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The Accidental Salesperson

The Accidental Salesperson

I did not start out my career wanting to go into business development. In fact, I went to college for architecture and got a job in virtual design and construction, working on MEP coordination and 3D modeling for clients throughout the US. And I liked it. But once I got into my groove, an opportunity presented itself. My area leader asked me if I had ever considered business development. To be honest, I never had considered it, nor did know what business development was. I was happy doing what I was doing, but he saw the potential in me. And I had a decision to make.

Now, I’ve always considered myself to be a planner - someone who has a one-year, five-year, and even a ten-year plan. Becoming a business development manager was NOT anywhere in those plans. My plan was to work, become a licensed architect, and take on management level roles within the VDC department. 

Then this opportunity popped up, and my plan had the potential to change. Dramatically. I had to ask myself some tough questions. Would I enjoy doing business development? Would I be okay starting from the bottom again? What the heck IS business development? Would I be successful – both from my perspective as well as my company’s perspective? What did my manager see in me that made him think I would be successful in business development? 

So, I did what anyone would do -  an internet search for “Top Skills for a Business Development Manager”. I sifted through the plethora of results. It turns out, I had many of the characteristics listed out – I was just using them in a different way. People skills? Check. Working with internal clients throughout our organization has taught me a lot about people and how to customize the message for your audience. Strategic mindset? Business development is all about strategic action plans, and that is definitely in my wheelhouse. I find that structure actually allows for more creativity and helps define a path to success. Knowledge of the company and the market? I realized I had a unique perspective because I have a background in architecture and am an Arizona native. I specifically understood building in Arizona, and that, it turns out, is invaluable for business development. Organizational skills? People who are successful at business development have many balls to juggle, and I am a master juggler! Goal focused? Um, definitely! To say I am competitive is an understatement. Failure is simply not an option, and I feel that mistakes and setbacks aren’t failures, they’re just learning opportunities to succeed next time. 

That’s when I realized that sometimes you just have to take your one-, five-, and ten-year plans, wrinkle them up into a big ball, and throw them away - hopefully making a three-point shot into the can.  

Then the real work began. I quickly realized that while I had similar characteristics in my VDC life, they didn’t always translate smoothly into my business development life. There was just so much to learn. I did have people skills, but selling and closing a deal is a completely different aspect. I also thought I knew a lot about building in Arizona. However, I had a lot of homework to do on the market and the trends that shape it. And as far as organizational skills, I quickly realized that organizing tasks is easy, but figuring out how to organize and qualify relationships in a business development role proved to be an enormous challenge. So, two years in, I’m still learning each and every day. One of the most important things I’ve learned is, sometimes, you just need to “fake it ‘til you make it!” 

Were there moments when I’ve regretted my decision? Absolutely. But here’s the thing - I really love what I do. I love the challenges, the new interactions, the strategies, the wins, and even the losses because they show me how we can do better and be more successful.  

The point is don’t be afraid to become what you never thought you’d be. A co-worker of mine loves to say, “Be afraid, but do it anyway.” And she’s right. For all of the questions and concerns I had walking into this new career, I knew, ultimately, that it was the right decision for me. Don’t let opportunities pass you by. And if someone sees something in you, believe them. And maybe you, too, can become an accidental salesperson.

Michelle Rousseau
Business Development Manager

Michelle Rousseau is a business development manager for Gilbane Building Company’s Western division and began her career as a VDC manager with Gilbane in 2014. She is currently slogging through her architecture exams and is looking forward to the day when she doesn’t have to study for a test. She lives in Phoenix, has an addiction to working out, and has recently adopted her new best friend, her pug Rosie.



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