Like most professionals, engineers consider selling an evil activity. They perhaps view selling as somehow immoral, involving telling lies. When asked, engineers will associate selling with double-glazing and recount the activities of double-glazing salesmen. Such selling often revolves around the use of price discounting to get the all-important ‘close’.
And yet in many firms engineers must learn to sell. In many professions, only a qualified peer can gain the necessary customer respect to achieve the close. Only an engineer can sell to another engineer.
Selling is a political act in which the engineer persuades the customer to accept his point of view. That point of view is of course that the engineer’s firm and its goods and services are superior to all others.
One person persuades another through a persuasive argument. A persuasive argument is a well-targeted assertion supported by sound evidence.
These two ideas – that there is persuasion to be done and that this persuasion involves having the customer accept an argument – are key to understanding how engineers can be taught to sell. They’re central to why it is that engineers make very good salesmen to customers in their domain.
Selling as a process
All selling involves a procession from initial introduction to closure of a deal. This procession might take a few weeks or it might take a few years. Here’s how an engineer might proceed to sell another engineer.
First, no one can claim that they understand the customer’s needs without asking them. So the engineer needs to learn to ask questions. The more questions asked, the more the need is understood. Relevant questioning also helps persuade the customer that the engineer understands the business. The art here is to develop the questioning into a discussion.
Second, the engineer must, in his questioning, become useful to the customer. This might mean sending the customer invitations to seminars or sending papers on the subject in hand. It might even involve doing some pro bono work for the customer. By being useful, the customer starts to trust the engineer and begins to regard him as a good source of reliable information. Such trust paves the way for acceptance of the assertion.
Third, the engineer must take opportunity to feed in to the dialogue information about his company and its goods and services. This activity can only be done subtly and if the moment permits. It is not about presenting.
Working to the close
By giving valuable information, and perhaps valuable samples or direct assistance, the engineer is buying the right to call the customer at any time. It’s an exchange and the customer is unlikely to refuse a call when the engineer has been so helpful. By being permitted to call, the assertion and evidence can be woven in to discussion.
Now, the reason why engineers make good salesmen is that all of the above is at a technical level. All the dialogue and exchange is about engineering. It’s about engineering problems and engineering solutions. So who better to engage with the engineering customer than an engineering peer?
And the close?
In essence it’s a self-close. By questioning, providing information and generally being useful, the engineer is educating the customer about his firm and its goods and services. By trusting the engineer, the customer allows himself to accept the argument. The end point is where the customer asks “So your firm could help me here? The engineer of course replies “Yes, we can”. And adds “Would you like me to provide a quotation?” The customer by now accepts the argument. There can therefore only be one answer!
These three phrases are all-important: “so your firm could help”, “yes, we can” and “would you like me to provide a quotation”.
Teaching engineers to sell
There is one condition to the success of this approach: the engineer must be sufficiently extrovert and not too restrained. Basically, the engineer must be very comfortable discussing engineering stuff with peer engineers. And most are.
Teaching engineers to sell involves teaching the process of consultative selling – questioning, giving and feeding evidence. This process works for most other professionals too, like scientists, lawyers and accountants.