Ditch the sleazy misconceptions. When you’re talking about how much enjoyment and pride you take in your work, and making connections, you’re selling.
What sets you apart? That question is asked of all of us quite a bit, right? We talk to firm leaders all the time who bemoan the lack of interest their staff has in selling – heaven forbid the very concept of cross-selling – and I never understand it. I find the work of AEC firms downright fascinating, and it’s because staff at all levels absolutely love the opportunity to talk about what they do and how much they enjoy it.
Regardless of the firm, what sets you apart is the way you treat people, and the genuine connections you make when you take the time to excitedly explain your work to someone who has nothing to gain from hearing the story. That desire to connect and drive to inspire could be called by another name – selling.
Throw off the sleazy misconceptions. This industry is full of some of the most polite, genuine sellers I’ve ever met. And it’s easy to be good at selling, too. When a potential client asks what sets you and your firm apart from your competitors, seize the opportunity to talk not about your resume, your pedigree, or your experience. Focus instead on what you talk about when you’re in your office and you meet a stranger like me – why you do what you do, and how much enjoyment and pride you get from your work.
When a firm recently inquired about why they should hire us, I responded with a story (a “true story,” but that qualification instantly makes the veracity of the story suspect!).
We were once retained by a seller for an M&A job, and the field quickly narrowed down to three top buyers. I had to “check in” constantly with the prospective buyers to keep them all on the same page and to provide updated information and give our client, the seller, as many options as possible. At the end of the negotiations, a buyer won out, the deal closed, and off we went.
A few months later, we received a call from one of the buyers who lost out on the deal. He discretely asked for a proposal to help sell his firm because he said he had never met anyone as “politely pushy and persuasive” as our team, and he wanted us on their side when they went through the same process. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or, you know, not flattered. We opted for “hired” and sent over a proposal.
The point of the story is that no matter the circumstance, there is always an opportunity to treat people right, and that investment in people is something you do because it is the only way you operate. It’s also an effective way to sell.
It sounds so naïve in today’s world, but how we treat people matters. We get business from coming into contact with firms that we aren’t asking anything of, and treating them in a way that makes them feel valued. Responding instantly. Remembering details. Forwarding articles and information. Taking the time to connect with individuals through hobbies, dogs (oh the dogs I’ve met in this industry!), and personalities, whether they can “do anything” for you or not. Very rarely do clients hire the person who spoke the loudest or bragged the most in the interview. They hire the person and the firm that treated them like they mattered. And guess what? That’s good selling.