Training Engineers to be Sales Leaders

This week’s blog, written by Joe Meads, P.E., was recently featured in The Zweig Letter, a unique management newsletter for the AEC community. Every issue is packed with news you can use, analysis of important trends, management tips and best practices, important events and resources, plus an inside look at how real people in real AEC firms are tackling today’s challenges. The newsletter also includes weekly articles from Zweig Group’s expert advisors.

Grow your firm and bolster future success by training and mentoring technical staff to participate in your firm’s sales and marketing efforts.

A popular notion in the marketplace is that most engineers are introverts, and they would prefer to do design work all day on the computer rather than get out and network to get new business. While there is some truth to this idea, the challenge for many consulting engineering firms is to train and mentor technical staff to participate in sales and marketing, which is very important to a company’s future success.

In my case, I found early in my career that I enjoyed business development, maybe even more than engineering. Twenty-three years ago, I was a professional engineer managing a wide range of different types of projects. During that time, I was given the option to change positions with our marketing director. She was not a professional engineer, but she liked managing projects, and I liked marketing best. Since that time, I’ve found my engineering experience has helped me tremendously as a business development leader in our company.

One of the strategic issues that we saw at Sain Associates was that we needed to increase our bench strength for participation in business development activities rather than just rely on one or two people. During an annual strategic planning event, we came up with the idea of starting a Team Sales Leader Program so that we could grow our firm and prepare for future transition within the company.

Before identifying sales leaders for each discipline, our staff completed a personal business development evaluation. The evaluation provided information on general business development activities such as building relationships, social media, volunteering, and writing articles and blogs. Each staff person gave a strength/weakness inventory assessment on their self and business development activities that fit them. Some of the strengths reported in the assessments included organization, technical writing, small talk, client entertainment, social media, and serving in organizations, while weaknesses included being intimidated by large groups, networking, cold calls, and social events.

After completion of the personal business development evaluation, Sain Associates hired a consultant to conduct a Harrison Assessment of each professional staff member. The Harrison Assessment is a job-specific personality and behavioral test. It analyzes the organization’s leadership capability, talent pipeline, likely talent retention rate, and provides actionable insights into company engagement, leadership development, and succession planning. We provided our job description to the testing consultant as a guide for characteristics necessary for a good fit with the team sales leader’s duties. The Harrison report gave scores on individuals in four categories – job success analysis, engagement and retention, paradox (behavioral patterns in response to stress), and emotional intelligence. After receiving the scores, our chief operating officer held individual meetings with our staff, and then the company owners selected sales leaders for each discipline.

Under my direction, a team sales leader coordinates his or her team’s business development efforts, encourages his or her team to attain sales targets, and surpasses customer expectations. Our sales leaders help their team establish a business development pipeline that progresses toward meeting the financial objectives of the team and the company. Behind every sales leader is the interest to talk to individuals from different backgrounds and to develop meaningful relationships. Sales leaders are expected to do:

  • Internal tasks, including:
    • Coordinating and tracking team efforts in business development
    • Helping the director of business development with identifying staff training needs and potential sources for training
    • Holding team members accountable for accomplishing assigned business development activities
    • Working with the business development team to organize marketing plans to help reach the team’s sales target
  • External tasks, including:
    • Attending networking and other business development events (with help from a mentor as needed)
    • Maintaining contact with existing clients to cultivate relationships and develop additional work
  • Sales leaders should:
    • Have an interest in and aptitude for tracking performance metrics
    • Be proactive in identifying opportunities and improving processes
    • Have a strong desire for continual learning and an ability to adapt to new markets, solutions, and processes
    • Look at trend lines and forecast six to eight months into the future
    • Identify the best use of marketing resources
    • Develop tracking sheet of significant investments and outcomes

Another critical component of the process is that an owner was assigned as a mentor to two of our sales leaders. Assignments were made based on the gifts and attributes of each owner and team sales leader. The mentor meets regularly with the mentee to help them grow in their sales skills and to encourage them in their efforts.

Incorporating the Team Sales Leader Program into our marketing strategy has been a radical change, but it will help me as I get closer to retirement and transition marketing duties to others.