I am a technical person – so why do I have to do sales?

SalesAs it becomes harder to get new business, professional services companies need to engage all of their technical consultants in the sales process. Some technical people take readily to the idea.  Others raise logical and considered objections. Here are some of those objections, and some possible responses.

“Selling compromises my role as an independent, impartial advisor!”

“The client is probably expecting you to sell the services of our firm: after all, he or she is probably being asked to sell their organisation’s services too. Your advice can continue to be impartial and independent. This impartiality does not stop you asking the client about their future needs, or about the problems they face in areas outside your immediate expertise. The client is an adult: they know you are employed by our firm. If you think we do a good job, then it is only reasonable that you will seek to extend our relationship with them.”

“This isn’t what I signed up to do. I joined this company to give clients advice, not to sell to them!”

“You joined this company as a junior person. As you have become more senior, it becomes necessary not only to do the work, but also to generate the work. This is part of the change in job description as you became more senior.

If you are still junior, then it is greatly in your interest to generate work: this will support the growth of the company and enhance your future career.

Most of your work is certainly giving advice. Most of our firm’s work is follow-on work, so by the excellence of your advice you encourage the client to continue their partnership with us. All we are asking is that you increase your awareness of new opportunities, and actively seek to introduce colleagues. This is part of your job.”

“As a professional person, I shouldn’t have to sell. Doctors, lawyers and surgeons don’t sell. The clients come to them!”

“Increasingly, selling is part of the job for all professionals. I think you’ll find that doctors, lawyers and surgeons do have to sell their services. However good we are, the clients won’t just arrive on our doorstep.”

“And clients don’t want to be sold to!”

“They don’t want products or services pushed at them.  But they could well be perfectly happy to have commercial conversations with experts who have the client’s best interests at heart. If the client values your expert services, they would probably like to know what more we could do for them. So long as you are having conversations which are about their problems and their needs, then the conversations are interesting for clients. What clients don’t like is pushy sales people, who have their own sales targets at heart and don’t listen. You will not be one of those.”

“Selling is somehow sleazy. I just don’t think it fits with the professional image.”

“Some sales people are sleazy. That doesn’t mean we have to be. When sales is done well, it fits easily with the professional image:

– it is honest: no hidden agenda
– the conversation serves the client’s needs
– we are clear if we are not the right firm for the job
– the dialogue with the client is straightforward : we don’t manipulate or deceive

Some sales people give sales a bad name. We don’t have to be like them. We sell professionally.”

“Isn’t selling all about relationship building and people skills like that? It’s for soft and fluffy people –  not hard-edged analytical types like me.”

“Relationship building has its place, certainly. You already have relationship skills or you wouldn’t be the excellent and effective  advisor that you are.   Sales also is logical and analytical. It is a problem-solving process, which will make good use of your analytical skills. We have a number of clear processes that we follow, which I can describe to you. We measure progress. We collect data and analyse it, just as we do when we advise clients. The sales processes in our firm need your analytical skills as much as your relationship building skills, and your critical faculties will be very welcome.”

“Why should I do the sales? I thought we had a marketing department for that, and a business development team.”

“Yes, those teams are important. They provide plans, information, and direction. They also, by raising our profile, make sure that potential future clients have heard of us. They also sell. You and your colleagues are in the important position of being face-to-face with clients every day. You know what is going on. You hear about future opportunities. Because you are present in the client community, you are in the best position to initiate sales conversations and follow up new business, with both existing and new clients.”

“I don’t know how to hold the conversations. I’m OK if the client presents me with their problem. Then I know what to do. But how do I start the sales conversation from nothing?”

“All conversations have a pattern, and these patterns can be learned. You are skilled at holding advisory conversations. You can acquire the skills to hold other sorts of business conversations, including sales conversations. We offer training in this.”

“I don’t want to cold call.”

“You don’t have to cold call. Most selling is not cold calling. Most selling is very like advisory work: listening to problems and working out solutions.”

“I simply haven’t time for this. I am 100% billable, and I already work most weekends on internal stuff.”

“The fact that you are 100% billable means that you are one of our most valuable sales resources: you are 100% engaged with the clients, and you know them very well. You probably already notice unmet needs in the clients, and you have useful knowledge about upcoming new contracts. We’ll find a way for you to feed that knowledge into the sales process. You probably hear information about new opportunities over coffee, and at the beginnings and ends of meetings. We’ll see if we can liberate some time for you to go on a course to learn how to make the most of those informal conversations. And to help you maintain your excellent record of billability, we will involve you in future proposal writing and sales visits, so that you move swiftly onto your next assignment.”


I believe that every person in a firm can contribute to the generation of new business. It is part of the everyone’s job. In today’s world, selling does not mean turning up in a shiny suit and trying to convince the client to buy something they  don’t need. Today, selling means listening carefully to a client, and hearing needs that may be unexpected or new, and then working out how, and if, our company can address those needs. That, in many ways, is what we do when we do advisory or consulting work. And that is how we sell.

Are you a technical person who sells, or who doesn’t sell? What do you think?

Categories: Growth and sales, Learning, training, and enhancing capability, The process of business change

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4 replies

  1. I like the post. But many of the answers don’t challenge the right bit of the questioner’s belief that they ‘shouldn’t sell’. They challenge the ‘shouldn’t’, not the ‘sell’.

    Here are some suggested alternative answers to a couple of questions:

    “Selling compromises my role as an independent and impartial advisor.”

    Agreed. So don’t sell.

    However, no prospect should become a client unless you are confident you know what they need and are confident they know what they need (as opposed to them knowing what they think they need or, even worse, what they want). Most service providers fall over here. There is a quasi-coaching process to be gone through in order to establish this.

    Once the need is agreed, you know if you can meet it or not. If you can’t, you’d look a fool trying to sell something else you can provide to them, so you won’t do it. If you can, it becomes a simple, objective process of explaining how you might meet their particular need. When you’ve done that, you never, never ask for the work. Let them ask to be clients. If they don’t, either you explained it poorly (but you’ve lost the chance) or there is some other reason you haven’t surfaced with them yet.

    “As a professional person, I shouldn’t have to sell. Doctors, lawyers and surgeons don’t sell. The clients come to them.”

    So you need to develop a network of advocates who will refer prospects to you. Proactively talk to them (but, of course, you’re not selling to them because they don’t need your services); reactively talk to the prospects they send you.

    More here: http://www.emotionalintelligenceatwork.com/resources/getting-business-through-advocacy

  2. Thank you so much for your comment Jeremy. It’s great to hear from you and I’m glad you like the post. As you point out, there are many aspects to this – and many answers to the questions, many ways to challenge the statements. There are probably even more objections than I’ve listed.

    My background is as a technical person – in my early career I was an engineer working for a technical company. An experienced sales manager called Dave Allen was brought into the company to “lead sales”. We engineering types found this rather odd, and slightly distasteful, because we did excellent, ground-breaking work which didn’t need selling, as far as we could see. Dave asked for volunteers, and created a sales team, of which I was one. One of his principles was that selling is an honourable thing to do. He had “sales” written on his business card, not “business development”. His idea was that people don’t mind being sold to, long as it’s done well, and so long as it’s clear to them that they are being sold to.

    So for me there’s an interesting journey, which your comment elucidates, of how to approach the sales process with consultants. There are any routes. One is the route that Dave took, which is to demonstrate that sales, labelled as such, done professionally, with integrity and clarity, is a noble calling, and worth engaging in. Another is to present sales as consultancy, as a further way of helping your clients, enabling them to ask the right questions, and develop their businesses.

    These days, sales becomes much more integrated into the daily work of consultants, and perhaps almost indistinguishable from it, when done well, so that the conversations with advocates, and the wider research of client needs which you describe becomes intrinsic to the technical work. It’s a discipline I’m learning, and continue to explore, and thank you for your thoughts.

    I loved the interesting articles on your website – especially this video
    of how to tell when a relationship is over. Serious and funny too – brilliant.

  3. I, too, was a techical person who was required to convert prosepects into clients. I know – because he told me – that the senior manager I presented to at the BBC, when I was part of a small IT consultancy, gave us the work, in part, because he appreciated meeting at that point the person who would go on and do the work.

    And, if I may be picky about words, I suggest presenting “sales” as coaching not consultancy (however you define that word). It is specifically necessary to create a context in which the prospect realises what their business *needs* and it can only be done by coaching.

    And that’s a harder challenge to technical people than selling is, because at least selling is culturally accepted as the “thing to do”.

  4. Yes indeed. I have had the same experience. Clients are now wise about the “bait and switch” technique = during sales the client sees the “A” team, once they buy they get a “B” team. It’s telling that there’s a label for it, which shows that it’s a recurring phenomenon. Now clients want to see the team they’ll get, and, I believe, they expect those people to be the ones who have worked with them, asked the right questions, examined their needs, from the beginning.

    Thank you once again for your observations and contributions.

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