Turn Utility Employees Into Marketing-Driven Pros

Business opportunities will come to utilities that embrace a culture change. But what does “culture change” really mean in the utility context?

The communications industry explosion, brought on by deregulation more than 15 years ago, provides some hope that the utility industry will not only survive but also thrive. It will be different, however, and require individuals with a different mindset than that fostered by the traditional utility. Changing this culture entails embracing an externally focused, active business mentality — a leap beyond customer service. And this change needs to happen now, before the total deregulation reality hits.

If a culture change is what it takes to embrace opportunities, how can this be accomplished?

The How-To of Culture Change

The way to make a culture change work is to commit to an active investment strategy in people and process. This solution frequently involves charging largely technically oriented utility professionals with the additional role of business developer. In addition to functioning as an electrical, mechanical, petroleum or chemical engineer, computer scientist, architect or communications manager, they are frequently expected to court current clients, find ways to grow accounts and mine new business opportunities. Degrees, executive education and project/program experience rarely provide the training a professional needs to function adequately in this new demanding role, let alone survive an intimidating culture change.

Why Selling Is Not a Fit

To solve this problem, organizations have tried to run their people through traditional sales training prevalent in the marketplace, often with mixed to disastrous results. Like the proverbial square peg forced into the round hole, it’s just not a fit. An electrical engineer with a master’s degree is just not very comfortable having to think, act or be perceived as a salesperson. To circumvent this problem, some companies go the expensive route of hiring marketing folks to be point persons in the selling process. However, these individuals often lack the technical expertise to work the business acquisition process efficiently and effectively, especially in the utility and other technical service industries. The outcome in either case is a demoralized tech professional unsure of what role to be in; a disillusioned, unsuccessful marketing person; a frustrated management whose revenue forecasts do not materialize; and a confused prospect unsure of whom to buy from. The end result: lost opportunities.

Crafting a Culture Change Solution

A solution to the culture change dilemma is learning a true business development process. Learning how to develop business requires a 180-degree turn from the usual selling perspective of giving presentations; asking for orders; and overcoming stalls and objections and maybe closing sales.

Instead, the process of business development takes the individual directly from the utility mindset to the thinking of a businessperson — from the utility culture to the corporate business culture. This entails learning how to become the client’s business partner and moving beyond the concept of problem solving to focusing on problem prevention.

Being efficient and effective in capitalizing on business development opportunities requires transcending the role of consultant and becoming a colleague and business partner in the client’s business. Instead of forcing a “square” professional to fit the “round” concept of sales, organizations attempting this culture shift wisely conclude that the technical professional has a better chance of succeeding in the role of business professional.

However, the requisite key for success is a culture change for the entire organization to the active business development mentality. When management provides the conceptual as well as mechanical training that goes beyond traditional sales training, these professionals develop the thinking, system and process skills that enable them to capitalize on their considerable technical expertise and to solve clients’ current and future problems. Professionals develop a clear understanding of themselves, how and why they function in the role of business development and how and why clients frequently buy from them.

The Utility Outcome

Business development training provides the successful outcome in this culture shift challenge. The transition from technical professional to business professional is a logical, doable and duplicative process. The result is successful pros in the business development role who learn how to think, act and be perceived as the businesspeople they truly are. These professionals are trained — not forced — to fit easily and comfortably into the business development role, and the bottom-line results are a clear indication of success in the new utility marketplace.

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