Do you work for your clients or do they work for you?

January 12, 2010 at 12:02 am 4 comments

Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

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I must really ask you this question. Because your 2010 Business Plans are now set and the quarterly numbers are created and the forecasts and targets are locked in stone. The business gun has officially gone off and you are racing towards the annual fiscal – and professional – finish line. And of course everyone has do make up for 2009. It’s gotta be better in 2010. Really.

Whoa there, folks. Take off your blinders. As you trample through the ongoing rush for prospecting, customer retention and business development – and all the technical, engineering and support functions – you kinda left something at the starting line. Your customers.

After all, no one ever closed a deal without the customer’s willingness to sign a contract. Oh, and write a check, too.

How much business  have you ever closed using the line: “I need you to sign the contract by the 30th of this month so I will make my quarterly projected revenue?”  Or how about this enduring closing line: “If you prefer, you don’t have to phase in this project over the next 18 months.  Why don’t you commit for the total amount right now, so I can achieve 25% growth for my annual projected business goals?”

By now, you must surely get my point: you work on behalf of your customers and not the reverse. How many of you actually honor this statement? Or do you rely on manipulating commitments so that the customer’s square peg fits into your company’s round hole of strategic business projections?

Ultimately, there are too many folks focusing on closing the sale: product or service placement. If you are working within a customer retention model, it’s not about closing the sale and placing  service. It’s about everything you do on behalf of your clients to support their online and offline decisions before the sale, as well as after the sale. In fact, your support may have nothing to do with any sale whatsoever.

By now you are probably griping that I am asking you to give away free consulting services on the whisper and a promise that you will, eventually, get a piece of business out of this “relationship building” exercise. I am not advocating advanced schmoozing or “freebieism.” However, if you understand the organizational environment in which your customer is trying to make a decision, it’s going to reduce your sales cycle.

If you think I have lost my mind, guess again. Customer support doesn’t start after the sale is closed.  In fact, if you are not part of your clients’ decision making team, you should be striving to create the expertise that causes them to ask you to their table. And not just as the “expert” in the consulting services category you are selling.

Wonder why, above all, you still are regarded as the “sales rep” or the “engineer” no matter how much training, certification and technical degrees you own? Could be that you are selling YOURSELF short in the long run if all you are doing is focusing on placing your consulting engineering services with the customer.

Perhaps your best 2010 business development strategy may be to focus on understanding all of the factors that impact your client’s being able to make a business decision on your proposed solution.  They may know they need your solution, and understand why (after all, you’ve done your homework on that score, haven’t you?). However, how many times after how many presentations and lunches and relationship building heart-to-hearts does a proposal simply languish? How many times do you or your customer feel like a salmon swimming upstream trying to get this proposal through the corporate channels for approval?

Could be that it’s not all about closing that sale?  Perhaps taking the time to learn the context of the decision is the greatest tool you can put into your 2010 toolbox.

Think about it.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Babette Burdick  |  January 15, 2010 at 9:47 am

    You hit the nail on the head, Brandon! Depending on where we sit around the table, we all see the same thing differently. Architects (in particular) and engineers often cannot see the forest for the trees. They feel they are the only ones to truly “see” the entire problem (due to their technical training and ability to think in 3 dimensions) and therefore hold the keys to the solution.

    The problem is that the client (e.g., the individual who will sign the contract) is thinking about a simple solution – even if his/her problem is rather complex. The client typically solves problems in 2D and the architects/engineers are thinking 3D. This is a big disconnect.

    Keeping things simple, and developing the ability to present the solution in “bite-sized” pieces ,for the client to ponder and digest, is essential for gaining buy in and eventual closure of the sale/award of project.

  • 2. Babette Burdick  |  January 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I agree. The client ultimately takes your idea elsewhere to price shop OR you end up overwhelming them with theiir perception of project complexity. Once they become overwhelmed, they search for a way out – which can turn to skepticism. Translating your deliverables into the customer’s language is important. Often, it’s the pre-sale understanding of the factors impacting their decision that creates rapport and communication. Taking the time to build that base can positively impact the final result.

    • 3. Brandon Lee  |  January 14, 2010 at 9:31 pm

      As a civil engineering firm working on a lot of SFR’s, it’s hard to translate what we do to the client so they understand what’s going on. Sometime I forget that some stuff I talk about goes over people’s heads. I can imagine having a class about dealing with a client to make them understand what you are talking about as vital for a lot of companies, big and small.

  • 4. Brandon Lee  |  January 13, 2010 at 1:01 am

    I sometimes feel like we do too much due diligence on a project before giving a proposal over to a client. I have gone to a clients house and visually drew what was going to happen on their property according to what we would engineer while looking at the Architect’s plans, only for them to be skeptical of my abilities, and not use us.


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