Do Your Project Managers Know How to Sell?

Whose responsibility is it to drive business development in your organization? According to research from the Society for Marketing Professional Services, the majority of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms are using seller-doers (technical professionals that balance billable work with business development). In fact, 84% of engineering firms reported use of seller-doers, followed by 70% of architecture firms and 66% of construction firms. Many of these firms, particularly the mid-size and larger firms, are also using dedicated business developers. 

If your firm is like most in the AEC industry, roughly 80% of your work comes from existing clients. The existing client / new client ratio may be 90/10 or 70/30, but the majority of work in a given year at most AEC firms comes from repeat business. 

But who is responsible for generating this repeat work? 

Your project managers and project executives are on the front lines of business development, whether they want to admit it or not. However, how many of them have the training necessary to effectively generate new opportunities? The same SMPS research found that only about one-third of firms provide training to their seller-doers. 

Is your firm one of those that provide training? And, if so, is it the “right” training that these professionals truly need to succeed?

It seems crazy to entrust 80% of your firm’s business (repeat clients) to a group of individuals that are not trained in business development techniques! And yet, that is very common in this industry. Firms rightly invest training dollars to help their project managers become better at running projects, coordinating staff, and focusing on profitability. Some firms are now adding client experience training as well, although Cx as it’s sometimes referred to is still in its infancy in the AEC industry.

But with two-thirds of firms not providing business development training to their seller-doers – their project managers and other client-facing staff – how many opportunities are being missed? Project managers need to not only lead successful projects, they must understand how to identify other project opportunities. They need to master cross-selling – providing additional services to their clients – services that aren’t currently being provided. They need to mine their accounts for more work, perhaps at other locations owned or controlled by the client. And the project managers need to be seeking referrals – utilizing their network of happy clients to generate new business opportunities.

Do your project managers know how to do this?

As I’ve worked with several firms recently, either facilitating business development retreats or conducting seller-doer training, I’ve been surprised by how many seller-doers operate in silos. Perhaps they are project managers – or department managers tasked with generating work for their department or business line. The right hand frequently doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, so opportunities are being continually missed. In fact, far too many seller-doers don’t even understand the service offerings and company value messages outside of their core discipline or service line. There are multiple staff members at some firms calling on the same clients and prospects, unaware that another department or business group within their company is already working with those clients!

How embarrassing! (But apparently embarrassingly common…)

I usually recommend that firms conduct internal training to educate their front-line staff about each discipline or service line – what it comprises, major clients and project commissions, value messages. Whether your firm is small or mega, it is critical that everyone be on the same page. Of course, you need some sort of centralized “source of truth” – that is, a CRM package or centralized database that your project managers and other seller-doers can access to learn about existing relationships and projects. But we’ll save that rant for another post!

According to SMPS research, these are the most requested training topics for seller-doers:

  • Getting the most from client organizations
  • Developing client capture plans
  • Time management
  • Market research
  • Networking best practices

From my personal experience, I believe these are all important topics for any training program. However, some additional topics that seem high on the list of my clients right now include:

  • Establishing rapport
  • Uncovering project/decision drivers
  • Business development tools and techniques/trends
  • Buyer personas / personality types

There are many additional topics of course, but if you are creating an internal training business development training program, this is a good list to get you started. 

Until you are providing regular training to project managers, it is unfair to expect them to be successful business developers. Certainly delivering a successful project is key to future work – but it is no guarantee! And unless your project managers are effectively cross-selling and looking to grow broader within your clients’ companies or institutions, you could be missing some major opportunities!

The easiest sale to make is an existing service to an existing client! Are your project managers doing this?

The most successful training programs are ongoing, regularly reinforcing business development skills while teaching new ones. Group discussions, activities, and even role-playing are highly effective approaches.

If you’re looking to train your project managers but aren’t sure how to get started or where to turn, check out aecumen’s training programs and contact Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM at 717-891-1393 or

Connect with Scott

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