Sell the sizzle

At a recent speech I gave at the Colorado Association of Stormwater and Floodplain Managers (CASFM) conference in Steamboat Springs, one of the main themes I discussed was the absolute need for engineers to “sell the sizzle” when proposing on a project.  In this business economy, you have to engage your potential client with more than just your technical abilities or you’ll be left behind in the sea bitterness and self doubt.  I’ve seen hundreds of proposals from consultants cross my desk.  And to be quite honest; if you just answer the questions asked in the RFP like your reciting a third grade poem, then don’t waste your time even submitting the proposal.

As the potential client, I need to hear excitement about the project, enthusiasm about the community the project is located, and some key aspects that I haven’t even thought about that could add value to the overall use of the project and ultimately something that will either save me time or money that you’ve figured out in advance of the work.  If I don’t hear one of those key elements, then all I hear is “please hire me as I’m an average consultant that will deliver an average project for an average price.”  I’ll be quite blunt; some folks may want an average PM on an average project, but I’ve yet to meet one.  Every client believes that their project is unique and deserves the attention and passion of the best consultant available.  You have to be ready and able to provide those services and just as importantly, you have to be able to sell yourself on the front end, just to get the opportunity.  You have to give the client the feeling that they are going to have a great experience working with you to solve the challenges that lie ahead with great enthusiasm.


Here’s what I mean.  I was recently having dinner at Chile’s, and like usual I was a little baffled as to what I should order.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like there’s a new menu every time I walk into that restaurant.  So, like any good anal-retentive engineer, it took me a good 5 minutes just to get over my irritation that the menu had changed.  I mean, it’s like changing the paint on the wall so the art majors feel like they walked into a new restaurant.  The food is the same kids; they just gave it a new name.

As I sat there in quasi mental paralysis, I happened to look across the table and noticed that the rest of my party had shut their menus and were giving me that “Hello McFly; pick something to eat already; we’re hungry.”  This was the exact moment where the heavens were opened and I could clearly see my destiny before my eyes.  Or shall I say, I could hear, smell and taste my destiny.  You see, out of the corner of the restaurant, I heard the faint sound of a sizzle… As the sizzle got louder and louder I was completely entranced by the sounds and smells of this amazing platter of a sizzling masterpiece.  So, I wiped the drool from my bottom lip and confidently closed my menu.  Just like that – I now had one mission in life.  Get me some sizzle!  I’m certain that Chile’s can sell the fajita without the sizzle, but I can guarantee they wouldn’t sell as many!

So, the next time you’re submitting a proposal to a potential client – don’t forget the sizzle.  Why you, why now.  What is it about your skills and abilities that will not only set you apart from the competition, but make you someone that will be a total blast to work with and complete an award winning project?


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