Lessons from Eleven Years in the Business – Honesty is Key



Contributed by Brad Sawyer, Business Development Manager


Lessons from Eleven Years in the Business – Honesty is Key

H+M Industrial EPC Honesty is Key

I have learned a variety of lessons after 11 years of business development in the Houston Petrochemical industry. Some things were learned the easy way and some…the hard way.  Below are a few of the things that I have learned since I started, things I’m still learning, and why they have helped me.

Relationships Matter

The first thing I learned was that relationships play a bigger role than any text book or professional sales expert would like to admit.  You can learn all of the tricks on professional selling but at the end of the day people will be more likely to give you an opportunity if they like you, assuming you have a competitive product to offer that is.  As human beings, we all act on emotion to some extent. Yes, this includes the decision makers we target.  My mentor told me when I first started in this business that “if people like you, they will find a way to give you an opportunity”.

My main/only objective in my first meeting with a new customer is to get a second meeting. Developing business in this industry is very slow moving and mostly reluctant to change, and most decision makers won’t give you an opportunity on the first visit anyways.  You have no chance of ever doing business with someone if they won’t meet or talk with you.  The whole objective of the first meeting, and every meeting after that, is to be able to have this particular customer meet with you the next time you reach out to them.  Customers will continue to meet with you if they feel comfortable with you. They get comfortable when you develop a personal relationship with them.  Starting out the relationship with a heavy sales pitch can oftentimes make a meeting awkward, therefore making it very difficult to get another meeting.  I feel that as long as customers agree to keep meeting with you, they intend to eventually give you a chance at earning their business.  As soon as they stop meeting with you, the odds of a future opportunity decrease significantly.

You Can’t Know It All

Another lesson I feel I have learned through the years is to never act like you know the answer when you don’t.  People in this business are smart. They probably know more about their needs, and what you’re selling, than you do.  If you come across as a technical expert on your product, your customer will view you as their resource for your product.  If you don’t truly know what you are talking about, then it will be a bad reflection on your company’s product.

Always be comfortable saying when you don’t know an answer. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, your customers will either know or they will eventually find out.  This is a very technical industry and no one knows everything, so it’s alright to say you don’t know and you will get back to them with the correct answer or introduce someone else that is an expert.  I think it’s a huge red flag when a sales person pretends to have the answer when they don’t, as it shows they might be willing to offer the wrong product or service to the customer.  Also be prepared to say when you are wrong or have made a mistake. This will show that you recognized what you did and will be willing to fix it going forward.

Honesty is Key

To summarize the two lessons above, you will find success in sales and business development if you are an honest person.  This is a mostly conservative industry and the people remain employed at the same company for long periods of time, and they don’t forget.  If you come across as a pushy sales person that is an expert on everything petrochem related, you most likely won’t be the person that customers build relationships with.  A lot of times our customers work long hours and when they get away for lunch they don’t want to keep talking about work. They want to talk about something fun (i.e. football or hunting).  If you try to push your product too hard right from the get go, all you’re doing is hurting your chances for the next meeting.

Just like almost any career or profession, if you work hard, stay honest, and enjoy yourself, anyone can be successful in a business development role.



Brad Sawyer – Business Development Manager at H+M Industrial EPC

B.S. in Industrial Distribution Engineering

Brad has more than 10 years of business development experience in the heavy industrial markets including Petrochem, Refining, Power, Mid-stream, and Terminals. His responsibilities include managing the Business Development and Marketing divisions at H+M. Industry experience includes capital projects, turn-arounds, outages, and maintenance along the Texas Gulf coast region.