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What Can Project Leaders Learn From Salespeople?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 9/9/2013

At both the beginning and the end, as a project manager, it’s up to you to seal the deal so to speak or sell that project! Throughout your PM training you may never have thought about sales but it has to be part of your game. Jean Scheid explains.

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    Selling for Success

    Project Managers need to sell too There are tips galore on how to sell, how to close the deal, how to increase sales ratios, and how to build winning sales teams but to project managers, sales is often the last thing on their minds.

    In fact, selling should be part of your management strategy and below, you will find ten tips you can learn to help you sell your projects by using secrets well-known in the sales world.

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    1. Sell Yourself

    This is probably the most important sales tip you’ll even learn. Your confidence in your abilities to complete a project on time and under budget must shine through in your proposals and delivery—every time.

    Learn to do this by writing some scripts on how you manage and your leadership skills and style, and highlight the skills of the teams you’re bringing with you. Tweak them per project if needed.

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    2. Experience

    Experience means a lot Nothing tells a client you are a winning project manager like the experience you have behind you. In proposal meetings, you need to make sure your portfolio is sharp, crisp and up-to-date with project success stories and recommendations from former clients.

    Bright Hub’s Leah Witmond offers great tips on writing an online portfolio clients can easily access at a snap using WordPress.

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    3. Build Great Teams

    This is not as easy as it sounds and it takes some savvy interpersonal skills as well as the ability to match the right people for the right tasks. If you master team building, the team successes will sell themselves, which means a win-win for you.

    Take the time to nurture your teams, connect with them, and understand their generational styles. Above all, understand there really is no “I" in team.

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    4. Choose the Right Projects

    Choose the right projects Mediocre salespeople will sell just about anything. Great salespeople pick and choose what they sell based on knowledge and experience. You should also do this when picking projects.

    If your expertise is managing green projects, go after those projects with a vengeance. Your prior green management skills will win bids and close the deal. Don’t choose just any project, especially those where you have no experience.

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    5. Know Your Stuff

    Ever venture out to buy a new laptop only to find the salesperson has no idea what laptops are best or what features they have? This happens more than not and it’s not a smart method of project selling.

    If your stakeholders are set on using Six Sigma as the chosen methodology, you had better be able to step up to the plate and offer a well-managed Six Sigma project or your lack of experience will shine through. In fact, the more PM methodologies you learn, the more versatile you’ll be—and the more attractive you’ll be when it’s time for clients to choose the right project management firm.

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    6. No Excuses

    Don't guess or make excuses Poor project managers make constant excuses about why things are going wrong instead of offering solutions. Great salespeople never do this! If they can’t sell a customer on one product, they don’t make excuses why, they find a product that will work for the customer.

    Use words and phrases showing that what is happening on the project are good things, not bad. Even if there are some negatives, turn those into positives by offering sound avenues on how you plan to proceed.

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    7. Love What You Do

    Clients, teams and stakeholders (even upper management) can tell if you don’t enjoy your job. The same is true for lackluster salespeople. If you aren’t an enthusiastic project manager, it could be for a couple of reasons. Do you need to brush up on your skills? What about joining the Project Management Institute (PMI) to network with peers or obtaining some PM Certifications? Alternatively, if you simply find the project management field isn’t for you, your emotions will reveal themselves one way or another, so perhaps it’s time to rethink your career path.

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    8. Be Ready for Questions

    Be ready to answer every question Ever notice how great salespeople can answer any question thrown their way when it comes to the product or service they’re selling? That’s not by chance. They study the products and services they sell—so much so, they are prepared for almost any question.

    So must you be to achieve top project manager status. Even if you don’t have a quick answer, never say, “I don’t know." Use phrases such as, “That’s a great question and one we will explore and have an answer to ASAP!" or “Interesting. Past project have shown this or that." Above all, be ready for the tough questions because they will be coming your way.

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    9. Know Your Customers

    Sales professionals are all about market research and trends. These things help them know who their customers are, where they live, what they eat, and where they shop. As a project manager, you’ll also need to know the likes and dislikes and even the cultural or diverse qualities of your clients.

    A project for an old and traditional family company will require different people skills than that of a trendy architectural firm. Learn how to adapt to your customers’ wants and needs.

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    10. Bend the Rules

    Learn to bend the rules The very best salesperson understands the need to bend the rules once in a while. He or she knows the only way to close the deal is to offer a tough client something a little over and above; something not included in the deal.

    As a team leader, often you must think outside the box to complete a project and this may mean wandering off the beaten path (or phase of a methodology). Accepting that this is okay to do is your first step toward success!

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    Can You Sell?

    So, you didn’t think project management had anything in common with selling? In actuality, there are many similarities between a great salesperson and a great project manager.

    So, dive in and sell. Sell yourself, sell your team, sell your experience, and above all, be able to handle tough clients and answer just about any question that pops up in order to finish the project, win the project, or close the deal!



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