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Monday, December 03, 2007

Hard-rock selling? Does it work?

The previous posting discussing cold call selling touches on an important and challenging issue within the AEC sector. Conventional selling approaches, in place of much softer relationship and word-of-mouth marketing, are relatively uncommon in the industry, except in some retail sectors (for example vinyl siding). Does it make sense to turn the tables on conventional practices and go for the gold with traditional, intensive, and often intrusive sales techniques, like cold calling?
My answer is, it depends -- and the "depends" is largely on how your selling model interrelates with your brand. There is a cliche that no one likes to be sold but everyone likes to buy; I'm not sure if that is 100 per cent true -- but some might see it as truly intrusive to bring old-fashioned persistent salespeople into professional practices, like architects and engineers.
But what if the salesperson you hire is really good -- he or she understands your business, the marketplace, and is motivated to bring in profitable and rewarding new business, freeing your 'rainmaker' executives to focus on administering and expanding the deals that are introduced effectively.
Of course, finding great salespeople is not a simple matter. I've learned some important lessons through hard experience, some of which are described in other blog entries. If you are looking to hire salespeople, you will need a reliable management system to ensure you only select and work with qualified applicants -- and, in my experience, you will need to go through up to 300 initial applicants to find one suitable finalist candidate.
The biggest challenge, after selecting a salesperson through a rigorous process, is that you then need to discover whether your business culture can handle the new approach; and give it the time it needs to succeed. These are daunting barriers to entry -- and suggest that unless the principals of the AEC practice are really into selling, they should tread carefully before changing their business style. Then again, the businesses and practices that take the unconventional risks, rationally and pragmatically, often achieve the greatest success.

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