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Sales is Not a Dirty Word



No one wants to be called a salesperson—regardless of their position in the company.

Salespeople are frequently treated as the proverbial redheaded stepchild at the family reunion, although everyone is quick to voice their importance to the company’s long-term health.

It is not a bad thing to be a salesperson; the problem is that the industry is a bit embarrassed to be part of the process.

By Any Other Name

In construction, salespeople are often referred to as other things, such as business development managers or rainmakers.

© / BrianAJackson

Underneath the sales suit beats the heart and future of your company.

But sales is a role, not a job title, and good salespeople are seller-doers—technical experts who develop and maintain client relationships. Thus, doing begets selling and vice versa.

This means that everyone in the company has a role to play in sales.  And that means that there are sales “behaviors” that everyone in the company should develop.

What Sales Can Teach Everyone

These “sales” behaviors include:

  • Getting involved, by engaging in the industry and the firm;
  • Being a visionary, by keeping up with trends;
  • Being an expert in technical knowledge and industry conversancy;
  • Having a solid reputation in the industry;
  • Acting as a learned peer, not a subordinate, by bringing a different set of skills with equal value to the client; and
  • Acting as counselors, coaches and guides who walk with the customer and know that selling is not something “done” to them.
© / JacobH

Good salespeople take the time to learn about the project's purpose and help the client think through the process for ways to ensure success.

And then there's:

  • Working hard, which clients appreciate more than anything all else;
  • Being able to delegate;
  • Focusing on quality by guaranteeing and delivering the value promised in the selling process;
  • Being likeable, because clients work with people they like;
  • Being empathetic and looking at the world through the customers’ eyes;
  • Having intellectual breadth and being able to converse on a variety of topics;
  • Being direct by providing candid feedback without unnecessarily ruffling feathers;
  • Possessing a sense of humor;
  • Following up by being organized and on top of commitments and conversations;
  • Making phone calls and returning messages promptly;
  • Maintaining relationships after the first project; and
  • Showing loyalty by keeping confidences while supporting people and ideas.

Fishing, Not Pushing

Sales is not about pushing a customer to pick a firm for their project; no one wants to be pushed.

© / gradyreese

A good salesperson genuinely cares about the client, helps the client make good decisions, and becomes a trusted advisor.

Selling is more like fishing. The salesperson needs to present the right bait in an attractive manner to get a bite; knowledge and patience are required. A fisherman cannot make a fish bite, just as a salesperson cannot make a client buy.

Rather, a good salesperson helps them buy. This means helping customers make good decisions about the “what” and “how” of buying construction services.

Listening, Solving, Educating

Therefore, salespeople are listeners, problem solvers and educators. They have learned to think through the buying process from the customer’s perspective. They explore the project’s purpose with clients and help them make an informed decision.

These salespeople have a rare combination of traits. Assertive, qualitative, empathetic, intense and likeable, they will find and win significant customers and projects.

© / ferlistock

In successful companies, everyone has a role to play in sales—no matter their title.

Good salespeople also:

  • Envision success. “As a man thinketh, so shall he be.”
  • Are willing to take risks without a guarantee of the outcome.
  • Know the value of their services and those of their company.
  • Raise the bar on performance and performance expectations.
  • Have an acute sense of smell. They know which deals to chase, how much to invest, whom to involve, and when to walk away.
  • Know when to say no. They know when they should engage in a new venture and when their plate is full enough.
  • Build great relationships. They genuinely care for their customers, and it shows. They know their customers on a professional and personal level, building trust and mutual respect. Far more than a “nice person with whom to work,” they take on the hallowed role of trusted advisor.
  • Command a room. Without seeking the center of attention, they have a presence and depth that people notice and remember.

The Top, and Bottom, Lines

The top line on the financial statement says Sales. Somebody has to sell a project before anyone can get a bonus.

Call them what you want, but every firm needs salespeople. Therefore, the salesperson in everyone at the company should be recognized and supported.

About the Authors

Steve Darnell is a managing director with FMI Capital Advisors, Inc., FMI Corporation's registered Investment Banking subsidiary. He facilitates all stages of buyouts and mergers. Contact Steve at 919.785.9281 or email

SteveDarnell CynthiaPaul

Steve Darnell and Cynthia Paul are with FMI Corporation.

Cynthia Paul is a managing director at FMI Corp. and practice leader for business development. Contact Cynthia at 303.398.7206 or email



“Building Success” is written by professionals at FMI, the world’s largest provider of management consulting, investment banking, and research for the engineering and construction industry. FMI serves contractors, building materials and equipment producers,architects and engineers,owners and developers,and others across the industry. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Construction; Consultants; Engineers; FMI; Good Technical Practice; Marketing; New business; North America

Comment from Manny Nerios, (1/6/2015, 8:19 AM)

Excellent article!

Comment from John Fauth, (1/6/2015, 9:03 AM)

Really well written and informative. My favorite line... "This means that everyone in the company has a role to play in sales." I wish more people in every organization understood that concept.

Comment from peter gibson, (1/6/2015, 12:07 PM)

The word salesman is too loosely used. Some sales trainers believe ,sales people can be made. I totally disagree. There are just too many qualities a human being needs per the article to find that individual. I always laugh when I see that in job despriptions. They are always looking for super human beings to do their bidding. Good luck on that. Very few guys fit the title. Its a miracle to find one.

Comment from Per Ohstrom, (1/7/2015, 8:37 AM)

Great article. Sales is all about listening and understanding customer needs, and providing solutions for problems. Work as a team!

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