Best practices for sales professionals: How to build relationships with A&Es

May 28, 2014
Speaking the language of your A&E, appreciating different views can help projects reach mutual goals

Sales professionals in the security industry often find themselves in a quandary.  Specifiers are very delicate about sharing their time, and their managers want them building a huge network of relationships with all the specifiers in their markets.  Add the notion that most sales people think about commissions for the next 60-90 days, and now they’re stuck between three masters: the specifier, their management, and their own bank account.  Let’s look a little closer at these three dynamics.

In general, architects, engineers, and consultants are left-brain thinkers.  Although the theory that people think primarily from one side of the brain or the other has been debunked in recent years, the common behaviors and reactions of specific personalities remain valid.  When a specifier interacts with a sales person, their logical skeptic meter is extremely sensitive.  Unfortunately, most sales people are wired one way, and that wiring usually consists of a competitive nature, an outgoing personality, a social orientation, and a refusal to quit.  As you can imagine, these two perspectives of the same situation, such as a “technology update meeting”, are 180 degrees apart. 

Sales management usually has a vision of 12 to 18 months, and typically are more strategic planners than sales people.  Therefore, relationships with A&Es are important to management.  For companies that can’t justify a department dedicated to specifiers, sales managers find themselves challenged to inspire their sales people to build these relationships.  Since it’s difficult to track specifications for every job and pay sales people for their effort with the A&E community, their management is typically done with the stick rather than the carrot -- and the sales people feel it.

Finally, most successful sales people are focused on the next 60-90 days.  Of course, the superstars balance their activity, but the ones that make their goal every month or quarter stay tactical and focused on the short term.  Every hour they spend building a relationship with a specifier is an hour they could be spending trying to close a potential sale this month.  The time they invest with the specifier will pay off for them in 12 – 18 months in most cases. 

Can you feel the tension of the sales person?  Their management is beating on them to meet with someone who has a perspective vastly different from theirs, and if successful they’ll be rewarded for their effort in a year or two.

Sales keys to building A&E relationships

So, what can a sales professional do?  Below are four best practices for sales professionals to build relationships with A&Es.  If followed, the sale professional will be able to most effectively work successfully with the A&E community while continuing to have enough time to do their day job and secure business this month.

              1. Become a specialist.  Imagine that you woke up tomorrow morning and the plumbing in one of your bathrooms had backed up.  Would you call a general contractor?  No, you’d most likely jump on the internet and find a reputable plumber. Now, imagine that you knew of a strong plumber in the area because they’ve proven their competence to you in one way or another.  Would you still invest time searching the internet?  Most people would simply call the plumber they knew was an expert. 

Although it’s usually in the design phase, a specifier is often dealing with an issue like backed up plumbing.  If you can position yourself as the expert in a certain area, you’ll get the call.  Your specialty can be a vertical market, an application, or a technology.  For example, you could be known as the transportation guru, a point of sale video authority, or an expert of managed access control.  Hopefully your company will develop the core messaging and direction, but you don’t have to wait for them – just move forward.  Obviously, pick something that is congruent with your company’s vision and deliverable, but don’t be afraid to move forward and create your own specialty.

Once you have your specialty, become a learning and content machine, and deliver in creative and professional manners.  The traditional lunch and learn events are effective, but you want to be unique so don’t stop there.  You could deliver some content through a private LinkedIn group, speak at every event possible and don’t limit it to security associations; attend seminars on the topic and sit in the front row so you’re A&Es see you taking abundant notes. 

For the competitive sales professional thinking “why would I devote this amount of time to A&Es when I have a quota to hit every month?”; All of these activities and deliverables can be utilized for your buying customers too.  Becoming an expert is crucial for the A&E community, but it will also differentiate you with your end-users and VARs. 

          2. Target the right A&Es.  No matter how loud I beat the “if you invest one hour on A&Es now, you’ll save five hours next year” drum, the fact still remains that    you need to drive business today and your time is limited.  Once you’ve defined your specialty, now you need to determine who plays in that arena.  Once Apple realized that most traditional businesses were sold on their competitors, they took their specialty to an alternative targeted audience and now … well you’re probably reading this within 20 feet of an Apple device.

Many regional sales managers look at their area and list every security specifier there is, and then they begin their pursuit.  This strategy is like setting up a workout plan to be in the gym seven days a week and twice on Mondays.  You’ll either be very ineffective or give up by the second Monday.  Identify two levels of A&E targets. It’s up to you to define the priorities, but make sure the top priority can receive the ultimate amount of time from you. 

       3. Speak their language.  Regardless of your opinion of personality profiling, I think you’ll agree that there is an advantage to understanding how your customer prefers to interact and communicate.  In general, it can be assumed that most architects, engineers, and consultants are analytical, task-oriented people – especially when it comes to their work.  When put in the world of a specifier, even the most artistic and sociable person will become systematic.  Since most successful sales people have the opposite personalities and instincts, there is usually a conflicting relationship from the start.  However, if you know how to speak their language, you’ll weave in nicely with their routine and can possibly become part of their ecosystem.  Below are a few ideas to speaking the specifier’s language.

  • Don’t tell them how great you, your company, or your solution is.  Their type of personality is proud of their intelligence and they don’t want anyone telling them how to judge anything.  A simple statement like “isn’t that the cleanest GUI you’ve ever seen?” could eliminate you from a project.  No matter how amazing your GUI is, their internal response is “no, and I’ll find something better”.  Illustrate your capabilities and let them come to their own conclusion about greatness. 
  • Present data and real examples, not adjectives or hypotheticals.  For example, instead of talking about how you’ve got the most technical network of VARs in the industry, show them the strict requirements you demand of your VARs and some testimonials from customers.  Remember, the specifiers are trusting you to take care of their customers and are putting their reputation on the line when including your solution in their design.  Combine this fact with a personality that is based on logic, and every vivid adjective falls on deaf ears – illustrate and validate.
  • Get personal, but plan for it.  Don’t take the “speak their language” best practice to an extreme.  Although the A&E community is comprised of mostly “left brain thinkers”, they’re also curious and intelligent people who will lean on you if you build trust.  Therefore, get personal.  After proving yourself, open up like you do with all of your customers and invite them to talk too.  However, plan for it.  Don’t enter a meeting and discuss last night’s basketball game for the first 20 minutes.  Plan for it.  For example, say something like “I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the game last night, but I know you’re slammed so let’s jump into our meeting and hopefully we’ll have a few minutes afterward.”  You’ve planted a seed that you’re interested in socializing, but you know their time is valuable.

?           4. Be completely prepared.  A specifier’s most important asset is their time. That can be said for all of us, but most security professionals are not billable.  It’s very natural for a specifier to think “that 15 minutes that he was setting up for the demo cost my company $xxx.” 

Whenever you have an appointment with an architect, engineer, or consultant, invest the necessary time to be completely prepared for the meeting.  Arrive 15 minutes early in case it’s convenient for them to start early, and let them know ahead of time that you’ll be there early if they are available.  If not, that’s ok too – you can continue to prepare in the lobby.  Make sure you’ve gone through every possible technical glitch and prepare to overcome it.    

Anticipate a second and third question.  Preparation doesn’t just save time, but it makes your performance cleaner and more effective.  Unlike many other audiences, the A&E audience will ask a second and third question, so be prepared.  For one, don’t use hypothetical stories (as mentioned above).  They’ll ask questions like “how did the customer react, can I call your contact there, what cameras were you tied into with in that setting?”  Anticipate these questions ahead of time and be prepared to answer crisply and with conviction. 

Although building professional relationships with your A&E community can be challenging, by implementing these four best practices you’ll become a specialist who invests your time with the specifiers that matter to your specialty, and you’ll be able to communicate effectively with them in a manner that they fully appreciate because you’ll be fully prepared and speaking their language.  The reward is simple: you’ll be considered the specialist in your area and will be called before the design is completed and will soon find more and more jobs in which your product is specified without lifting a finger.  Build this simple routine and watch your production propagate. 

About the Author:

Chris Peterson has nearly 20 years of experience in sales leadership, with a focus on creating strategic sales processes.  Before embarking on a career in sales process consulting, Mr. Peterson developed a philosophy of repeatability and refinement for the sales professional.  He has become an expert in customizing CRM methodologies and systems to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of today’s sales professional.  Combining technology and an understanding of the sales and customer service personalities, Mr. Peterson has been able to implement programs that are fully utilized by the client-facing teams and management, with a result of improved efficiency, higher closing ratios, and reduced customer attrition. Peterson has created sales processes in many industries, including aerospace, automotive, defense, healthcare, IT, security, and telecommunications. Peterson can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Chris Peterson

Chris Peterson is the founder and president of Vector Firm, a sales consulting and training company built specifically for the security industry. Use “Security Business” as a coupon code to receive a 10% lifetime discount at the Vector Firm Academy.  •  (321) 439-3025