SMPS and the seller doer model Qualified architects, engineers and builders need to be part of the business development process, research shows

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STAFF WRITER
The GTA Construction Report Special Feature

Paula Ryan, president of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), visited Toronto in late February to describe research about the “seller doer model” of business development for architectural, engineering and construction businesses.

Back in the olden days (like the 1970s and earlier), marketing for architectural and engineering professional practices was restricted. You couldn’t advertise outside of “tombstone” ads naming principals – and so the way professional services discovered business usually was through networking, connections, and rainmakers — professionally qualified individuals (often the company principals) who knew how to sell.

The rules changed with the lifting of restrictions on advertising and marketing, resulting in different practices – and the formation of SMPS, a new association dedicated to marketing for architecture, engineering and construction organizations. Rainmakers continued to do their thing, but AEC practices began hiring marketing specialists and even sales representatives (business developers), without professional qualifications.

Things fell off the rails in 2008/09 especially in the U.S. as a massive recession decimated the AEC sector. To survive, businesses and practices slashed their marketing budgets – and departments. Professionally qualified practitioners were expected to go out and drum up business and they had time to do it, because of the volume of work drying up. (And if they didn’t go out and hustle for work, their own jobs were in jeopardy.) The seller doer model was back in vogue, but this time it wasn’t just rainmakers, everyone was expected to get into the act.

The economy has recovered, but research indicates that the “seller doer” model is here to stay, in part because many clients prefer to work with professionally qualified engineers and architects, rather than a professional salesperson.

The trouble is, these individuals often don’t know what to do or how to handle themselves in the selling environment.

Paula Ryan, director of marketing for Jezerinac Geers & Associates, Inc. based in Columbus, Ohio, told the SMPS Ontario gathering that in many cases the doers “don’t know how to build relationships, or ask the right questions of clients – it’s a case of they don’t know what they don’t know.”

The solution, she says, is to provide training and support for technical professionals and project managers, while recognizing there will be some who will want to spend more of their time on business development than others – and the ones with business development aptitude and ability should be encouraged to develop their skills and be given greater responsibilities.

“There is always going to be a role for business developers,” Ryan says. “New SMPS Foundation research clearly illustrates the partnership that needs to exist between business developers and technical professionals.”

“Business developers will provide training and presentation coaching, help with strategizing meeting agendas, and will develop one on one coaching on how to have meetings with clients,” Ryan said. “They will also help with client targeting, participating in client led organizations, and be the ‘opener’ for their firms – meeting prospective clients and making the introductions to the technical representatives.”

But what about the professionally qualified people who don’t want to sell? And how can practices manage the challenge of time management and emotional rejection in the business development process?

These questions are the subject of further initiatives, but the trend appears to be for the return of the non-technical business developer, but in a new role: As coach, guide and co-ordinator for the professionally qualified employees. Meanwhile, SMPS has started building an extensive business development training program, she said.

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