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Sales Skills for Project Manager – How to be an Influencer

This article was first published on LinkedIn 4th October 2019

Stephanie Jaeger, PMP, LIMC, BBA Healthcare Management Principal Project Manager at Redtie Consultants (Strategy, Business & Project Management)

As Project Manager I have experienced many situations that require you to actually have sales skills. Not only when you are asked to participate in an actual sales pitch. More often it will be, when you are working on getting buy-in from your Executive Sponsor, or your Client or any other Stakeholder. I picked up a few tips that help you improve your sales skills.Many project managers find themselves in situations, where they actually have to “sell” solutions, projects and related ideas in order to get buy-in from Stakeholders. This can be quite overwhelming, since your standard project management training does not seem to prepare you for these kind of sales pitches. However when you follow a few simple tricks, you can easily become a major influencer, who gets buy-in from stakeholders.

It all starts by mapping out your Stakeholders properly:·        

- Know their influence and interest level in the project·        

- Know their character & preferences·        

- Know their knowledge level about the subject matter·       

- Listen to them with the intent to understand and not to respond – really listen and watch all their non-verbal communication

It is of utmost importance that you map each stakeholder properly. If thy have little or no subject matter expertise, you will have to keep the language to simple English and leave out all those big and impressive technical words. Should your stakeholder prefer numbers and statistics, then don’t scare or bore them with long text. Give them the graphs and statistics they crave. Should you have one of the Executive people, who prefer 3 bullet points and no more, then they will NOT read your update if it is any more than that.

There are also many people who like being asked for help and feel like you need them. Then it is good to phrase your information in form of questions, or with the adage “I would like to run this by you, kindly give me your input”. As you practice this special skill of phrasing things in questions, you will slowly learn to do it in such a way, that they will not respond with a totally different suggestion. I had a Senior Executive who really wanted to feel like he makes all the decisions. So I would run all my client communication and extended team communication, that I needed his buy-in on, by him in form of asking for his input: “I would like to run this by you before I send it out” usually worked wonders and we would have the much needed discussion around the topic.

From there you plan your strategy:·        

- Build meaningful relationships with your key stakeholders. It all starts here – you will need these when you come to pitch your case·        

- Customize your pitch to the persons interests and preferences·        

- Yes you may have to do a different pitch for every stakeholder – the power is in the customization – if you want to sell snow to the Eskimo, you need to get him from where he is and talk to him in the language he understands·        

- You might need help, since you may need to “speak” languages you do not understand. For example if someone prefers numbers and facts, you give them numbers, statistics etc. If someone wants bullet points, you give him that. If someone wants a personal visit over a cup of coffee, you give him that – even if you have to buy the coffee and there is no budget.·        

- Then you follow up to ensure that you get buy-in. Again it is a delicate balance to find the right frequency. The only rule I found here is that daily follow up is too much for most people, it amounts to pestering them.

In my articles on www.projectmanagement,com “Getting Buy in From Different Project Stakeholders” and “Finding a Voice in the Company as a Junior PM” I have elaborated in detail how you can influence others and get their buy-in with the above mentioned methods.

Successful Sales People have been using these and similar skills for year to achieve their successes. The personal touch and the customization is what gives them the cutting edge.

In the international project management community the awareness of the importance of excellent people skills, emotional intelligence and a willingness to get involved with your stakeholders and really listen to them is coming more and more to the forefront. Even the revised PMP® exam from 1st July 2020 will reflect this. In the current exam it is all about the technical project management skills. People skills are touched on in the Resource Management, Communication Management and Stakeholder Engagement Management knowledge areas. But the new exam will actually have 42% of its questions in the people skills domain.

As project managers we all need to work on our sales skills, influencer skills and people skills. It all starts with building relationships that go beyond the sterile work environment. Only when you get to know your stakeholders on a personal level will you be able to leverage sufficient influence on them when you pitch your case for any decision you need made during your project.

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