Making Sense of the Seller-Doer Model Challenges

blog on the challenges of the seller doer model

The majority of architecture, engineering, and construction firms utilize the seller-doer model for business development, but few firms believe they are effectively using these professionals to their fullest potential.

Why is that?

Seller-doer is a Role, not a Title.

Why is it that firms that excel at designing or building highly complex projects repeatedly struggle with effectively utilizing their key staff to generate more work?

Before we answer that question, we need to define seller-doer. You’ve heard them referred to as seller-doers, doer-sellers, closer-doers, client managers, and more. These are professionals that balance both billable work for clients with business development activities. They are the principals, officers, project executives, project managers, discipline leads, market leaders, and related positions in AEC firms.

Most seller-doers spend more time doing than they do selling. Of course, they first have to sell before they can actually do.

In some firms, using seller-doers is the only option because there are no dedicated business developers. Other firms use a combination of seller-doers and dedicated business developers to generate work from both existing and new clients.

There are of course many reasons that firms struggle with the seller-doer model, but in my experience working with AEC firms, there are several common recurring challenges that I hear.

What Could go Wrong?

No Strategy. Seller-doers are instructed to “Go get work,” without any plans or directions. If they don’t know where they are going, how do they even know where to start? On one hand, too many AEC firms don’t have well-developed business development and marketing plans; on the other hand, those that do often don’t fully share those plans with the individuals tasked with implementing them.

No Training. Imagine asking someone with no training in construction to serve as project manager for a design-build GMP. It would be disastrous. And yet firms that would never allow that situation seemingly have no problem sending staff with no sales training out to land new project commissions. According to research from the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), two-thirds of AEC firms do not provide business development training to seller-doers.

No Time. “Would you rather me get this project out the door on schedule with a client that has already hired us, or chase work from prospects that don’t even know us?” That’s a common response that seller-doers give when asked why they aren’t doing business development. The fault here is not with the seller-doer, but rather with company leadership for not budgeting time for BD, and not providing resources to free up time for the seller-doer to generate new opportunities. That is, staff to delegate billable work.

No Accountability. If a company is relying on seller-doers, at least in part, to generate business, there must be accountability. Too often, seller-doers aren’t held accountable. Leadership doesn’t set the tone from the top, and the individuals managing the seller-doers often only hold them responsible for their project work, but not their business development efforts. And those responsible for business development don’t have any authority over the seller-doers. However, it’s unfair to hold seller-doers accountable for BD unless the firm provides training, budgets appropriate time, and shares strategy and direction.

No Incentives. It’s safe to say that the majority of seller-doers did not pick a career path that involved sales. They studied engineering or architecture or construction or environment, or project management. Eventually, they advanced in their careers and moved into roles that necessitated involvement in business development. Yet, according to SMPS research, three-quarters of AEC firms do not have an incentive program for seller-doers. For those that do, the majority lump incentives into year-end bonuses, making it difficult for a seller-doer to understand the impact of their BD efforts on the bonus versus their billable project work.

If this sounds familiar or describes the situation in your firm, you are, without question, not alone. Most AEC firms need seller-doers, but they lack a cohesive strategy to succeed.

Within the AEC market space, there is generally an expectation that in certain company roles (officer, principal, project executive, project manager, department manager, branch manager, market leader, discipline lead, etc.), business development responsibilities are part of the position description. Too many firms have failed their seller-doers by not making the model cultural, not properly defining expectations, not outlining a clear path, and not equipping them with the proper tools and knowledge base.

Over the years, I’ve worked with quite a few AEC firms for both strategy and training that were motivated to change due to impending leadership transition. This is often a driver for committing to a cohesive seller-doer strategy. Sometimes it takes the potential disruption of a rainmaker retiring – or even multiple rainmakers – to light a fire and make the model more cultural.

Helping firms effectively implement the seller-doer model is something I’m passionate about. Please watch my on-demand webinar, The Seller-Doer Model: What Executives Need to Know, where I discuss how you can set your company on the path to seller-doer success.

Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM