The Seller-Doer’s Top Responsibility: More Work from Existing Clients

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February 25, 2021

Within the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries, seller-doers function in many capacities. In some firms, they represent the front lines of business development, hunting for work, catching it, and consuming it. In other firms, they serve as closers, walking through the doors opened by dedicated business developers to help evolve the opportunity to “Go.” 

However, whether their role for developing new business is more proactive or reactive, there’s one area of focus that is critical to their firms’ success: driving more work from existing clients.

As seller-doers often serve as principal-in-charge, project executive, or project manager, they are regularly in front of their clients, functioning as a relationship manager. And since roughly 80% of an AEC firm’s work typically comes from existing clients, that puts these seller-doers on the front lines of account mining – the marketing buzzword for going deeper into existing accounts.

Yet within AEC firms, so much time and money are spent focused on bringing in work from new clients – the other 20% – and not enough attention is paid to generating repeat work from existing clients.

It costs anywhere from five-to-eight times more to land work from a prospective client than it does to generate new business with an existing client. However, the primary business development focus for many firms is new clients. Does this make sense?

Seller-Doers as Relationship Managers

AEC professionals are trained in project management techniques, typically following company standards. This is a critical component for project success and corporate profitability. But how many project management manuals include anything about client experience? Or cross-selling? Or nurturing relationships? Or communicating with different personality types?

There’s a huge difference between managing a project and managing a relationship.

The “doing” aspect of a seller-doer’s role puts them on the front lines of communication with clients. “Out of sight” far too often means “out of mind,” and many firms have been burned by a client that they’ve been working with – and think they have a great relationship with – hiring a competitor for a service that their firm offers.

They become frustrated, even dejected, wondering: “How can this be? Didn’t we tell them we offered that service?”

Yes, the seller-doer probably did. Once. Or maybe even twice.

There’s an old rule from the early days of advertising which hypothesizes that it takes seven exposures for a potential client to know that a product exists. The so-called Rule of 7 is not a hard-fast rule. In today’s climate, the average consumer is exposed to thousands of marketing messages. Every. Single. Day. The Rule of 7 seems downright quaint.

There’s probably not an American adult who’s not aware of Amazon. Or AT&T. Or The Walt Disney Co. And yet these companies pay exorbitant amounts to promote their companies; in fact, all of these firms ranked in the Top 5 leading national advertisers last year.

It’s not just that they want to make sure that consumers don’t forget about them. They also promote new deals, promotions, or products. And their messages reach us more than seven times a week. Heck, sometimes more than seven times a day!

Bringing this example into the AEC market space doesn’t mean that a seller-doer needs to be constantly selling to their existing clients, placing marketing messages in front of them as often as Amazon.

But it does demonstrate the value of regular communications with clients above and beyond the typical project discussions.

Moving Conversations Beyond Project Specifics

Seller-doers need to regularly check in with them to see how things are going, asking meaningful questions, like:

  • Do you have any concerns about the project?
  • Have any new challenges arisen?
  • What has changed since we last spoke? (Or since the project started.)
  • What’s happening with your clients? (Or students. Or patients. Or in your markets.)
  • Do you have any needs that are not currently being met?
  • Are we meeting your expectations?
  • Do you see any areas where we can improve?
  • What’s next for you?

Seller-doers must have high levels of empathy and care deeply about their clients. But if the right questions are not being asked, how can they truly understand the client’s needs and challenges, much less identify forthcoming opportunities?

This is really why a seller-doer must be a relationship manager. If a firm is truly relationship-driven, a seller-doer needs to understand a client’s unique needs, their industry, and their customers and end-users.

The AEC industries are people-driven, even though we like to think of them as project-driven.

Do we want clients, or do we want projects? Of course, we want clients. Happy, long-term clients keep coming back for more because they feel understood, appreciated, and see value in the relationship.

The soft skills of empathy and communication are just as important as project-related hard skills, but don’t get nearly as much attention within AEC firms.

Identifying Additional Project Opportunities

Another important skill is the ability to identify opportunities. By asking the right questions (“What else are you working on?” or “What’s next for you?” or “Do you have needs that aren’t currently being met?”), seller-doers can uncover needs and identify potential areas where their firms can add value.

Sure, it is good practice for seller-doers to review their firm’s menu of services from time-to-time, but it is even more important to be visible, caring, and there whenever the client needs them.

Cross-selling is an important component of account mining. Seller-doers need to understand all the services provided to a given client, while also having the knowledge base to identify other potential services that are not currently being provided.

This often requires conversations beyond the client’s project team and developing relationships elsewhere in the organization.

It also necessitates looking holistically at the entire client organization. Are there other branches, divisions, sister companies, or locations that could use the same services? How many clients have multiple locations, multiple decision-makers, and multiple project managers?

Seller-doers must embrace account mining as a critical tool in their arsenal when it comes to developing business. It may not be the lowest-hanging fruit, but it is certainly more easily obtainable than the high-hanging fruit of landing a new client. And how often is that high-hanging fruit on another tree altogether?

What are some of the other tools being used by successful seller-doers? Join Stambaugh Ness as we present Smarter Selling: Business Development Tools for the Seller-Doer.


Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM