This engineer recently attended a seminar on “Innovation Implementation: Developing Sales Strategies and Tactics for Growth,” which spent most of its eight hours discussing sales. I found it interesting that this word – sales – caused such a visceral negative reaction in me as well as in some of the other attendees. We did not want to talk about sales and we certainly didn't want to be categorized as “salespeople.” By the middle of the seminar, however, I had a totally different opinion of this word and now realize I am a salesperson! So I better get over my stigmatizing and figure out how I can change this involuntary negative reaction to the idea of “sales.”
Business Types – Can You Recognize Yourself?
A surprising element of this seminar for me was the suggestion that there are four business types based on what drives a company's strategy and focus:
- Sales: focus on selling their products or services, e.g., Avon and IBM
- Marketing: focus on marketing, e.g., Nike and Apple
- Operational: focus on internal and high volume transactions, e.g., Verizon
- Engineering: focus on product performance, e.g., Boeing
Companies must undertake all four activities, but a company is driven by only one focus. I would have originally classified our engineering consulting firm as being driven by product performance. After all, it is our foundation – we need to know our stuff or there won’t be a business to speak of. But we also couldn't function without our office manager to keep our operation going, as well as our marketing group to give voice to our business and facilitate getting our message out. However, the critical driver of our business, as it is for most professional service firms whether we want to admit it or not, is sales! We don’t have a sales force and we don’t go out knocking on doors, so I never thought about the fact that we engineers are the front line and the execution of our company’s voice. We “sell” ourselves by being the living reinforcement of our work, we personally convince clients to hire us over the competition because of our unique approach to our work. As there are plenty of professional fish in our sea, only we front line salespeople can exemplify the difference our company brings to a project.
Adjusting myself to being a Salesperson
As an engineer, I wonder how I can adapt to seeing myself as a salesperson. (Engineers are well known for believing that by designing a better mousetrap, sales and marketing will be unnecessary.) I've decided the best way to reconcile myself with this new view is to embrace our company’s mission, walk the talk, and most important, refine the talk so it is accessible to more people. In this manner, I can hold my head up high because I believe in the value of what I am “selling.” This may be what most salespeople have already realized, but this is new to me. Focusing on clear communication and project team accountability, in addition to technical expertise, are not priorities in most engineering school curriculums. Most importantly, for my company, if I am aware that I am a salesperson I will be more cognizant of the value of this function, hopefully better at performing it, and my company and clients, in turn, will be more successful. It’s all so simple; I just hadn't seen it that way.
Benefits of Effective Execution
If we are honest with ourselves, many more of us are in sales than we realize. What is the difference between the service we engineers provide to outside clients or the support an IT or accounting department provides to internal departments? The core function is the same: Accounting needs to collaborate with other departments in order to understand their needs and support them with services so that they, in turn, can perform their job functions more efficiently and the company will benefit as a whole. This is what I, as an engineer, am “selling” to outside clients – services that provide an optimized building that will facilitate my client’s business functions so that they can perform more effectively and efficiently. We were told most businesses fail because of a lack of attention to a sales plan and poor execution of the sales strategy. So if I explain this value to clients more effectively, I will wear this new salesperson label comfortably. Please let me know how I'm doing the next time we meet!