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Are you still an engineer if you don’t use techno speak?

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

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
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Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Relying on techno jargon to differentiate yourself in meetings? With peers or with clients..especially with the “uninitiated”…meaning owners or non-technical folks?

Seriously, what if no one in the room understands what you are saying, except the other civil engineer? Do you sit there, giving each other sideways, knowing looks? Rolling your eyes? Becoming impatient with the other folks in the room because they don’t “get it”? I mean, Is techno speak the same as knowing the “secret handshake”?

Get over yourselves. If anyone’s read The Grand Challenges to Engineering of the 21st Century lately, these projects are for the benefit of the greater good of society. Not a closed civil engineering community. And the last time I checked, society doesn’t operate in a vacuum. There is a diversity of opinion and perspective. Depending on where everyone sits around the table, they see the same thing differently.

How can you honor societal needs and perspectives if you are waiting for everyone to get a civil engineering degree so they can “get you?” Because everyone else around the table interprets techno speak as “another language.” And they are waiting for simultaneous translation so they can understand, appreciate, respect and communicate. They are waiting for that simultaneous translation from you.
Are you up to this challenge? Perhaps this is the 15th grand challenge to engineering in the 21st century.
You know, if folks actually understand what you are talking about, there may be some great discussion that can take a project in a direction no one was anticipating. You actually might learn something. And so might the other folks around the table.
So why retreat and circle the wagons by relying on communication via techno speak? If you feel you are differentiating yourself, you just may be isolating yourself as being hard to communicate with and not necessarily being a team player. Perhaps you are interpreted as being exclusive or elitist. I am quite sure these result s are not what you intend and are certainly not your career goal!

And if you’ve come out of engineering school and are really uncomfortable speaking to non-technical types, well, learn how to do this! Clue card: joining a softball league, playing golf, engaging in anything recreational allows you to come up with SIMPLE, non-technical responses to the question: “So, what do you do?” And then apply this spirit of getting your point across to the next meeting you are in, where you have to explain a civil engineering concept to, let’s say, those sales guys. And what if those sales guys just happened to be from, say, Mars and didn’t speak your language anyway? Wouldn’t you go through some linguistic gymnastics to get your point across? And you’d be patient, as well.
I mean, haven’t you wondered sometimes if the sales guys DID come from another planet? I’m sure they’ve asked themselves that question about the technical folks.

Just don’t create barriers to communication because you think those folks are not as smart as you, and therefore not worth your time. I don’t think so. In the long run, everyone has something to teach the other person. And what that is may become a critical design element. So don’t short change yourself.
What good is using techo speak when you only end up talking to yourself?

Think about it.

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April 6, 2010 at 10:23 pm 3 comments

Whose billable time is it, anyway?

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

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

What is your time worth? To you, your company, clients and end users of your products and services?

When does the value that you perceive you bring to your company become less-than-valuable?

There is a fine art in bringing projects in on-time and at or under budget. And in this economy, that fine line is becoming razor sharp. Delighting customers and exceeding expectations may result from the economics of the project rather than cutting edge design that carries a high price tag and unappreciative end users.

This week, some project engineers and I were discussing how to tell when a project is complete.  They related how they are continually striving to make the project outcome better, add more enhancements, ask more questions of the client, constantly refine the design and contents of the project…. until their managers start breathing down their necks wondering why the project hasn’t been completed.

Let’s face it. It’s the nature of the engineering discipline. Analysis, design, improvement, redesign. Plan-Do- Check-Act. To infinity and beyond.  Except, very few clients hire engineers and technical specialists simply to think….and think….and think.   If that were true, we could all go to the mailbox each day and receive a huge check for all the great thoughts we had during the week before.  I don’t think so.

Billable time. You know what that is.  And you know the rate that you or your company bills out your time. The question becomes whether or not your company recovers that cost in terms of profit on your project.

Civil Engineers enjoy challenges and are tremendous analytical thinkers. They do, however, sometimes confuse discussing a potential project with being engaged in business development (aka, “sales”). For you civil engineers who have been thrust into a sales role without understanding the dynamics of a sales conversation, beware. Engineers are notorious at spinning out ramifications of a design, constantly asking “what if?” of themselves and other engineers. And thinking they are “selling.”

How many times has an engineer from one company called up an engineer from your company (you, perhaps?) to kick things around… on a project that is neither approved nor funded? An hour later, on your company’s dime, you/ your engineer has provided lots of consultative design insights to the other engineer. And your company never is awarded the project, if they are even asked to bid on it. And for those companies who have been forced to rely on the bid process on public projects, your profit margins are being squeezed to bare minimum.

While this scenario has been more common in the manufacturing arena, it may become more prevalent as less staff attempts to provide more functionality within civil engineering firms.

While I’m not suggesting that you dumb-down your project design and/or management efforts, I am asking you to consider how many of your projects are brought in on-time and at- or under-budget? Do you hold things up or move things forward? Do you understand when you have arrived at the best solution, although it may not be the optimal one?

Ask yourself what the gross and net profit of these projects are to your company. What was your billable time and at what rate? What is your salary?

Now you can begin to calculate what your time is worth and the value that you bring to your company. Working in a vacuum outside the context of the bigger picture surrounding your role is not a viable strategy in any economy. Especially this one.

Think about it.

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

March 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm Leave a comment

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

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

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

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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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

January 12, 2010 at 12:02 am 4 comments

One More Blog About Form vs. Function

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

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Stop salivating. I’m not going to be discussing the eternal dialectic between architects and engineers. I know the engineers take what architects design and somehow make it function. I know architects take what engineers design and make it aesthetically pleasing.

I’m talking about what form you take to make yourself functional. In any context.

How would you characterize your form? Are you a shape shifter? Do you constantly morph? Are you the same form regardless of situation? Does anyone know what – or whom – to expect when you interface with them? Do you take your form on and off like a suit of clothes? Are you play-acting? Are you authentic…Ever?

How does the form you take impact your function – and your value – to your organization? Are you the loose cannon no one wants to deal with because they never get the same “you” twice? Do you hide behind your engineering degree and your technical jargon so that you are impenetrable except to your peers – and therefore difficult to communicate with? Are you constantly striving to earn style points (literally) by putting yourself on an artistic pedestal and making your clients feel uncomfortable – even though they are the ones writing the checks for your services? Are you confused about what folks are expecting of you, and therefore inconsistent in actions and, consequently, performance?

We are at the time of the year – and this year particularly – when we need to take stock of ourselves. This is a thought process we should always be engaging in an ongoing basis. You know, continuous self improvement? Why just confine it to your architectural, engineering and planning projects?

If you are so many different things to so many different people based on what you think they want, how do you keep all this functional role-playing straight? Why on earth do you feel that you wouldn’t meet yourself coming and going, eventually?

It’s easier to shape shift than taking some personal inventory and aligning yourself so your form and function are fluid, continuous and authentic time after time. No surprises for anyone anymore. Although this new “you” may surprise you, yourself. Have you ever thought how it would be to effortlessly answer a question from a unified form-function position without thinking out a scripted response aligned with whatever politics you feel you need to support at that time?

So you guys think you don’t have time for this stuff. Too busy hustling new business or completing projects by year end? Compartmentalizing your professional form with function again?

Guess again. There’s no better time than now to figure out how to create steady-state dynamics between your form and function. Unfortunately they didn’t teach you – or any of us – about this in engineering school. The real world throws continuous curve balls at us. Most of us spend our lives dodging them or avoiding them rather than anticipating them and incorporating them. The big secret is that compartmentalization of the personal from the professional side of things doesn’t work.

Look around you and figure out how many shape-shifters are in your workplace. Is shape shifting encouraged? Does it result from a management style that leaves everyone in the dark…. Perhaps on purpose? Is this type of atmosphere toxic to your career and personal development? Are you ignoring this situation and hoping things resolve? How functional is all this shape shifting?

OK. I’ve made my point. I also encourage you to follow a similar discussion titled: “Are You Impeccable With Your Word?” on my blog at Sales Aerobics for Engineers. You see, I couldn’t compartmentalize this week, writing one distinct blog for my readers and another for the Civil Engineering Central audience. The two blogs are both parts of a whole. They invite dialogue.

Your thoughts?

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November 30, 2009 at 10:49 pm 5 comments

Communicating Your Value to Your Organization

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

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger:  Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin  Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Are you comfortable providing solutions that impact your company both upstream and downstream from where you have a functional position?

Let’s face it. We are moving towards a new business and economic paradigm. Civil engineers providing the greatest value to their organizations may no longer be those engineers having  expertise in only one area.  Rather, the new business paradigm may place more value on engineers who understand how to translate their engineering expertise into the business language and perspective of audiences residing upstream and downstream in their organization.

How do you gain this ability? How effectively do you translate your body of knowledge to others in your organization? And no, this is not a glorified version of “sucking up” to your top brass or engaging in any form of Machiavellian politics. Who has time to play games and engage in office melodramas fueled by inauthentic, self-serving actions?

This guest post for the CivilEngineeringCentral.com blog  provides a list of areas you may want to develop and incorporate into your skill set  so folks in your organization better understand “how you do what you do.”  As you grow your personal style, knowledge base and ability to communicate, you just may find some new doors opening up for you.

Understand the national and global economic environment into which your engineering solution is being placed. Read newspapers online. Use RSS feeds to do industry- related searches.  Read blogs on engineering topics.

What are the local, state, regional and national conditions impacting your project, your expertise and that of your company?  What are the competitive conditions impacting your company’s ability to win the work? Where’s the money coming from to fund these projects? What trends are being reported?

Look at Sam Richter’s website, which is based on his great book Take The Cold Out of Cold Calling.   Sam provides recommendations for online resources for business and industry reporting.  Work towards building a more well-rounded perspective about business development, economic trends and your area of expertise.  Operating inside a vacuum is not an option.

Understand the mindset of the folks up and down the corporate food chain. Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same things differently.  Work towards developing an understanding of everyone’s mindset – not only  in your own organization but also in your clients’ organizations. Rule of thumb: the higher up the food chain, the more focus on the bottom line. The lower down the food chain, the more silo-ed the thinking, the more loyal and risk-averse the individual.

Don’t get hung up trying to change mindsets or make folks “see things your way.” Rather, work towards communicating your messages using their perspectives, not yours. They will “get” what you are saying a lot more easily than you think.  Develop a communication style that correlates your project outcome to the bottom line – from everyone’s perspective. Let those silo-ed individuals understand how your solutions may help them do their jobs better. You may start to become more of an asset to your organization than you already are.

Selling to VITO, a sales book by Anthony Parinello, focuses on the importance of understanding the mindset of everyone at every level in an organization.  He succinctly breaks down each functional position’s mindset in terms of being a risk taker or risk averse, as well as being a decision maker or a gatekeeper.  Incorporate some of these principles into your next project team meeting to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of decision making.

  • Babette - Stock Photo for Blog 1

Develop the skills to confidently communicate your information during meetings with internal customers (your colleagues) as well as current and potential customers. This is the hard part, because so many engineers feel like they are “acting” or speaking a foreign language at this point.

Understand that the best way of communicating information is by LISTENING and asking good questions. Round out your perspective and understand how the language of business varies from the language and mindset of engineering.  In this global economy, treat each conversation you have with your colleagues as though you were speaking a foreign language – even if you both speak American!

I recommend reading Jill Konrath’s book, blog and website, all called Selling To Big Companies. Jill takes a no-nonsense approach to asking provocative and insightful questions that have upstream and downstream potential.

Take advantage of educational opportunities to bulk up your cross-functional skillset. HR at your organization can tell you about educational opportunities available if you are a displaced civil engineering professional. If you are an engineering student, take business courses on marketing and finance.  You may end up starting your own business!  There are continuing education courses and plenty of free webinars and seminars being offered via online and local networking communities.  Many of these opportunities are free of charge or are offered at minimal cost. Online webinars and online courses often can be downloaded and accessed when it’s convenient for your schedule.

Whether you are a student, current employee, business owner or displaced civil engineering professional, review the value of what you bring to the table: past, present and future.  Take an honest look at where gaps exist .  Work towards developing the tools and techniques that can assist you in more effectively communicating what you bring to the table to upstream and downstream audiences. Your ability to build a more cross-functional, well-rounded perspective can assist you in career development and business development.

What are you waiting for?

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September 2, 2009 at 8:37 pm 3 comments

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