The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

By Peter J. Kien­le, FSMPS, CPSM, MBA, and Judy Kien­le, MPH, CPSM, Kien­le Com­mu­ni­ca­tions; and Sean Omitt, MBA, Naval Infor­ma­tion Forces Com­mand

The Jour­nal of Mar­ket­ing Pro­fes­sion­al Ser­vices — Mar­keter — Vol­ume 35, Issue 4

Recent­ly, we were asked to talk about busi­ness devel­op­ment aspart of a pan­el of A/E/C mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als con­duct­ing an exec­u­tive train­ing pro­gram for SMPS North­east Ohio. With that charge, we decid­ed to poll some of the top A/E/C mar­keters and busi­ness devel­op­ers in the coun­try about the future of busi­ness devel­op­ment. We sent 20 mar­keters this ques­tion, “Give me your opin­ion. What are the three biggest busi­ness devel­op­ment chal­lenges fac­ing A/E/C firms today?” We received 15 respons­es from SMPS Fel­lows, SMPS past-pres­i­dents, SMPS Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Insti­tute (BDI) pre­sen­ters, and senior mar­keters— total­ing more than 450 years of indus­try expe­ri­ence. The infor­ma­tion was price­less. With all the changes in our indus­try over the past 10 years, we think the most notable is prob­a­bly that A/E/C principals/firm lead­ers can no longer make enough rain to main­tain and grow their busi­ness­es them­sleves. Sean Omitt worked with us to dis­till and sum­ma­rize the infor­ma­tion col­lect­ed. The major themes and obser­va­tions were con­sis­tent across the board. In no par­tic­u­lar order, the infor­ma­tion fell into three major group­ings: Differentiation/brand Focus and com­mit­ment Busi­ness devel­op­ment train­ing Differentiation/brand. Accord­ing to Busi​ness​Dic​tionary​.com, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is “the result of efforts to make a prod­uct (or ser­vice) or brand stand out as a provider of unique val­ue to cus­tomers in com­par­i­son with its com­peti­tors.” As Ran­dle Pol­lock, FSMPS, suc­cinct­ly put it, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is “… stand­ing out from the crowd.” Most firms’ busi­ness devel­op­ment efforts cen­ter around the telling of features—we have this, we do that, we know that. A prospect wants to know more and under­stand how it will ben­e­fit from hir­ing you over the com­pe­ti­tion. Some firms do not even rec­og­nize com­pe­ti­tion, believ­ing instead that no one com­petes with them. If all firms are sim­ply tout­ing fea­tures, the clients see no real dif­fer­ence. Accord­ing to Robert G. Trout, CPSM, “Clients are treat­ing design ser­vices as a com­mod­i­ty, to be pur­chased on price, regard­less of dis­crim­i­na­tors and val­ue that can be brought to a project.” As an indus­try, we have not gone deep enough to artic­u­late and pro­vide dis­crim­i­na­tors on why our firm is bet­ter than anoth­er. In short, we have cre­at­ed this sit­u­a­tion and con­tin­ue to sup­port it. The Amer­i­can Mar­ket­ing Asso­ci­a­tion defines brand as, “A name, term, design, sym­bol, or oth­er fea­ture that iden­ti­fies one seller’s goods or ser­vices as dis­tinct from oth­er sell­ers.” With­out dis­crim­i­na­tors, a brand is prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to devel­op. Focus and com­mit­ment. Most sell­er­do­ers have a goal of sched­ul­ing 10 per­cent or more of their time for busi­ness devel­op­ment activ­i­ties. In our expe­ri­ence, very few firms reach this goal. The most often cit­ed rea­son is that they are too busy with projects. Michael T. Buell, FSMPS, CPSM, offered anoth­er rea­son, “…it is often just gen­er­al com­pla­cen­cy.”

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SMPS Lun­cheon

Keep­ing up with sell­er-doer respon­si­bil­i­ties is a mat­ter of pri­or­i­ty. Nan­cy Usrey, FSMPS, CPSM, com­ment­ed, “One of the biggest busi­ness devel­op­ment chal­lenges is sus­tain­ing the effort, includ­ing rela­tion­ship devel­op­ment, dis­cov­ery, posi­tion­ing, influ­enc­ing project def­i­n­i­tion, and pro­cure­ment process­es.” R. Tim Bar­rick, FSMPS, once spent four years of con­tin­u­ous effort with a client in North Car­oli­na before his firm was award­ed its first project. In the case of busi­ness devel­op­ment, patience and per­sis­tence is required. Car­la D. Thomp­son, FSMPS, CPSM, remarked, “The phone will not call your con­tacts on its own. You have to make busi­ness devel­op­ment and reach­ing out to clients and prospects an inten­tion­al part of each week.” Many tech­ni­cal pro­fes­sion­als start sweat­ing when they have to call some­one they do not know. As mar­keters, we can help make it a warm call by tee­ing them up. Then the call becomes less daunt­ing. Busi­ness devel­op­ment train­ing. When we’ve asked archi­tects and engi­neers if they had any mar­ket­ing or sales train­ing in col­lege, almost 100 per­cent say no. One engi­neer­ing prin­ci­pal said the class sched­ule require­ments would not per­mit it. Even if sched­ules per­mit­ted it, we doubt many would have tak­en these cours­es as we often hear, “I did not go to engi­neer­ing school to be a sales­man.” Times have changed. Lit­tle did they know they would need to sell. Scott D. Butch­er, FSMPS, CPSM, said, “We rely on the sell­er-doer mod­el, but don’t pro­vide ade­quate sales train­ing to tech­ni­cal staff with busi­ness devel­op­ment respon­si­bil­i­ties.” Most tech­ni­cal pro­fes­sion­als think sell­ing is telling, where­as mar­keters know sell­ing is lis­ten­ing and then work­ing to meet your prospects’ wants and needs. Busi­ness devel­op­ment best-prac­tices resources are abun­dant. As tech­ni­cal pro­fes­sion­als learn, under­stand, and imple­ment busi­ness devel­op­ment best prac­tices, they build con­fi­dence and steadi­ly improve their rain­mak­ing abil­i­ties. If you have a well-trained busi­ness devel­op­ment pro­fes­sion­al in-house who has a suc­cess­ful sales pro­gram and knows how to train, he or she can do the train­ing for your firm. If you don’t have the in-house resources, hire an expe­ri­enced A/E/C busi­ness devel­op­ment pro­fes­sion­al for train­ing. Since “the future ain’t what it used to be,” be proac­tive and invest the nec­es­sary resources to com­mit to these lessons learned. The pay­off for this invest­ment is in stay­ing ahead of your com­pe­ti­tion and win­ning more work.

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