For many years I believed project managers did not need sales skills. I was not very fond of the image of the car salesman that appeared in my head every time someone mentioned “sales skills” to me and, because of that; I was not very interested in developing sales skills as a project manager. I thought my focus was to deliver my project according the triple constraint, good quality, on time, on budget. I was trained that way, after all. My view of Sales has evolved from those early beginnings… and later on I was able to see it as a more collaborative and mutually beneficial process.
Why sales in project management?
You may have noted, however, that throughout PM training we may never come across any mention on sales or improving our sales skills. This is a shame. Now I can tell you: as project manager, it has to be part of your game. In fact, selling should be part of our project management strategy. Why is that? I’ll get to it in a minute.
First, let me tell you about the realization I had as soon as I moved from production to sales. I realized that a big part of the sales process is in the hand of the project manager! That’s right. As project managers we spend more time with the client when we manage a project than the sales people will ever spend. Most importantly, we are responsible for the customer experience they will have. Having realized that, I looked back and noticed I was not aware I was selling all the time when I managed projects in organizations. I was selling myself and my experience as a brand, I was selling when consulting with the client, I was selling when delivering a project.
So, since it’s going to happen anyway, the best you can do it so make a conscious effort and incorporate a few techniques that will assist you, not only in your everyday work, but also in working with the sales people of your company to help them close deals. To help your company bring in new business by uncovering opportunities with existing clients you don’t have to become a sales person. You just need to know how to have a sales conversation and follow a process that facilitates relationship-building with clients. So let me give you…
An easily reproducible 4-step process
There is a really easy to follow 4-step process to have a natural sales conversation using these skills.
When it comes to structuring your conversations, I suggest using the approach developed by Neil Rackham as outlined in his book SPIN selling. It is a four-part question framework to use when talking to clients. It goes like this:
- Situation questions
These questions help you learn about the client’s current situation. For example: what’s your current budget for translation/localization? What are your plans for the year? (Only ask one or two of this questions, it’s likely that the sales person in your company has already asked tons of these. If you have the info, you can bring it up in conversations with your client to learn more.)
- Problem questions
These are questions that will clarify your client’s pain points. Here is where you will shine. As project manager, and being in constant contact with the client and working on their projects, have and ongoing relationship with the client and you are uniquely qualified to know exactly what ask, to get information on needs, desires and new requirements from your everyday conversations or your post-projects reviews. You can ask questions like: what is currently not working with the current solutions you have in place? What problems are you facing when outsourcing your translation/localization projects?
With these questions, you want to define the problem they are facing so you can focus on the implications of this problem and how you can help.
With these first two steps, you have already tons of valuable information you can share with your sales team. This will definitely help them move forward doing what they do best, but you don’t have to stop there, you can go on to the following two steps.
- Implication questions
These are meant to make your client aware of the implications that stem from the problem they are facing. These questions are based on information you uncovered on your previous steps. Some examples could be: How does this issue affect your budget? What is the impact this has on the productivity of your team? What’s the impact this problem has on the quality of your own internal deliverables in your company? The purpose of these questions is to help your clients to gain some perspective and frame the problem that they are facing in their minds. You help them get a sense of urgency for it.
For example: Your client’s content writers are not taking into account localization and are generating content that is difficult to understand and takes longer to translate. This has an impact on budget, time, probably some management issues internally. You can help them, through questions, to understand the real impact this is having. You can then, move on to the final set of questions.
- Need-payoff questions
These questions focus attention on your solution and get the clients to think about the benefits of addressing this problem with you. These questions should stem from the implication questions you asked earlier, and can include: How do you feel this solution can help you? What type of impact would this have on your budget/team productivity/internal deliverables if we were to implement this within the next X months?
The SPIN question model is a natural progression. You can safely use it in your regular conversations with your clients, in your weekly or monthly meetings or in your post-project review meetings.
The best part? Your clients will love you for it because you are helping them solve problems… and, so will your sales team, because you are helping them close sales. That’s a lot of love for you there, while you are incorporating invaluable skills for you.
So going back to our initial question, then:
Why selling should be part of our project management strategy?
Well, because one of the best – and easiest – ways to increase revenue and profitability is to sell more to existing clients.
Let me repeat that: one of the best – and easiest – ways to increase revenue and profitability is to sell more to existing clients. And you, as project manager, know the existing client the best.
It’s your turn now. Go out there and start having awesome conversations with your clients!