Project Practitioners > You Want Me to Sell What?

You Want Me to Sell What?

By Randy Englund

All professionals, and most everyone for that matter, can advance their causes and their careers by recognizing the need for and developing sales skills.

So what are the sales skills the complete project manager needs to develop?

A first skill is to learn to sell your value and experience. Projects are led by people. So customers identify and appreciate or refuse their providers depending on the people who are leading the project. Selling yourself is related to self-image, credibility, practicing integrity and authenticity, speaking the truth, and knowing the customers and their organizations very well. These things take time and effort, so plan to put in that effort.  Everyone has customers, even internal colleagues who need selling on a new project.

Here is an example of the sales process where I was assigned as a program manager to coordinate a massive proposal for a major account to update their systems and OEM computers from us instead of a competitor. We gathered lots of information from the customer engineering manager about technical requirements, including custom modifications that would be necessary.

Normally our company did not take kindly to customer solutions since we were a hardware vendor selling off the shelf systems. The size of this deal, however, made us take interest. To further promote that interest, I arranged interviews with the division general manager, manufacturing manager, and headquarters sales manager. I brought the field district manager, sales representative, and systems engineer into the factory to personally meet with these key managers. The person to person meetings ensured that everybody knew what was happening and that we could go ahead with the proposal, knowing in advance that all managers who would have to approve it were supportive.  So a first lesson is, know what your customers want and whose support is required to supply it.

The requirements were challenging, so we worked as a team to develop a solution. We summarized our understanding of the requirements, and then addressed technical, support, qualifications, company commitment, and pricing. I brought in an editor to proof read the large proposal. A graphic artist highlighted the half dozen key aspects of the proposal for use on the cover page and in presentation slides. I drafted a letter which the CEO signed, expressing executive commitment to the deal. I also crafted a script for the presentation and briefed the group general manager (later to become the company CEO) who would join us in the presentation.  We booked the corporate jet for our journey to the customer site.  A second lesson of sales is to be thorough in your preparations.

I advised the sales rep to call on the customer general manager, who in essence would be the economic buyer, in addition to the technical recommenders whom he regularly meets. This is an application of “selling at all levels.” A possible risk could be the general manager would be surprised or ill informed about a large appropriation request coming across his desk. This meeting did not happen. The sales rep received comments from the engineering departments that their inputs were sufficient. However, this is rarely the case. The meeting should have happened. We also did not get a good sense about the customer’s future business.  A third lesson of sales is to understand your customer’s business and how they operate.

All participants did an excellent job in presenting the proposal, appearing as an integrated, well-coordinated team. The group GM was especially effective, reinforcing the highlighted script along with adding personal touches such as “I come with the full commitment of the CEO and my own to working with you as a partner.” The customer reaction was, “You blew our socks off!” since the proposal far exceeded their expectations.

This experience underscored for me the importance of orchestrating a thorough involvement of all key players in a sales process. Meeting face to face, sharing possibilities and enthusiasm, and demonstrating how a solution was possible were important factors. I have since used this process many times and codified the steps in an action sheet. It works every time!

As a coda to this story, our company did not get this business. That only happened because the customer experienced a deep downturn in its business right about that time and had to cancel its upgrade plans. We also realized that the time came to stop selling. Not all efforts, even with best intentions and execution, turn out successful. But the process was still regarded as a superb effort and successful project. I wrote a letter to the approximately 80 stakeholders who participated and thanked them for their contributions. We had succeeded as an organization in how we applied sales best practices and learning for all involved in a large program.

Summary

Follow a selling process that facilitates relationship building with buyers. In any new endeavor or purchase, buyers want to be “sold.” Buying is usually an emotional response, followed by rational reasoning to justify the decision. Building relationships is crucial to this process. Treat all stakeholders as potential buyers of your services. Be dedicated to serve customers and present to customers what they really need. Probe for issues through carefully crafted, open-ended questions.

Building a convincing sales proposal is a disciplined process that gets documented in a structured format which describes your ability to meet the customer’s needs for a product or service. Completing the format to accurately communicate your capabilities and desire to perform the work is in the detail. Winning proposals are written by competent professionals and a motivated team.

Know that you are continuously in sales cycles throughout project life cycles. Be not a victim of lost sales or opportunities. Embrace the sales process as the means to secure necessary commitments in a genuine manner worthy of a complete project manager.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy, www.englundpmc.com

(This posting is an excerpt from a book in process about The Complete Project Manager.)



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