Too Busy To Sell

Your team member says, “I get it. You’re asking me to sell, but I’ve got too much billable work to do. I’m not sacrificing my billable hours to try to land more work.”

selling professional services

There’s a reasonable tension between billable work and landing more work.

It’s a valid point. He only has so many hours in the work week. Shouldn’t he bill for as many of them as possible?

Well, yes. But it’s not nearly as black and white as the question implies. There are ways to sell — or to have business development conversations — that hardly take any time at all.

The idea is that he is in the best place possible to sell a professional service — He is already working closely with clients, interacting with them every day. There are four things he could be doing to help fill the pipeline without subtracting anything from his billable hours.

4 Ways To Sell On The Job

  1. Focus on Quality — It’s one of the oldest truisms in the book: The best way to market is to do a good job. But what does that mean, really? It’s not just doing the job, it’s communicating well throughout the process. It’s asking good questions to make sure you understand the problems you’re solving and the definition of success. And it’s talking about your plan of action before you get into it so that they understand and agree. Then it’s following through on that plan, so that they experience you as a person of integrity. And finally, it’s debriefing: Reviewing the problem that was solved, the actions you took, and the current results. Communicating every step of the way keeps you in sync, maximizes understanding, and optimizes your relationship.
  2. Listen for Opportunity — Conversations about the future happen all the time on client sites. You want your team members to listening for those, whether he’s a part of those conversations or not. But don’t assume he knows what to listen for. Fill him in on key words and phrases that you’re hoping will snag his attention: “Next year,” “Next project,” “Our goals,” “Company Initiative,” “Next time around,” etc. Tell him that sometimes it’s going to be appropriate to join in the conversation, and sometimes it won’t be. He’s going to need to make that call. But most importantly, he should be taking note of what’s being discussed, so that he can share it with you and the rest of the team, and ultimately so that the relevant opportunity doesn’t pass by.
  3. Ask About The Future — At any point over the course of a project, your team member could be asking about what’s coming up next for the client company. Sometimes it can be tough for him to imagine thinking about anything other than the project at hand because it can seem to be all-consuming. But taking advantage of any little break or pause in the work to ask about the future can be a head-clearing activity, both for your team member and for the client. The conversation can also serve to build the relationship with your client, because it communicates curiosity and caring.
  4. Talk About Capabilities — Your firm offers a lot. You want your team member to always be communicating about what you have to offer. Because no matter how much your firm has worked with a client, that client is never going to know everything you’re capable of. So you’re going to want your team member to have a broad-based understanding of your offering. He doesn’t need to know the details of everything, but at least he has to be able to name the categories of your services, and know what each one means. And whenever he finds an opportunity, you want him to talk about a service that the firm doesn’t know about. This takes a light touch and a good ear, sounding something like this: “Hey, do you folks ever need X? We’ve been offering it for some time now, and I was thinking you probably didn’t know.”

Recognize that as a leader of a professional service firm, it’s your job to make this happen. When you become a well-seasoned professional, all of this can start to become so natural and automatic for you that you don’t consciously think about it anymore. You’re going to want to talk about it regularly, and ask about results at every business development meeting.

Remember, it’s your job to sell the activity of business development, just as it’s your team’s job to sell the services of your firm.

Did you get value from this? Click the “Like” button below, and share it with others! 


  1. Patrick Blees on January 24, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Nice blog. I think our senior people do this pretty well. But number 4 is one that can easily be overlooked.

    • Pete Machalek on January 24, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      Great to hear it, Patrick! What are you doing to get your “not-so-senior” people to do this?

Leave a Comment


+1 612.384.0763


New Release! Our new book Winning AEC Interviews is now available!

%d bloggers like this: