I encounter a lot of reluctant sellers in engineering, construction, architecture and consulting. These highly educated, technically competent and experienced professionals when forced to engage in business development activities, or sell their firm’s services, will avoid a meeting rather than “sell” something. They often treat sell as a four-letter word, which it is, but only in terms of letter count.
Yes, delivering a sales presentation, asking a prospective client for work, or presenting a change order can sometimes be unsettling and stressful. (This means you’re in new territory and are growing and being stretched.) There’s a bigger issue – what if you don’t ask for what you deserve? What if the client drives you down to low fees? The outcome is reduced revenue, low or no profit, or worse yet, losing money.
The most common reasons for not directly asking for business are:
- “I don’t like applying pressure for someone to select us/me.”
- “I didn’t become an engineer to have to sell something. “
- “We have “people” that do that.”
- “If I ask them for work they may not like me.”
- “It stresses me out.”
- “I don’t want to come across as being salesy.”
- Add your personal favorite here…..
If you don’t learn how to attract, secure and retain clients, you’re going to go broke at worst, or grind along in a state of financial mediocrity which means you can’t move up to pursue better projects, hire talented employees, purchase new equipment or the latest technology. Business is getting more competitive and competitors don’t play fair anymore. The bar is being raised on what they expect us to do for them and often at a reduced fee, or for free!
The only way to change the situation is by you taking control of the business development and client engagement process and selling your ideas and recommendations and getting buy-in from your clients.
Rather than ask them to buy, try this direct and more confident approach to securing business:
- “Mr./Ms. client, since we are sitting in your board room discussing our firm’s capabilities and approach to address your requirements, I’m going to assume there is some interest in considering us to do the work. Based on that, please tell us what you envision is the way forward if we were to enter into a business relationship with your firm?”
- “Jim, at the end of our meeting I’m going to ask you to make a decision about the next steps relating to our proposal/budget/schedule/scope and how we proceed from here.”
Upon commencing your meeting, state that at the end of your presentation, meeting or interview, you are going to ask them to make the best possible decision they can relating to what they see as the next step to move forward with you. The benefit of this approach is that not only are they now expecting you to ask, you have also broken the ice and are not letting the pressure of the inevitable question weigh on you during the entire meeting. At the end, as promised, you come back to what you stated at the outset and ask how they want to procced. Note I stated “how” they want to procced, not “if” they want to proceed. You’ve earned the right to ask for the business and you deserve an answer. The prospective client can always say no. You are not forcing them to deal with you. What are doing is acting as a sales leader, not someone who is simply hoping to get some work.
Sometimes you can be the problem. Playing out all the negative outcomes and reasons you can’t or shouldn’t ask will ensure that you’ve finished or been eliminated before you even try. So much of this is a battle won or lost in our own mind. It has less to do with asking for the sale and more to do with not wanting to be rejected. It’s personal. You have a right to ask for a decision in your favour. When you do, the situation will improve.
Some clients are actually waiting for you to ask. It’s not Halloween where just showing up at the door guarantees a treat. In business, some clients’ think, if she/he didn’t ask for the business then they likely don’t really want or need it.
Getting business, closing the sale and obtaining buy-in all depend on YOU asking. If you work at a drive through burger restaurant, taking orders is fine. (Even there they may ask if you want it super-sized)
You compete in the free market therefore you need to be a sales leader who inspires and motivates your clients to follow.
Ask… just ask!!
For additional perspective on this topic, here is an older (but still relevant) blog I wrote: The way seller-doers close the deal.