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 BusinessDictionary.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.”
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.