In my former interactive agency we had several very different cultures under one roof: Salespeople, Strategist, and those responsible for delivery. Because our projects tended to be very complex we leaned heavily on the strength of our project managers to deliver what was promised on time and on budget.
I always felt like our great project managers were the equivalent of the computer system in a well-engineered car. They understand load capacity, timing, sequencing and a mind-boggling array of factors and conditions that need to be addressed to assure the project performs smoothly. Ironically these same instincts that are great for project management can neutralize the right environment to close a deal. Our best project managers usually tell me with no shame, “I don’t like to sell…at all.”
Why? Selling and influencing require very different mental skills and orientation. You do not have to look very deeply to see how different the scenes are that call each discipline forward, and how each scene requires different mental skills and orientation to be successful.
The correct state of mind in a setting of introducing, selling and influencing is one that must be dominated by understanding, curiosity as well as seeing and communicating a shared vision. Because a new potential customer is often not ready for a project management level of detail, the discussion must focus on finding the common threads of need and solution. This requires a high degree of sensitivity and understanding, and the ability to think on your feet to assure you are connecting with what the client truly needs.
A successful selling environment requires a well-paced level of agreement before descending into a more detailed discussion. Launching into project management details before your potential customer is ready is like talking about what hospital you want your children to be born in on a first date. I see project managers struggle with going too deep and too diligent, too early. I have also seen some rare and wonderful exceptions of project managers who were stellar at instilling the confidence that closed a deal. A project manager who is able to modulate the depth of detail can be your number one salesperson. But don’t hold your breath, in my 20 years running a project management intensive company I have found few people who are equally stellar at selling, as they are great at project management. I also found that you need to know which ones you can push across the divide from PM to selling ace, and the ones you need to love and respect as great project managers...only.
I often see a great cultural divide between project managers and those who sell. There seems to be a mistaken belief that the people that sell must lie about what is offered to make a sale and the ones that deliver have no clue about what the client wants and needs. Divisions like this literally divide a business, which can easily become a crevasse where opportunities, effectiveness, and profits are drained.
A solid business has no tolerance for this dualistic thinking (my way or your way). In successful businesses, project managers and salespeople operate as a close team and stay synchronized so understanding acquired at the closing table, is exactly what is delivered.
The culture in a solid business sees each skill enabling the other as part of the same process and goal. This culture respects and understands that everyone's success is dependent on applying different skills and mental orientations, at the right times, based on the stage, the scene, addressing the changing success factors required at each stage to move it to the next. I am describing a culture of interdependance, where it is clear that the differences are not only ok but fundamental to each persons personal success.
Good productive behavior that produces business results starts with how the people in your company believe they fit in context with those who are very different from themselves. If your culture is one that magnetically holds together the people who sell with the people who deliver, you'll make culture your most valuable long term asset.