No matter where you look in the environmental science consulting industry, management wants the scientists to be “sellers-doers.” As an employee you are expected to not only find new clients continuously and both manage/do all the technical and regulatory work they require, you are expected to accomplish this without allowing your utilization to drop below 80 or 90 percent and, of course, the time spent marketing can’t be billed. Is there any wonder there is so much stress in the industry? Or, for that matter, is it any surprise that the industry overall isn’t really that robust compared to businesses that understand these roles are fairly distinct?
You might initially get hired as a field technician or a junior-level scientist, but ultimately environmental consulting companies want every environmental scientist or engineer to be a seller-doer. It is all you hear when discussing positions and careers and pretty much the entire business plan of many consultancies. Has anyone ever asked why? Why do you want your very best scientists and engineers, often your most senior technical people, to be out beating the bushes for clients, to spend countless hours on the phone? Were they trained to do this? No, of course they weren’t and I know that many of them don’t like the selling aspect of the job. I, for one, would much rather be figuring out what specifically the client needs, how to address those needs, assessing data that are required and available, and providing solutions. These are the things I was taught in school, the highlights of my experience, and the special capabilities that I bring to the table.
Conversely, why would you want staff with great people skills and the “gift of gab,” who don’t particularly want a life of sitting in front of screens filled with data, calculations, and reports, to be trapped doing that? Wouldn’t their time (your payroll time) be better spent meeting potential clients, making some calls, doing some lunches, sitting up some roundtables, keeping current clients informed of project status, etc? You would not, in fact, need someone with a M.S. or Ph.D. to be out selling your capabilities. Why would the seller need to understand the details of metal complexation or all the various possible species of arsenic in the site soils? Beyond fundamental selling skills and an appropriate personality, all the seller really needs is a strong knowledge of the company’s range of capabilities, how it desires to expand those capabilities, an idea of workload, and a basic knowledge of the areas of environmental science involved. If a client is on the hook and needs to be reeled in, then the scientist can be brought to the table.
In other words, you need talented and capable businesspersons for the marketing and selling, backed up by a staff of scientists who “get” the business but are allowed to focus on doing science and addressing regulatory issues. These two groups will, of course, have a lot of interaction if the sellers need more specifics for selling and/or to address the questions and needs of new clients but, for the most part, they can remain focused on the areas where they excel. If the seller can sell full-time and the scientist can do technical work nearly full-time you might find that both areas become much more lucrative and have a decidedly happier staff.