Many contractors find marketing to be a painful endeavor. Word-of-mouth and repeat business used to be enough to sustain established companies, but increased competition has made selling a requirement-not just an occasional way to drum up business. By adopting a “team-selling” strategy, contractors can slip another arrow in their quiver. It is a marketing concept proven to be both popular and successful.

Team selling is “selling using multiple people who each bring something unique to the sales process. The difference between team selling and just selling with more people is that team sellers plan their process and use their team members effectively,” according to Steve Waterhouse, author of “The Team Selling Solution: Creating and Management Teams That Win the Complex Sale.”

Planning and strategy is at the core-simply sending additional representatives into a sales meeting does not mean a firm engaged in team selling. It is a process that involves time, thought, effort and structure.

“Team selling permeates the whole project,” said Shelia Kessler, president of the consulting firm, Competitive Edge.

When thought of this way, it is understandable why team selling is a scary proposition. But as Kessler put it, in our competitive world, “You are always on stage.” The curtain is up before, during and after any formal presentation.

Kessler identified two types of team selling: internal and external. Both are becoming increasingly important factors in the sales process and viable options for contractors.

Internal team selling

In a typical contracting firm, when members from the electrical construction, information transport systems (or VDV) and security groups get together to work on a comprehensive solution to sell to customers and prospects simultaneously, they are engaging in internal team selling.

Team selling can help prevent a compartmentalized approach to sales. Too often, several individuals from the same company offer buyers products or services from their department only, leaving the prospective client blind to the complete solution their firm can provide. Sales consults call this faulty tactic “reinventing the wheel.”

Team selling allows team members from across the company to make a uniform presentation. Individual salespeople rarely try to sell entire companies; they generally focus on their own product or service line.

Team selling amends this oversight by sending in multiple people from multiple disciplines, showcasing the contractor's diversity and full range of services. The company looks more complete, which aids the sales process.

Repeat-business customers, therefore, are more aware of an electrical contractor's complete offerings if a team was sent in to sell first. A customer for whom you did only security work may remember that during the team sales pitch, he was told your company also does maintenance and computer cabling.

For buyers who do not appreciate having four individuals from four different departments in the same contracting com-pany offering separate presentations, internal team selling could be a solution. All of the information could be provided during one presentation.

From a business-process standpoint, this type of sales approach also helps lower labor costs as sales team members can focus more on content rather than on scheduling appointments with busy buyers and decision-makers.

External team selling

External team selling generally involves multiple contracting firms, who team up to secure projects. Because of the growing interest in the team-selling approach, some enterprising contractors either establish or join a team in advance of a project. This type of team selling is not always voluntary, but if a contractor were visionary and proactive, teams can be established well in advance of when they are required.

By getting your team together before a potential bid is announced, members can work out their differences early on. Being proactive in team formation allows ample time to tackle potential legal problems, template creation, training for presenters and other issues.

A forced team occurs in federal government projects where team presentations are required. In this model, members have already been selected and a contractor must team up with those who may not be a first choice for establishing long-term, beneficial relationships.

The need

Why has team selling gained momentum and popularity?

“As projects become more complex, no one person can have credibility in all areas of the project,” said Waterhouse. “In addition, clients are using expanded teams to evaluate projects and they expect a team of experts to complement their team.”

“Complex” describes many of the contracts floating around, which is true for contractors who deal with both new construction and renovation projects that entail various disciplines. It is difficult to find a purely electrical or communication project of a decent size.

“In many sales, the buyer needs to make decisions on many levels before they can say, 'Yes.' In a complex process like a construction job, no one person can represent expertise in all areas,” Waterhouse said. “For example, the general contractor will have very little credibility with the client's AV expert. But by bringing an AV expert into the sales process, the client becomes comfortable with your company's expertise in that area. Even if the competition has a better AV system, the fact that they met with your expert and are comfortable with them dramatically improves your competitive advantage.”

This is synergistic with negotiated contracts since much of the decision-making process boils down to factors besides price.

Practice makes perfect

Lack of organization can kill a sales presentation. Teams need to be on the same page and practice the sales pitch. Kessler's three ingredients for a well-organized team presentation are common templates, strategy and language.

If all members of the team go into the presentation properly trained and well rehearsed, they will seem like a single entity, which is the goal.

“If you look like the Keystone Kops when your team presents, they will expect problems with the project,” Waterhouse said. “On the other hand, if they see a well-coordinated team presenting to them, they will expect the project to go equally well.”

Get going

With the team-selling process, it is essential that all company and department leaders be completely on board. Backing by upper management helps motivate others in the organization and thus creates a smoother transition. Dissension or resentment from within can negatively affect the team, even before its first presentation.

Studying books and articles on the subject, attending team-selling classes and lectures, and brainstorming with potential team members is a start.

When team selling works properly, it can boost your bottom line and your company's reputation. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.