Episode 193 – Mastering the Project Sales Role: How to Persuade, Lead and Succeed

Episode #193
Original Air Date: 01.15.2024

36 minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Harold Samson

Project managers use their skills to sell ideas or products to stakeholders, clients, and teams. This sales-oriented role stems from the need to secure resources, foster team alignment, and build client relationships. Successful project managers develop diverse sales-oriented skills as they learn how to identify opportunities and close deals. To succeed in the multifaceted sales role within project management, project managers need skills to identify motivators within team members, develop strategies for client persuasion, and enable effective communication with senior management, all while upholding ethical and compliance standards.

Join us as Harold Samson talks about how the role of the project manager translates into the ability to sell a product or an idea to stakeholders, clients, or team members. He shares key qualities and skills that make a project manager successful in the role of a "salesperson" within the project team. Velociteach instructor, Harold Samson MA, PMP, PMI-ACP, AAMS, has more than 25 years’ experience in Application Systems Development, 20 of these involved in all aspects of Project Management. As Senior Principal and co-founder of C.W. Costello and Associates, a national provider of business systems consulting services to Fortune 500 companies, Harold gained hands-on experience managing project teams in all phases of the system development life cycle.

Earn more PDUs with Harold’s online course: STAKEHOLDER ANALYSIS (1 PDU)

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"One of the earliest things that I learned was that every person in the world since the dawn of time, everybody makes decisions that are in their own best interest.  It’s as simple as that.  And all you need to figure out is what are their best interests."

- Harold Samson

"One of the things you need to be able to notice as a project manager is anytime your customer has a problem, that’s an opportunity for you. Maybe money, maybe favors, but a problem from the customer is an opportunity for you. And don’t let it go by where you don’t take advantage of it."

- Harold Samson

"You don’t realize it, but as a project manager, you are selling to everybody. First and foremost, you are selling to your team. The first sale you have to make when you bring your team together, you need to convince everyone on the team that it’s in their best interest that the project succeeds."

- Harold Samson

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. Discover how project managers leverage their skills to navigate the multifaceted sales role. Harold Samson, shares insights on developing diverse sales-oriented skills. From the art of securing resources, fostering team alignment, and building client relationships, hear about the pillars of successful project management in a sales-oriented role.

Table of Contents

03:10 … The Project Manager Salesperson
06:32 … Internal Sales
10:26 … Successful Salesperson Qualities
14:30 … Opportunity Bulletin
16:56 … External Sales Strategies
19:57 … Kevin and Kyle
21:00 … Selling to Senior Management
25:36 … Real-World Situations
29:03 … Look for Opportunities
30:43 … Ethical Considerations in Sales
34:11 … Contact Harold
35:56 … Closing

HAROLD SAMSON: One of the earliest things that I learned was that every person in the world since the dawn of time, everybody makes decisions that are in their own best interest.  It’s as simple as that.  And all you need to figure out is what are their best interests?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  My name is Wendy Grounds, and in the studio with me are Bill Yates and Danny Brewer, our sound guy.  We’re so excited that you are joining us.  If you like what you hear, please consider rating our show with five stars, and you can also leave a review on our website or whichever podcast listening app you use.  This helps us immensely in bringing the podcast to the attention of others, and we want to reach as many project managers as we can to be able to help the community.

One question I have for you listeners:  How does your experience as a project manager translate into your ability to sell a product or an idea to stakeholders, to your clients, or even to your team members?

BILL YATES:  The sales aspect.  You know, just as we were preparing for our conversation with Harold, just this week there was a blog that I read by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, a guest of ours on an earlier podcast, and here’s a quote:  “Traditionally project management has been viewed as a support function, a facilitator of a predefined business strategy.  However, in my experience as a project management expert” – this is Antonio speaking, not Bill – “modern project management isn’t just a facilitator, but an enabler and driver of business growth.”

So this is very interesting that Antonio just wrote about this.  There is a sales side to what we do as project managers.  We have to sell it to the team, we have to sell it internally to get the resources, and then sometimes we have to sell to our external customers.  There’s nobody better to talk to us about it than Harold.  He’s had such great experience with that.  I’ve known Harold since 2006, have been working with him since 2006, and he’s just got a vast amount of experience and knowledge on, not just project management, but different industries and how consulting practices work and how project managers get things done. 

WENDY GROUNDS:  So today we’re talking with Harold Samson, who is one of our instructors at Velociteach.  Harold has been with us for many, many years.  He has more than 25 years experience in application systems development, and 20 of those involved all aspects of project management.  As a senior principal and co-founder of C.W. Costello & Associates, which is a national provider of business systems consulting services to Fortune 500 companies, Harold gained hands-on experience managing project teams in all phases of the system development lifecycle within many different industries. We just realized we have not yet had the opportunity to talk to Harold on a podcast.

BILL YATES:  We need to make that straight.  We need to fix that.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes, yes. 

Hi, Harold.  Welcome to Manage This.  Thank you for being our guest today.

HAROLD SAMSON:  Well, thanks for inviting me.  I’m looking forward to the conversation.

The Project Manager Salesperson

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, I think it’s been a long time coming, and we’re excited to get into this topic.  Where did the whole idea of the project manager as a salesperson come from, and how has this evolved as your career has progressed?

HAROLD SAMSON:  Well, I started up in the Boston area.  When I first got into IT consulting, I worked for a boutique consulting firm up in Boston, and we were organized pretty much how every other consulting firm was organized back then.  We had a CEO and a whole bunch of salespeople, and then all of the consultants.  So it was a flat organization, and the salespeople were responsible for selling, and the consultants were responsible for doing the work.  And there wasn’t any emphasis put on the consultants being salespeople in place, so to speak.  So I worked there for four or five years, learned my craft.  And then me and six of my buddies, we decided to start our own company in Connecticut.

So we moved from Boston to Connecticut, and we started our own company, and it pretty much followed the same path until we hired a salesperson from  IBM.  And this gentleman was looking for a change in his career.  He was very, very successful at IBM, selling mainframes and everything that goes along with it.  And we brought him in.  He wanted a challenge.  He wanted to start selling services, so he thought that would be interesting for him.

And the first thing that he noticed when he came into our organization is that none of the consultants were selling out there in the field.  And we said, “Well, what do you mean?  We’re supposed to do the work.  We’re supposed to be the geniuses onsite.  We don’t sell.  That’s your job.”  He said, “No, no, no.  My job is to get you into a place, but then you have boots on the ground.  You get to see everything.  I’m not there.  There are many, many opportunities, and I’m going to teach you how to look for them.”

And over the next couple of years we went from a small company with a couple of offices.  Ten years later, we were doing $100 million in sales, and it was all because of what this guy taught us.  And as I go from class to class, site to site, and most of my classes are the PMP prep classes, but we teach a variety of other classes where management brings us in to groom their project managers.  And the first thing that we noticed, first thing that I noticed is that these guys wouldn’t know a sales opportunity if it knocked them on the head with a mallet.  It’s really a pretty straightforward thing to teach not only the project manager how to find and close on additional work with the customer, but the team members as well.  They’re out there.  They hear things.  They see things.

And they just don’t know what they’re hearing, and they don’t know that there are opportunities buried in some of the chitchat that goes on in any facility.  And you just need to know what to look for, and that’s what we used to train our people.  That’s what this particular IBM salesman used to teach us, and he opened our eyes, the results went right to the bottom line for sure.

Internal Sales

BILL YATES:  That’s a powerful story.  And to me, one of the things that intrigued me in talking about this topic is, in my mind, there’s two types of sales that a project manager needs to be aware of.  There’s the external opportunities that we need to be more aware of.   But there’s also the internal piece, a sales piece that I think for some project managers is a bit of a stretch.  But it’s, hey, you need to sell the team on the value of this project and sell the team on their contribution to the success of the project.  You’ve got to get them onboard.  So talk to us a little bit about that internal sales piece.

HAROLD SAMSON:  You’re definitely right.  There’s two sides of the coin there.  And when we talk to these project managers about sales, the way I introduce the topic, as I say, hey, I’m just curious, how many of you guys have ever been in sales before?  Just a show of hands.  And it seems like an innocent question.  And if we’ve got 20 people in the room, maybe one or two will put their hands up.  Then I’ll begin the discussion.  I’ll say, okay, that’s the problem.  You’re all in sales.  You don’t realize it, but as a project manager, you are selling to everybody.  First and foremost, you are selling to your team.  The first sale you have to make when you bring your team together, you need to convince everyone on the team that it’s in their best interest that the project succeeds.

Now, question is, how you do that?  Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to that.  You need to talk to everyone.  One of the first mistakes that I made in the early part of my career as a project manager was I just assumed everybody was motivated by the same thing I was, which was I want to advance in the organization.  I want to make a lot of money.  And I found out very quickly that not everybody is motivated by money and advancement.  And you don’t know that until you sit down and have a one on one with every person on the team. 

You know half of them will be motivated by money, and that’s an easy discussion to have.  You know, what’s it going to take?  What kind of money are you looking for in the future?  And let’s put a plan together.  If you do this, then you will get that.  And once it’s in black and white, people have a roadmap for how to get from A to B, then you’d be amazed at how motivated they are.

One of the earliest things that I learned was that every person in the world since the dawn of time, everybody makes decisions that are in their own best interest.  It’s as simple as that.  And all you need to figure out is what are their best interests.  Now, half the people, like I said, are going to be motivated by money, advancement, all the accoutrements that go with that.  But the other people, you’d be surprised.  Some people are motivated by, you know what, I’d really like more time off.  If I work overtime, I don’t want money for it.  I want comp time.  All right, well, we can work around that.

Some people are motivated because they have a favorite charity, and that’s their passion in life.  And they work to pay the bills, and every spare moment they’re at that charity.  And I say, well, okay, that’s fine.  As an organization, we support lots of charities.  How about if we add your charity to the list of charities that we support as a corporation?  And the more successful you are, the more money that will go to your charity.  How’s that?  Well, people like things like that.  But you need to be creative here.  You need to talk to people.

In other words, what’s it going to take for me to get the most out of you on this project?  How can I convince you that it is in your best interest that the project succeeds?  It’s not a two-minute conversation.  It may not even happen in one sitting.  But eventually you’ll get to the golden nugget there because everybody’s got that golden nugget.  You just need to figure out what it is and then dangle it in front of them, make it attainable to them, and it’s in their best interest for the project to succeed.  So now you’ve got a motivated team.

Successful Salesperson Qualities

 WENDY GROUNDS:  Now we’re telling our project managers that they need to be salespersons.  To be successful in that role, what are some of the qualities, some skills that they would need to grow in themselves to be successful?

HAROLD SAMSON:  Well, you’ve got to pay attention to detail.  And this is where our IBM salesperson really showed us the way.  There’s two things. First and foremost, you’ve got to do a good job.  This whole conversation comes to a halt if you don’t provide a quality product.  So first and foremost, provide a quality product to the customer.  Now, you’re not the only person, you’re not the only company that provides a quality product.  You have competitors out there that also have quality product.  So how do you pull yourself out from the pile?  How do you separate yourself from the pack?  And we were taught to keep our eyes open and just notice things.

Now, back in the IBM days, we used to hear stories from this guy.  I think in the ’60s and into the ’70s, IBM, I think they had a philosophy that you can’t spend too much money on a customer.  Even when we got into the ’90s and into the 2000s that was a little bit difficult to do.  You’ve always got the compliance thing hanging over your head.  But in addition to doing things like that, you can always take clients out to lunch and give them tickets to the ball game or take them golfing or things like that; depending on what industry you’re in and what kind of budget you have for that.  But it’s the small intangibles that we were taught.  Pay attention.  In other words, pay attention to what is said in conversation.

You know, if a customer says, “Oh, I’ve got to get out early today, my wife and I, it’s our anniversary,” you need to make a mental note of that.  And next year, you need to just send a card.  I mean, you don’t have to send a case of wine, but just send a card from your company, “Happy Anniversary, wishing you the best.”  Things like that.  Trust me; you will be the only one of the vendors to remember the anniversary.  Also, things that we spotted, you know, at summertime, customer might mention that, “Oh, yeah, my son’s home from college.  My daughter’s home from college looking for an internship somewhere.”

Well, you know what?  Maybe I know somebody that’s looking for interns, and maybe I can set this person up, this friend of mine up with this person’s son or daughter.  So you say, “You know what?  I know someone who’s looking for interns.  You want me to give a call or send an email?”  “Oh, yeah, could you do that?  That would be great.”  Even if the person doesn’t get the job, you’ve separated yourself out from the pack; okay?  And you’ve got to pay attention to things like that.

A perfect example was, I had a customer years ago, their child was trying to get into a particular high-echelon college.  Well, I knew some people who went to that college, and I knew that they were on, not the selection committee, but the interview committee, that they would help with recruiting.  And I set up a phone call.  I don’t even remember if the client’s child went to that college or not. 

But you know what?  Every time I called up that client, I always got right through.  Anytime I wanted a meeting, I always got right through because I separated myself from the pack.  Now, these days, and I’ve talked to other people that I used to work with, they go out to social media.  They look at the person’s social media, see what’s going on.  Now, you don’t want to be stalking people, per se, but birthdays, anniversaries, things like that.  All of those things, all of those little ideas that you come up with will help to separate yourself from your competitors.

Okay?  These are the things people think, oh, you’ve got to wine them.  You’ve got to dine them.  You’ve got to schmooze your clients.  You don’t have to do that.  Just pay attention, keep your eyes and ears open, and jump in wherever you can help.  Those are some of the things that we learned to do.

Opportunity Bulletin

BILL YATES:  Harold, we’ve been talking about making sure that the team becomes conditioned to look for opportunities and to keep their eyes open and to pay attention.  Now, you’ve shared with me this concept of an “opportunity bulletin” in the past, and I want you to go through that with our listeners.

HAROLD SAMSON: When you talk about the people on the team, here’s what we did for them.  We had a concept called an “opportunity bulletin.”  And we told everyone that was on the team, whatever you hear, whatever you see, whatever you think is happening, write it up on this opportunity bulletin and send it in.  If you think it may result in future business for our organization, write it up and send it in.  I don’t care how obscure it is.  You may hear a rumor that someone on the customer side just announced that she’s going to have a baby in six months. 

You know what?  That’s an opportunity because at some point that person’s going to take a couple of months off, and they’re going to have to back fill them.  I said, “No matter how obscure it is, send it in.  Every single one of these you send in, I’m going to give you a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant.”

Now, we used to meet quarterly as a company and just go over status of the company.  We’d have dinner and drinks and stuff like that.  And typically we had about 70 people in the office, 70 consultants in the office.  I would give out about a hundred of these every single quarterly meeting, a hundred of them.  And there was never a case where someone sent one in and I said, no, this really doesn’t, this isn’t anything.  Every single one, without question, if you go to the trouble of writing it up and sending it in, you get $25.  So a quarterly meeting, I gave away a hundred of them.  That’s $2,500.  But if one of those kicked in, I’m looking at maybe a $100,000 worth of business.  It was the best $2,500 I ever spent.

And people were going, “You know what?  I’ve got to get eight of them.  I’ve got to get 10 of them so that I can take my wife out to dinner.”But it had an immediate impact.  We would get these opportunity bulletins all the time.  Most of them went nowhere, but some of them went to the top of the mountain.  Some of them were pure gold.  And for those, we might even give another reward to the person if it really shelled out into something else.

External Sales Strategies

BILL YATES:  Harold, we’ve talked about internal and external, how the sales pieces of the project manager’s role differs. What are some of the strategies for external, for clients, for customers when a project manager is trying to persuade the customer to accept the final product?  Or maybe we see a chance to upsell.  What are some strategies we can do?

HAROLD SAMSON:  You know, almost everyone I know has been through at least one or two of these lectures, classes that talk about left brain/right brain.  You’ve got Myers-Briggs, you’ve got HBDI, you’ve got DISC.  There’s a million of them out there.  Understand that they’re all right.  Okay?  Understand that your customer is going to be one or two of the four different types of personalities.  They’re either going to be logical, or they’re going to be organized, or they’re going to be emotional, or they’re going to be holistic, in other words, looking at the big picture.

You need to discern where your customer falls in there.  And you’ll learn that by talking to them, but also look at their office.  What’s on the wall in their office?  Do they have Gantt charts on the wall?  Do they have pictures of vacations?  And do they look at the big picture all the time, or are they always looking out 10 years into the future?  Or do they like to see charts?  Do they insist on seeing a cost benefit analysis?  So figure out what category your customer fits into, and then gear your communications towards that.  If they’re emotional by nature, that’s their first response to everything, then you cannot go into a Monday morning meeting without asking them how their weekend was, or how was your vacation, or how are the kids doing?  They will expect that.

But if they are purely logical, then they’re just going to look at you like “Why are you wasting my time?” if you ask them something like that.  So go in with a cost benefit analysis.  Go in with data.  Go in with something that they will respond to better than anything else.  So even though we’ve all been through that training, I’ve got to tell you, that left brain/right brain thing, it is as obvious as the nose on your face, and that’s what you appeal to.  Obviously, I mean, you got to have a good product to hand over.  And if you’re trying to get buy-off at the end of a project, certainly you’ve got to deliver a quality product.

But besides that, present it in a way that they are more likely to agree with.  Whether it’s a schedule of things minute by minute or whether it’s a cost benefit analysis.  Or if they’re holistic, tell them about what it is that you just delivered, but then talk about the future.  Let me tell you what this is going to do for you five, 10 years down the road.  And let me tell you what we might be able to add to something like that.  So pay attention to stuff like that.  There’s a lot of logic in that.

Kevin and Kyle

KYLE CROWE: Stakeholder Analysis is a strategic tool used to identify and evaluate the interests and potential impact of the stakeholders involved in a project. The goal is to recognize the expectations of the stakeholders in order to effectively engage with them and manage their involvement throughout the project lifecycle.

KEVIN RONEY: Understanding the dynamics of the relationship between the stakeholders and the projects, allows for better decision-making and risk management. Performing Stakeholder Analysis is crucial during the planning phase of a project.

KYLE CROWE: The process involves gathering information through interviews, surveys, and document analysis to create a Stakeholder Matrix. Regular updates to the Stakeholder Analysis are recommended to adapt to changing circumstances. This iterative approach ensures that the analysis remains relevant and aligned with the evolving project dynamics.

KEVIN RONEY:  Ultimately, stakeholder analysis contributes to enhanced project success. If you want to learn more, Harold Samson offers a very popular course through Velociteach titled Stakeholder Analysis. It provides a tool set for analyzing and ranking stakeholders that you can use on your current and future projects.

Selling to Senior Management

WENDY GROUNDS:  Someone else that project managers have to sell to is they have to convince senior management. Sometimes they have to get them to allocate necessary resources.  So how can they overcome that challenge of selling something to senior management?

HAROLD SAMSON:  Well, that’s a sale also.  You know, there’s a fine line between sales and negotiation.  One thing I tell all the project managers is go take some negotiation classes because you sell to everyone, and you negotiate with everyone, as well.  And you bring up a good point with, you know, how do I get resources?  There’s limited resources.  One of the banes of project management is project managers never seem to get the resources, all the ones that they ask for. 

Well, you know what?  That’s a negotiation, as well.  You need to come to senior management with an argument that explains to them, in whatever their inclination is as far as what side of the brain they use, to explain to them why my project is more important to the organization than those other three projects, and why I should get the resources I need in front of those other projects.  Here’s the dollars and cents.  If we get our resources, this is what it does to the bottom line.  This is what it does for the organization.  You’re selling your project, as well.

Now, you can also schmooze, and I use the word loosely, you can also schmooze senior management.  What you want to do is you want to also separate yourself from the pack of the other project managers.  My grandfather told me when I got out of college, my grandfather was a brilliant man.  He said, “Don’t ever be afraid to climb those golden stairs.”  And he explained, he said, “Don’t think that you can’t walk into senior management’s office and ask them for things.  They will appreciate it, and they will know who you are.”

So what I used to do sometimes as a project manager, if the project was really in the difficult part, everyone’s working long hours, and we’d meet for our weekly status meetings on Friday to go over what’s going on, occasionally, if I saw the enthusiasm start to ebb a little bit on the team, I would go to my boss’s boss, maybe even my boss’s boss’s boss.  I would knock on the door.  I’d introduce myself and say, “Hey, I’m managing the XYZ project.  And you know what?  If you can just stop by, we’re having a staff meeting, a status meeting Friday. 

If you can just stop by for five minutes, just poke your head in the door and say, ‘Hey, I saw you guys meeting in here.  I just wanted to stop in for five minutes.  I don’t want to interrupt, but I just want to let you guys know that we are watching this project very, very closely.  It’s critically important to the organization, and Harold tells me that you guys are doing a great job.  And I just want to applaud you and say keep up the good work and let us know if there’s anything you need from us.’”

Here’s the funny thing.  I would say five minutes, that’s it.  Once senior management starts talking, they will not stop.  And it was all of a sudden they’re talking about things for 15 minutes, and I’m kind of looking at my watch going, “Yeah, we got to get through this staff meeting.”  But by the time senior management walked out the door, two things happened.  Number one, the team all has their chest puffed out.  They had no idea that management knew what they were doing, especially that high level up.  Okay?  So they all had a greater sense of importance.  “Everyone’s looking at this project.  I didn’t realize how important it was.”  So it’s good for the team to get them pumped up.

But you know what?  It was good for me, too, because no other project manager did that.  And the other thing my grandfather told me is there’s two things you need to advance in the organization, leverage and visibility.  He said, “You’ve got to do a good job.  You’ve got to prove that you’re valuable to the organization.  But that’s not any good if they don’t know who you are.”  So this got me the visibility.  So now they know my name because nobody else did that.  And now I’m kind of on a pedestal above the other project managers, and that will help you in your career, as well.  And again, it didn’t cost me a dime.

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.  Yeah, you just had to take the chance to walk up those golden stairs.  You had to listen to your grandfather.

HAROLD SAMSON:  Yeah, worst case they said, “No, I don’t really have time.”  I’d say, “Okay, maybe next month I’ll check back with you.  I’ll send you an email next month.”  But you know what?  I never ever had senior management say no to that.

Real-World Situations

WENDY GROUNDS:  Can you give us some examples perhaps of real-world situations where project managers have acted as salespeople within their projects, and some of the outcomes from those efforts?

HAROLD SAMSON:  One of the most effective tools that you can use – and maybe you’ve heard of this before, Bill, maybe you’ve been around almost as long as me.  It’s called the $0 change order.  $0 change order is maybe the most effective sales tool ever.  Now, it can come from two places.  Number one, our good friend scope creep, where a customer will come to you and say, you know, “I forgot to tell you about this when you were collecting requirements.  Can you add this to the scope?  I can’t give you any more time on the project.  I don’t have another nickel in the budget.  But could you do me a big favor?”  And, you know, PMI will tell us, “Nope, you’ve got to adhere to the iron triangle.  You can’t change one of the constraints without at least one of the other two being affected.”

But normally in the real world, most of us say, “Yeah, we’re willing to do that.”  You know what?  You just did a favor for your customer.  And you should be able to get some value out of that.  That’s where the $0 change order comes from.  So you write it up, even though you’re not going to charge them for it.  You tell the customer that, “Hey, you know what?  I do need to write this up because I’ve got people that are going to be assigned to it.” 

So I wrote it up.  We’re going to do this and this and this and this.  The value of all of that work is $7,250.  But now I’m going to give you a credit at the bottom, $7,250.  So the net to you is zero.  But I have to write this up because it’s a change in scopes.  And can you sign this?”

No customer in the history of the world will refuse to sign a $0 change order.  But it’s psychological because they see that number that you put.  They’re not going to argue it because it’s zero anyway.  But in their mind, you just gave them $7,250 for free, and that’s going to add up.  And it’s all about getting favors on your side of the ledger.  I knew a project manager that I used to work with.  He would get like a dozen of these $0 change orders in a pile, give them to the customer and go, “Yeah, we did this.  We did this.  We did this.”

And some of those things were his mistake.  In other words, “We screwed up.  We had to do this additional work.  I’m putting it down as a $0 change order.  Please sign here.”  And there would be like 10 to 12 of those.  And the bottom one would be a real change order for like $150,000.  By the time the customer got to that, he’d go, “Well, wow.  He just gave me like $58,000 worth of stuff for free.  You know, this $125,000 change order, I guess it’s legitimate.  Plus, I’m really getting it at less than half price.  So yeah, I’ll sign this.”

It’s just brilliant.  It’s something that a lot of project managers don’t know about.  You can use it for a variety of things.  One of the things you need to be able to notice as a project manager is anytime your customer has a problem, that’s an opportunity for you.  Maybe money, maybe favors, but a problem from the customer is an opportunity for you.  And don’t let it go by where you don’t take advantage of it.  You’ve got to take advantage of them all.  But you’ve got to keep your eyes open.

Look for Opportunities

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And it goes to paying attention, as you’ve mentioned.  You have to pay attention for these opportunities.  It’s important, I think, too many times I’d be in too much of a rush with my project where, one, I’d completely miss an opportunity;  or two, I wouldn’t take the time to document it.  So in other words, our team would give them free work, and I wouldn’t take the time to say, “Hey, that was $7,000 worth of free work.  Here’s a $0 change order just to document it.  I just have to do this so that we can show how our resources are being used.  Then maybe later we’ll bring it up again.  Maybe you can do something for me.”

HAROLD SAMSON:  And, by the way, there are some customers who are somewhat unscrupulous, and they will keep trying to get stuff from you by dangling the possibility of future work in front of you.  And the way to respond to that, if they say, “Hey, you know, we’ve got this other project coming down the road, if you do this for free, then you know what?  There’s a much better chance of you getting that additional work.” 

And the way to respond to that is, “Hey, you know what?  Let’s bundle them together.  Let’s put a contract together.  I will do this for free, if you give us that next project.  Let’s sign it right now.”  And then they might say – if they back up, they go, “Oh, I can’t do that,” I say, “Well, then I can’t give this to you for free.  If it was up to me, that would be fine.  But my boss would fire me if I did that.  But if I bundled it with another project, then I’m a hero.  So let’s think about doing that.”

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.  That’s a great response.

HAROLD SAMSON:  You’ve got to be careful because not every customer is interested in this being a win-win scenario.

Ethical Considerations in Sales

BILL YATES:  Related to that, Harold, one of the questions I wanted to ask you, just about ethical considerations.  Do you have any advice for project managers that are listening in, going, okay, this sounds like some good opportunities that maybe I’ve missed out on, but I don’t want to get into trouble.  I don’t want to get fired.  I don’t want to get sued.  Are there any ethical considerations that we should consider here?

HAROLD SAMSON:  Absolutely.  It’s a different world than when this IBM salesman worked back in the ’60s and ’70s.  The stories that he told us about what IBM used to do to keep clients and win clients would make your toes curl.  But it’s a different world.  We went from there to, “Let’s go out for golf, and here’s a couple of tickets to the ball game,” to nowadays where you’ve got compliance, a compliance department looking over your shoulder all the time.  So you have to always have a compliance perspective in the back of your brain.

So no money should change hands.  Make sure that, if you’re doing favors, that there’s no paper trail.  I can do a favor for somebody by having a friend of mine call their kid and offer them, you know, maybe an internship or talk about getting into college.  No money has changed hands.  Nothing is written down.  But that is a favor that that customer will take a long time repaying to me because there’s a lot that goes into that.  So you’ve got to stay ethical, especially nowadays.  The compliance department, boy, they have rules and more rules and then rules on top of their rules.  So don’t even think – if you’re even thinking of crossing the line, run it by the attorneys.  Run it by the compliance department.  Say, “Hey, if I do this, is this okay?”

Bill, we used to have a client in Washington, D.C., I don’t know if you remember, but they were a boutique consulting firm that worked for the FAA exclusively, and they would analyze RFPs or responses to RFPs that came in and advise them on what are the good solutions, et cetera, et cetera.  I went in to teach a PMP class, and next to their coffee machine they had a cup with change in it.  And I said, “Oh, does everyone kick in for the coffee here?”  And they said, “No, no, no, we provide coffee to all of our people, but when we get a government employee in here, they have to put a quarter in the cup because they’re not even allowed to accept a cup of coffee from us.”

And that’s when I understood that, you know, this is in a different realm now, especially government employees, military employees, things like that.  Talk to your compliance people, talk to your attorneys before you come up with a brilliant idea.  It might not be all that brilliant, and your compliance people might just look at you and say, “Are you kidding?”

BILL YATES:  Right.  Yeah.

HAROLD SAMSON:  “That is not going to fly.”

BILL YATES:  That’s so true.

HAROLD SAMSON:  “Think, come up with another idea.”

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Another piece of advice that I’ve learned, too, is if it’s an external customer, just ask the customer.  At the beginning of a project, I’ll ask them, “Hey, our team’s going to be traveling onsite, doing a lot of work.  Obviously we’re going to be working through lunch, sometimes through dinner.  If you guys are working with us, or a part of your team, can we pick up lunch for you?  Can we buy dinner for you?  Or is that frowned upon?”  Just ask because the customer’s going to be quick to let you know.

HAROLD SAMSON:  Yeah.  Yeah.  You don’t always have a compliance person in the room, so ask questions.  I think that’s the best solution.  

WENDY GROUNDS: If our listeners want to reach out to you, if they have any questions, what’s the best way that they can get in touch?

HAROLD SAMSON:  Oh, they can get in touch with me through my Velociteach email address, harold.samson@velociteach.com.  And a lot of my students say, “Oh, Harold, we don’t want to bother you.  You know, you have hundreds of students.  You must get dozens and dozens of emails every week.”  I really don’t.  Once someone passes the PMP exam, there’s no reason for them to check in with me.  So any email is fine, no matter what it’s about.  It could be about the PMP or one of the other classes we teach.  It could be about their project.  Sometimes those are the most fun questions to answer – career advice, project advice, how to deal with an unruly customer, all sorts of stuff like that.  I’m happy to get into those discussions.

BILL YATES:  Well, Harold, I’ve been looking forward to this.  It’s been so fun.  And I’ve been able to sit back and watch your role as an instructor bloom and bloom and bloom, and you’re a phenomenal presenter and facilitator.  But you’ve been able to master all aspects of project management and present in all different environments.  It’s like, you know, it’s so fun to talk with you about some of the classroom experiences you’ve had because we have such a diversity of clients, such a diversity of their backgrounds, industries.  You’re a guru in project management, a phenomenal facilitator, and we’re delighted to have you representing Velociteach.  Thanks for spending time with us today and talking through some of these aspects of the sales side of project management with us.

HAROLD SAMSON:  Well, I thank you, and I thank Wendy for inviting me in.  This has been a fun discussion.  Obviously we could have gone on another couple of hours, but maybe next time.

BILL YATES:  That’s right.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  You have just earned your PDUs, your professional development units, toward recertifications by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.  Thank you for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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