The AEC industry has been a bit late in getting to the party when it comes to sales and business development. Over time, it has advanced from seller-doer principals in the '70's and '80's to the dedicated business developer. Now, it's moving back to the the seller-doer model, but formatted in a different way. During this same time, non-AEC industries were refining their sales processes as they grasped and formalized what they learned and knew worked.
As the AEC industry moves into a new era of growth and globalization, we have an opportunity to look at what we've been doing, extract what works, discard what doesn't, understand today's digital B2B services buying process, incorporate proven BD models, and define better ways of pursuing and winning the work we want.
From a career with a significant amount of sales training, ongoing research into sales processes, and years of working in varying AEC BD/marketing structures and approaches, I've found and used, with success, eight strategies that have produced results. Here is what "Best-in-Class" AEC BD should look like.
1. Focused & Targeted
The best business development programs are focused on specific markets and targeted on specific prospects. There is no shot gunning the pursuit of work and BIC firms don't chase everything that moves. Best-in-class (BIC) firms know their target markets. More importantly, they've hand-picked, well before a project comes out, which companies and organizations they will pursue and they've identified the decision-makers and influencers they want to know in those organizations.
2. Continuous View on Short, Mid- & Long-Term Opportunities
BIC firms are always looking to the horizon while focusing on opportunities close-at-hand. They know they must consciously stir the pot to generate new opportunities for the future, but they still must bring in revenue for today. Continuity and sustainability of workload is their focus.
3. Responsive to the Prospect & the Project
Great BD'ers know "It's not about you; it's all about them." This is standard in non-AEC sales, yet many BD'ers spend considerable amounts of time talking about their firms to the exclusion of all else. A great BD'er stops talking and starts listening so they can learn about the project's mission, vision, goals, needs, and wants. They understand the prospect's pain points from past projects and they have a good handle on the prospect's aspirations with the project as well as budget, projected schedule, and anticipated quality.
Great BD'ers also do their homework on the overall organization developing the project. The BD'ers want to be responsive in their proposals and interview presentations with content relevant to the vision, mission, values, and direction of that organization.
BIC BD'ers also understand the specific industry of the project being developed. If it's a sports facility, they understand everything they can about the sports industry. If it's a renovated hospital, they understand healthcare. They learn about an industry and how it operates so they can be responsive to the business and operational demands of their prospects.
With that understanding in place, BIC BD'ers develop proposals with highly customized, responsive content. There is a minimal amount of boilerplate, and customized technical solutions and approaches are developed for the specific project. It may take longer to produce the proposal, but when you're a BIC BD'er, your team wins more so you're not in the position of slamming generic proposals out the door in the hopes of winning anything you can.
4. Integrated & Coordinated
The pursuit of projects is integrated in a BIC firm. Business development works hand-in-hand with marketing to strategize and implement cohesive programs that produce the desired results. There aren't BD'ers working in one direction while marketing produces collateral materials not relevant to the pursuit.
Project pursuit is well-coordinated, internally, and involves multiple players. It's not a lone wolf BD'er providing a pile of papers to a proposal coordinator and expecting that individual to produce a stellar proposal within a vacuum. The pursuit team includes, from the start, technical staff, senior management, the BD'er, the proposal coordinator, and marketing. The team meets and continuously communicates so everyone understands and can support the path to success on that particular project pursuit.
5. Continuously Measured; Performance Metrics
Great sales people continuously measure what they're doing. They understand the key points in the process they should measure, then they monitor those points, while always looking for ways to improve.
A Best-in-Class firm knows its performance metrics and makes improvements based upon those. They know basic metrics such as short list rates, hit rates, average project size, and average revenue per project. But, they also know the best average size project that is most profitable for their firm. They know, ahead of time, whether the target market they are pursuing can serve up a sufficient number of opportunities to pursue and, they know whether they're pursuing a sufficient number of companies and organizations to provide the opportunities they need to reach their revenue projections.
What you can measure, you can improve.
6. Structured, Repeatable Process That Others Can Be Trained In
The phrase, "well, my own approach is what works for me" doesn't exist in BIC firms. If you've ever worked in sales outside of the AEC industry, you know there is an incredible amount of structure, process, and performance measurement to winning work. Successful companies have learned what works and they train all of their staff in that winning process.
Looking forward in the industry, having a structured, repeatable process will be especially important as the seller-doer and subject matter expert model moves into a more prominent position and the non-technical BD'er model wanes.
7. CRM & Automation Are the Order of the Day
Notecards, Outlook™, Excel™ spreadsheets, and sticky notes have a limited amount of capacity to document the information necessary for successfully pursuing work. Those out-of-date information tracking tools all take time and constrain the number of prospects you can maintain relationships with, monitor opportunities for, and manage pursuit of. If you want increased revenues, you have to pursue a greater number of opportunities and/or larger projects that involve more prospect contacts. Effectively managing that can't be done with pencil and paper!
8. Great BD'ers Know "You Don't Win Work Sitting in the Office"
BIC BD'ers are out and on-the-street making the connections they need to, uncovering new opportunities, and building the network they need in order to be successful. They are not sitting in the office!
Great BD'ers also know how to balance their hard-core BD pursuit with being personable with their prospects. They understand they're working with other human beings who aspire to be as successful as they are. They know we're all in this together and it doesn't take much to be kind and generous of spirit with others!
So, what does BIC business development look like to you? Does your firm match up?
Want more info on how to make your AEC BD and marketing program Best-in-Class? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday Chow is posted weekly, or thereabouts, to provide you with insights and considerations for AEC sales and marketing. Good stuff to feed your revenue engine!
When you're ready to improve your business development, marketing, and client relations programs, contact Red Hound Studios at email@example.com