer, but in a new role:  as coach, guide and co-ordinator for the professionally qualified employees. Meanwhile, SMPS has started building an extensive business development training program.

I’ve been researching these topics for an article to be published in an upcoming issue of the SMPS Marketer (the association’s national magazine) and will post a copy of the story once it is published In the meantime, I enjoyed listening to (and interviewing) national SMPS president Paula Ryan when she visited Toronto last week for a presentation on the seller-doer model to the SMPS Ontario Chapter.

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