9 Tips for Selling Architectural Services – Part 2

Closeup of a business hand shake between two colleagues

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I am an architect. I also have an aversion to “selling myself”. I don't like boasting, and I feel uncomfortable trying to convince or persuade other people. I don't know why that is, but I suspect it has something to do with my idealistic, artist side. Once people know who I am, they can take it or leave it.

Because I see selling as a weakness, I recently I went undercover for a day as a door-to-door salesman selling pest control to exercise this underutilized muscle and see what lessons I could learn that apply to selling architectural services.

If you've just stumbled upon this post, click here to read Part I.

Selling door-to-door is a thankless job, but done right it can reap the salesperson large rewards. I've always wanted to try my hand at door-to-door sales because of the challenge. There are few things more intimidating for me than knocking on a stranger's door and delivering a sales pitch.

The day was long and hot. For an entire day's work I made one sale (with my brother closing the deal). Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

More important than making a sale however, were the lessons I learned that day. Read my previous post for the first lesson. Here are the remaining 8:

Lesson #2 Have a Script

The first couple doors I knocked I tried to wing it. I fell flat on my face.

Don't try to be a hero. Sales pros work off a detailed script. Since as architects we aren't selling day in and day out, it is even more important to get the message right.

If you've talked with enough clients, you know the questions they are going to ask. It may seem a bit overboard, but creating a script that runs through possible questions and responses will be hugely beneficial.

This strategy works well for phone calls. Since you won't be seeing the person face to face, you can read off the script as you talk to them. I do this myself. I wouldn't make an important phone call without writing out a script first, and you shouldn't either.

Lesson #3 Discover Concerns

This one is a classic sales no-brainer. We all know that our clients may have doubts or concerns about hiring us during our first meeting, whether it be price or other factors. Get ahead of the game by listening and figuring out what is most important to your client.

If there is something preventing your prospect from hiring you as their architect, you need to know what it is and address it (see #2 above).

Lesson #4 Don't be Sales-y

When selling door-to-door it seemed natural to want to “pitch” the product, but this ended up sounding sales-y and instantly put the prospect on the defensive. No one wants to be sold to.

Instead of pitching the product like a used car salesman (my first and natural approach) I learned that it was important to have a disinterested and aloof tone. A conversational approach was much more effective.

As an architect, I doubt you are pushing your services like the latest blue-light special. But don't jump into telling the prospect how great you are. This sounds needy. And that leads me to lesson #5.

Lesson #5: Don't Act Needy

Do you want your prospects to run from you like you have leprosy? Act needy. Tell them that price is negotiable. Tell them that you really need the job. Hint that you have the time for their project because “you are between jobs”. Do whatever it takes to land that project!!!

Not. Give any indication that you are really counting on this project and you might as well be walking around with a giant “L” on your forehead. Like any other relationships, people want to be around successful, confident people. I'm not talking about lying or being manipulative.

Here are a few examples to illustrate:

Needy: “Sure, my schedule is wide open, we can meet whenever you like”. Confident: “Well, I'm pretty booked with client meetings these next few weeks, but I'd like to meet with you. Let me see if I can work it into my schedule”.

Needy: “It's been slow in the office so I'd really appreciate getting this job. Thank you so much for considering us”. Confident: “I have a select group of clients that I work with. Let's meet so we can decide if this project is a good fit”.

Just remember, the opportunity to work with you is a precious gift, and not to be taken lightly. You get the idea.

Lesson #6: Describe the Benefits on the Features

Instead of telling someone that you are “experienced and service-oriented”, tell them how what you do will save them time, save them money, or give them added value (design). Of course you will have to describe the “features” of working with you, but translate the “features” into what it means for your prospect.

Lesson #7: Sales is a Process

During my day of sales I experimented with short, brief pitches, and longer, more detailed explanations.

I found the short pitches gave the prospect less of a reason to continue listening and just say “no”.

Do you have steps your prospects can take to engage with you before they hire you? People are much more willing to take a small step than a large leap. Don't expect to close the deal on the first meeting. The key is getting the client to do something. Have them visit your webpage or have them send you an email. Realize that selling architectural services is a process of building trust and craft your sales pipeline to help prospects move from one small step the next with the final goal being a signed contract for architectural services.

Lesson #8: It's a Numbers Game

When knocking doors, I found (not surprisingly) that most people weren't interested. The key is knocking enough doors to find the people that are interested.

The same goes for selling your architecture firm. You more people you contact, the better chance you have of finding someone who needs your services. Don't take rejection personally. Just remember that rejections are inevitable and you need to have them to find the clients that are the right fit!

Lesson #9: Follow-up

The one sale I made in my day of selling pest control was a follow-up visit to a lady who wanted me to come back when her husband was home.

Do you have a systematic follow up procedure for prospects? What happens after the first sit-down consultation? Do you send them a letter or give them a call? What happens after that? Define your follow up steps. Don't leave it to chance or memory.

My secret to following up is a web based software service called Contactually. It automatically reminds me to follow up with people according to a pre-determined schedule.

In conclusion, remember that sales is a skill that can be learned. It takes practice and systems. If you'd like more ideas about how to market your firm and get the right kinds of clients, you can sign up for the Business of Architecture insider list.



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

8 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing some helpful tips on how we could sell some architectural services. This is a helpful note! https://daviesarchitecturalservices.co.uk/

  2. One of the most important aspects of selling is asking the customer for the sale. Asking to “write it up” is a key preliminary closing tactic. For a number of reasons many customers want/need to be asked to part with their hard earned money. The reasons vary. They may have to do with the need to be supported in their purchase or it may be that feel that before they buy they deserve to be asked for the sale. Studies have shown that customers leaving stores without purchasing often cite that they didn’t buy because they weren’t asked to buy.

  3. Enoch, you were quite smooth and confident in Denver presenting your seminar on wordpress. I think it really comes down to confidence, as you said. Not pretend confidence, but the actual confidence that comes from doing your presentation over and over, being rejected, over and over (and the end of the world NOT arriving), and getting the occasional success. Just as important as landing the jobs, is finding out which jobs are really no good for you. I have been shooting for somewhere in the 10-25% conversion rate on proposals since Hurricane Sandy with the repair, reconstruction and mitigation jobs. My biggest fear now after months of practicing sales is getting a job that I am going to end up ‘paying’ to do, rather than making a decent margin.
    Thanks for the tips. I am going to try to get some of the more reluctant people in the office to take your advice.

    1. Brian, what a great comment. Your insight about avoiding the jobs that don’t have a decent margin hits home right now.

  4. I’m reading an interesting book called “Good In A Room” by Stephanie Powers. She’s a former movie studio exec turned business consultant. It’s all about what she learned from sitting in on thousands of “pitch” meetings. You might want to check it out.

  5. Thanks Enoch. It is really reassuring to know that I’m not doomed forever to have poor selling skills. Now, if I can only find the time to practice…

  6. Thanks Dru for the head’s up about the code. I fixed it.

    I too find selling extremely difficult, and against my nature. I think many architects have this in common. Something about being an artist and selling not being compatible….

  7. You got some code that ‘sploded on your page some (at least when viewed in Chrome).

    Good tips though, I find selling myself extremely difficult, especially because I have a heightened aversion to sounding like a braggart.

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