Best of class AEC firms have a business motor turning with three gears interlocked and moving in the same direction- Marketing, Business Development (BD), and Sales (securing contracts). These three are the cornerstone to finding and securing work and keeping that funnel (pipeline) of opportunities full.
Marketing is the work done in the office that communicates the value proposition of the firm. The greatest strength, which I refer to as the Company Story, is spun myriad ways to confirm the features, benefits, and proofs of using your firm. It has a major positive differentiator that appeals, attracts, and resonates with your ideal clients. This should be the focal point for every marketing piece, website, social media, article, etc.
Marketing tells your story and complements the efforts of BD and assists with material for proposals and presentations. Marketing doesn’t sell anything by itself. It is intended to be a complement and a way to document your ongoing story in your marketplace. Marketing proves your claims, whatever they are, in a credible and natural way. Be careful not to tout and blow your trumpet in too many areas. Studies show that the human mind can only believe so much, so stay away from excess fluff and stick to facts, situations, and the morale of the story.
The business developer is the main story teller of the AEC concern. They know the story and they know the main points of the Value Proposition and they know the differentiator (greatest strength) and how to deliver it appropriately. BD needs to draw on marketing for every relationship, every opportunity, and every chance to support the firm. BD goes out and collects the ongoing successes through testimonials (both verbal and written). Every project is a marketing opportunity and a good business developer will leverage this fact for the benefit of their organization.
I have heard and seen amazing things that business developers have accomplished in their respective marketplaces. The stewardship of relationships at every level is paramount to firm success. One GC in Illinois shared with our class that an older business developer had transformed their business from 100% hard bid to 100% private negotiated work in a matter of two years time. Then, the gentlemen had a heart attack and in no time flat, the organization was back to 100% hard bid. Two years later, the semi-retired business developer returned and within a short time frame, they were back to completely negotiated work. These testimonies are not rare but they prove the power of this key function in the AEC industry.
When the RFP smashes through your office window, it is necessary to bring in forensics to dust it off for fingerprints to see who the players are and the competitive lay of the land. How did your firm get invited to the project dance? Do you have an established relationship with the owner, or could your firm just be a price check to keep the incumbent honest? To be awarded most construction projects is more complicated than it looks on the surface. Even being the low bidder these days does not assure that the project is secure. The owner might choose their favorite and give them the last look or you may lose out on points on a matrix that is secretly applied to the project award.
How you go about gathering the project intelligence and in what form and approach you come forth with your proposal to the owner, will correlate with your likelihood of success. Do you know what the owner is trying to accomplish with this project? Do you know their hot buttons, goals, concerns, and previous project experience? Your odds of winning the work will increase the more you discover and the more you apply the proper project sales principles in the correct manner. The proposal is a sales document and serves as an outline for any presentation. It answers basic questions about why you are the best for this project above your competitors, and the value you bring that is crucial to them moving forward.
The three gears of marketing, BD, and sales can drive the engine of your firm’s growth or it can sputter and grind that growth to a halt when not in sync. My encouragement is to assess these three vital functions and get the engine well-oiled and purring, so you can advance with clients and work waiting for your bright future.