The problem is that we professionals presume that selling implies a salesman, and this undermines our perception of our own professional integrity. Yet, first impressions at that first business meeting are crucial. If you present yourself in the wrong manner, you are eliminated from the next stage.
Clearly, all construction services need to be sold, but not in the same way as, say, the dreaded double glazing. There are sales skills to be learned and with a few tweaks here and there, professionals can dramatically affect the outcome of their business development meetings.
The secret is to focus on getting alongside the client. Try to see things from its point of view by focusing on its interests, needs or concerns, and not on your position. Do not automatically assume you know best what the client needs, and try not to get wrapped up in your solution, as the client may not see the logic of it.
Although probing questions are important, credibility is not established by information. Beware of a bombastic barrage of credentials: major projects, years in business, scope of resources, financial standing and the like. This introduction is self-serving and beside the point, and you may be presenting detail that is out of context, perhaps too soon in the programme, and it may not seem relevant. Also, the client may start to sense selling instead of a genuine understanding and concern for its situation. Just keep quiet and actively listen in the early stages. Let the client talk; ask questions.
Seek agreements on issues
It takes creativity to reach a stage where you and the client agree on what the problems are and how they could be resolved: should the structural frame be steel or concrete? Why not use design and build instead of a traditional route? Getting the client to this point is essential, as it helps it to see how its perspective of the problem can really be changed. Supporting it and showing yourself to be on its side helps improve relationships.
Having agreed the main issues, and before submitting your proposals, ask the client about the consequences if a problem is neglected. Listen carefully to its responses and help it to see the real risks. By emphasising your concern with meeting these basic needs, you will ensure they see the problem and your winning cost-saving solutions in their true context.
As we are technically focused, we get used to asking fact-finding questions, but a stream of such questions in the early stages of a relationship will bore the client rigid. It is better to ask a few carefully focused ones to establish the context before going on to uncover the client's problems and what their resolutions will mean to the project.
Summarise all the benefits you will bring and submit your proposals, but do not put pressure on the client for a decision. Do not leave the client alone either, as you are losing the opportunity to address any last-minute anxieties or problems. Having sold it a new solution, the client may call in one of your competitors for an alternative view – and it might just nab the job. The best approach is to maintain a reassuring availability. This can only be done if you have got alongside the client right from the start.
In effect, it is best not to try and sell at all; think of your presentation meetings as if you have already been appointed. Give your honest professional advice – this will make you less likely to feel like a salesman, and it will enhance your professionalism in the eyes of the client.
How to talk marketing
Philip Collard of Collard Associates Marketing Training and Consultancy specialises in the construction industry and can be contacted on 01892-534980, or at www.marketingworks.co.uk.