James (not his real name), a long-standing client and now friend, started his structural engineering practice nine years ago.  He and his small team have grown the business fairly consistently with James doing ALL of the selling.

Recently, and whilst James was still trying to grow the business, he found himself struggling with the weight of being the only person in the business ‘expected’ to hold onto all the existing clients and bring in all the new business opportunities and convert them into fee paying clients.  Eventually this lead to him experiencing overwhelm, working long hours and causing significant stress which impacted his ability to manage the business effectively.

Okay, he did have the support of a team of thirteen technical or professional team members, one business support person and one junior marketing coordinator.  Nevertheless, every working day James energetically strove to grow the business to create more opportunities and progression for his whole team.

One day he thought about recruiting a high-level professional sales person.  James called me (because I was his business coach) to get my take on his idea.  After listening to to James and considering his predicament, my first thought was that getting an effective salesperson on board was not going to be an easy proposition, so I said “why don’t you get all your team members to pitch in to help you generate more business?”  James didn’t sound convinced, he replied “I’ve suggested that in the past and got nowhere”.  Apparently, his whole team believed that being involved with ‘selling’ undermines their role as professional engineers and trusted advisors to their clients i.e. if they tried selling to their clients their credibility would evaporate!

Understanding Sales

I asked: “what if we could produce a situation where all your staff felt sufficiently comfortable so that they could help you grow the business whilst enhancing their position, trust and reputation with their clients?”  Some scepticism appeared on James face.  But, in fairness, he did organise a workshop to discuss the idea with his team.

At the start of the workshop I opened it up by asking: “what do you think the average sales person does when in front of a prospective client?”  Without hesitation they unanimously agreed that sales people would:

  • Always try to convince clients that we were the complete answer to all their problems.
  • Try to get prospects to buy things that they don’t need or even to get them to buy more of it.
  • Make promises that the company can’t fulfil.
  • Try to get client to sign-up for services that are not relevant etc.

So, I said to everyone: “On the one hand I don’t blame you for not being warm about salespeople but on the other hand most of them do sterling work for their companies”.

I then asked them “what do you actually do for clients and how do you help them:

  • Save money?
  • Save time?
  • Improve the quality of their buildings etc.?, and therefore
  • Reduce frustrations?

Sales targetThe first engineer talked about his role in project management terms, another spoke about her role associated with design software and how best to use it, and another focused on the need for regular communications.  When we got past the specifics of their jobs, there was a consensus.  They all finally agreed:  “We help our clients and their other consultants to solve problems in ways others cannot!”

With that massive statement made, I asked: “how would you all feel being on the look-out for other problems you can solve for clients, provided we put in place a selling process that is centred on solving clients’ problems and not just trying to sell?”  There was general agreement!

Since then the whole team tries their very best to help clients solve their problems speedily, efficiently and on time.  Now some six months later James’ team has more satisfied clients than ever before, the team is more focused and united, and James is a lot less stressed!  The business also receives more repeat business, referrals and testimonials.

What’s the moral of this story?

  • Well we all need to realise that all our client-facing team members can play a significant and active role in selling, contributing to turnover and profits;
  • However, they need to be taught how to ‘sell’ in a consultative way; and
  • Well trained staff produce better results, are happier and more motivated, and stay with businesses longer.

If you want to increase your sales techniques, why not read our blog How to get clients to say YES more often.