One of the 44 executives I interviewed for the book, Laura Wernick, AIA of HMFH Architects in Boston, shared her experience building confidence as a seller-doer. This post is an excerpt from my interview with Laura.
Jim Rogers: The middle game of business development is the hardest part of this, in my opinion. If you can think of a time when you first took ownership of that middle phase and led a potential client or a potential project through to fruition – how did you learn how to do that?
Laura Wernick: I don’t think my path was a particularly easy one. I can remember very clearly talking to a potential client and then feeling very crushed when we weren’t shortlisted for the project. But maybe what I did is a useful tip for others. I followed up and said, “Geez, you know, I was disappointed. I was excited about this project.” And I remember very clearly the person saying, “Well, Laura, you’re a nice person but you seem kind of awkward. And I wasn’t always comfortable talking with you.” Whoa, that was a tough one.
Jim Rogers: Wow. Unvarnished honesty there.
Laura Wernick: I was trying so hard – And it can take a while for many of us to be comfortable, to find ourselves, and to speak as ourselves. You’re trying so hard to be this perfect salesperson that you’re not perhaps perceived as being genuine or true to yourself. It was a bit of slow learning perhaps. It takes a little while and maybe some maturity for many of us to become ourselves.
It’s hard to be a good marketer if you’re not comfortable in your skin and comfortable with who you are. I think that’s something that people can learn – And it takes time. It takes encouragement, trial and error, and learning what your natural voice is.
Jim Rogers: Trial and error yield wisdom and confidence.
Laura Wernick: Absolutely.
Jim Rogers: I think it takes care of itself over time. You can’t just tell somebody, “Don’t be nervous when you’re talking” – It doesn’t work.
Laura Wernick: I believe the key to all business development is being persistent over time, trying to learn from your mistakes, and sticking with it. That’s always the hardest thing because often the gratification is long delayed. When you finally make that sale and close a deal, it’s a wonderful feeling, but there are a lot of dead ends and sowing a lot of seeds before that final contact can be made sometimes. And I think that persistence and sticking to it is really hard.
Jim Rogers: Beyond just building the gravitas and confidence that comes with experience – Was there anything that you did intentionally to study some of the skills that you needed to acquire? Such as training or finding the right coach or mentor to help you learn and develop those skills.
Laura Wernick: I was always looking to others as role models. Fortunately, one of my partners loves doing business development, and it always helped me to talk, connect, and ask questions. I found that partner to be my greatest role model. My greatest learning technique was seeing others do it and then doing it myself over time. You become more sophisticated in how you spend your time, what works, and what doesn’t work for you. I’m very active in a range of professional organizations now, and when I see other people, I study how they reach out to people and what they are involved with. That’s been my pathway – Learning from my peers or from people who have been doing it for a while. I study their approach and what works for them – And then try to make it work for who I am.