How Project Managers Sell

It isn’t enough to be right, or to have an idea that will make the problem go away if you are presenting something “new”. In a majority of cases, others (that you work with) are reluctant to believe an idea or position that they aren’t familiar with. It’s not a trust issue, per se, in many cases – it’s easier to say no than to think about the idea presented and formulate a response. No is easier than accepting that a good idea is out there they didn’t think about. It isn’t a universal truth – but this happens more often than not.

So in essence, reluctance to new ideas or positions have a couple of paths that they can take. They can remain deflected with the quick “no” and that’s all there is. You can, however, sell the person on why your idea or position is the best thing going and will deliver benefits that are needed. You can sell the benefits to that person and their interests. You can sell them on the costs of inaction and what impacts not moving will have.

Selling gets a bad rap – and for good reason. Manipulative, greedy & unethical members of any profession are what most people relate to when they recall their bad experiences with poor/wrong sales practices. Sales techniques, at their core, aren’t associated with these “smash & grab” hacks – they are designed to match their customer with a product or service that will ultimately benefit both the customer and the seller.

Once you have the tools to recognize the patterns and behaviors that relate to selling, the easier and more effectively you will be able to work with your “client” to present your idea or position, explain its value, handle any objections and close the sale. As an example, let me tell you about one of my clients and a situation where selling really made the difference.

I was responsible for recovering a project that was pretty well off target. The deployment was 8 weeks away and there was a minimum of 6 months of duration that lay in front of the team. As my first responsibility, I needed to assess the situation and make recommendations on a course of action. The client was eager to move fast and wanted the highest quality possible.

I had a dilemma – race like mad to complete an ill fated project scope, or sell the client executives on a lengthy schedule delay to deliver quality. I began to make preparations for my presentation. I knew the interests of the parties (prospecting in sales is all about knowing your client) and what type of proof they would want to see to backup my position. I also knew that recent history had shown IT enablement projects that weren’t tied into the business process crashed and burned on takeoff – there was no perceived benefit to the client because it didn’t fit what they were doing. In a selling model, these steps and knowledge points are defined as understanding the needs/pain points and crafting your presentation around them.

Upon the presentation, I had ready facts and figures to bolster the position that expanding the schedule was the best choice to satisfy their interests and avoid repeating painful experiences they had in recent memory. I was presenting a consultative solution to the need presented. I received a few objections (the delay is too long, why is this necessary,etc) for which I had the justification immediately available in the meeting. After I felt the objections were appropriately addressed, I asked for the close.

The proposal was accepted on the spot and we got started recovering the project. Asking for the close in sales simply addresses the call to action – show them how you can help, answer their questions, and then assertively call them to action (is this acceptable, do we have agreement, may we begin, etc). This is where many PMs stop short – they sell beautifully and then drop the results off at the door and wait for an answer. Just ask – you’ll be shocked how many times they are just happy someone is going to act and they approve on the spot.

If this example sounds a lot like what you do day in and day out, then you’re already selling as a PM. Whether you are new to being a PM or have decades of experience, learning and relearning how to sharpen your sales skills will increase your results, the speed of those results and reduce the pain felt to get them. I highly suggest the work of Zig Ziegler and Brian Tracy – two stellar sales and relationship experts that you can read or listen to for ideas on how to sharpen your selling skills.

So get to it – act now, get your tools ready and sell!

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