Project Management

Are Project Managers Salespeople?

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Categories: Leadership

by Dave Wakeman

I recently realized something that I never really thought about before (at least, I don’t remember thinking about before): Project managers share a lot of the same needs and requirements with salespeople.

Crazy, right?

Many of you are probably scratching your head, thinking, “Dave has really lost his mind now.” You might be right, but let me try and explain. Here are some things we have in common with salespeople…

1. Driving awareness: One of the key jobs of a PM is to make sure that the stakeholders and key assets of a project know what is going on and are committed to helping the project reach its goal.

That’s really just another way of saying “drive awareness.” Which is really one of the key things that salespeople do: They find targets in the market and they create attention and need through elevating awareness.

For project managers, a similar process happens when you look at the people that have an impact or influence on your project’s success or failure. You have to figure out who these people are and let them know that your project is moving forward—and what impact it is likely to have on folks over time (if you are successful).

That’s a lot like a salesperson. 

2. Expressing value: I’m a trained marketer. That means that I don’t believe in commodities. Which is good for project managers, because every project a PM undertakes should have some sort of unique value that is going to also add value to the team, stakeholders and environment that the project exists in.

As a PM, you also likely find yourself struggling to get people to buy in on the value your project creates at all times.

Why? People have different priorities. People may have different beliefs about the value of a project. Or, people just don’t want to invest in certain things.

We could go on here, but the key is that as a PM, you have to mitigate the risk to your project of people not knowing the value of what you are doing. How? By expressing the value of what you are working on.

There are two types of value to express: tangible value and intangible value. Tangible things are easily measured (like time saved, money saved or money earned); intangibles are much more difficult to measure, but they can have a big impact (like less stress, less time wasted or time saved). You make these values clear by expressing them in a manner that shows how your project directly leads to the benefits.

Again, y’all are selling!

3. Gaining commitment to action: This is the ultimate sales job. Without action, nothing happens.

In any leadership role, you end up only being successful through the efforts of others. In sales, the same idea holds. This is why the focus on commitment to action is so important.  You have to get people to commit to taking action or no change will take place.

What does action look like? A process started. A job completed. A purchase made.

As a PM, these jobs look exactly like the job of a salesperson, because you both are relying on the efforts of others to help you achieve success.

Now I may be wrong, but when laid out like this, PMs and salespeople look much more alike than we usually think they do in a lot of cases.

Or I’ve lost my mind.  (You tell me in the comments below!)

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 28, 2021 10:20 AM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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Dear David
The theme that brought to our reflection and debate is very interesting.
Thanks for sharing and your opinions.
Some say that all professions have a sales dimension

Actually I do agree, I am a business analyst and I came across this huge national-level project I was helping my colleague to manage (I am not the assigned PM) anyways when I was setting with the stakeholders I was "Marketing and Selling" to get their buy and the same idea crossed my mind!

thanks David, it is very interesting to take note of this similarity

For me, there is no doubt that a PM is a seller person. I think that the most valuable action of the PM is to find the manner for selling ideas (mindset, approach, practices, etc.) and solutions to get from organizations the best resources to achieve outcomes. But at the same time, make that key person take the best and timely decision with clear actions to assure delivery value to their clients and the organizations.

Very interesting article, David. I have always said that sales people can learn quite a bit from project managers so I was so excited to see that someone else is drawing the same comparison. I used to call this the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Comparison between PMs and BDMs — who got chocolate in my peanut butter … who got peanut butter in my chocolate?

I worked at a company that really believed this so much they sent us to a Selling course

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