I’m reading an interesting book right now, “The Law of Abundance” by S.D. Buffington. Within some intriguing concepts, the author brings forward three traits required for creating abundance. Courage, responsibility, and discipline. Boy, I latched on to that last one, especially after watching some AEC firms consistently succeed while others ride one wave up and another one down.
Discipline to plan.
Most firms are disciplined enough to develop an annual plan. In reality, that’s the easy part. The hard part is to consistently implement that plan to create favorable outcomes. Time and time, again, the best plans get out of the starting blocks, but go by the wayside after several months. Proposals and interviews get in the way and internal demands soak up time.
Discipline to consistently implement.
The most successful firms consistently implement their plans. They get their plans out of the starting blocks, they incorporate checkpoints into the plan throughout the year, and they have the processes and automation to consistently implement programs. It takes discipline to make that happen. At your firm, six months after a plan is implemented, is your team still enthusiastically putting it into consistent action?
Discipline to consistently measure performance.
Next question -- you have a great plan in place and you’re well into implementing it, but (cringe), do we really have to measure it? Or, as I’ve heard more often, how do we measure it? A marketing and BD plan is measurable in all different kinds of ways and it takes discipline to be willing to measure what you’re doing. It’s not just the “win” rate. It’s measuring how the components of your revenue generation are performing. What does your marketing program produce? How about BD performance? And, the place where the easiest revenue can be gained – client relations. Is your program performing there? Metrics are possible in all three areas and it takes discipline to be willing to measure and adjust.
Discipline to stay the course and know when to change the course.
It takes discipline (and experience in knowing what to do) to stay the course. Too many firms try one thing and expect immediate results. When they don’t see that in one to three months, it’s time to try something else. They jump from one tactic to another, when, in reality, it, often, only takes time for a well-designed program to take hold and produce results. Do you allow sufficient time for your marketing and BD programs to take root and have an impact?
It’s also valuable to have discipline to know when to change the course. So often, individuals will have a personal investment in the original decisions that were made during planning and they have a hard time giving up when it becomes apparent a tactic is not producing results. Or, perhaps, it’s the still-heard adage of “we’ve always done it this way.” Be disciplined enough to be willing to stay the course, evaluate its performance objectively, and change it, when needed.
Want to learn more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Is this how your firm decides on what to pursue? Does your firm chase everything that moves? Do you accept every project that walks in the door? Do you end up with clients that just may not be the best fit for your operational capabilities or vision for your firm’s future? What’s the impact of that type of approach on the long-term success of your firm?
It means that what you’re doing today, you’ll end up having to do tomorrow. If you’re always chasing leads, then you’ll always be in the mode of last minute pursuits and hoping for the best. Why live in that mode when you can pursue work (and clients) with a high level of intent and purpose?
What is account-based business development?
Not all clients are created equal. Some pursue quality and are willing to pay for it. Others are looking for firms to accommodate very tight budgets. Others want a lot of process wrapped into the project and some want a project pushed through to meet tighter deadlines. Account-based business development allows you to target the accounts that are the best fit for your firm and pursue them, relentlessly, to position your firm for upcoming projects.
Account-based business development (you’ll also hear it as account-based marketing) has two key components:
The account-based approach encompasses:
Yes, this is a long-term approach to marketing and business development and you can’t jump from your current approach to account-based business development in just one month, six months or more. However, a long-term approach leads to long-term results. That takes you out of the “chase the lead” approach and puts you in the driver’s seat of developing long-term relationships with the specific organizations you want to work with.
The value of account-based business development
Having used this approach for 20+ years, experience has repeatedly proven the value. Targeted campaigns in the K-12 market led a start-up office to move from $350K in annual revenues to $4.3 million in three years. Targeted campaigns in the retail market moved a firm from $12 million in revenues to $23 million in three years including entering a brand new, national market. As you can see, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment and a willingness to be consistent and continuous in your approach. But, wouldn’t that be better than chasing everything that moves?
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An instant, a split second. That’s when you deliver the initial impression of your personal brand. Then, over time, your brand is reinforced by your behavior throughout the stages of a relationship. Once your brand is created, it can be consistently built upon and it can be easily busted!
Individuals who are successful have a strong brand. They know who they are, what they can do, and what they can be counted on to consistently deliver.
Personal Brand Defined
Call it your Professional Signature© and here’s what it looks like.
Just like a company brand! And, just like a company brand, it’s created by your behavior and it’s determined by others’ perceptions of you. It’s not a logo – that’s a graphic representation of your brand. It’s all about the experience you, your professionals, your teams, and your firm deliver. It’s what your clients can count on from the individuals in your firm, NO MATTER WHAT!
Why does personal brand matter in the AEC industry? And, what’s it got to do with revenue?
Once you’re busted, you’re in service recovery mode and that’s a lot of time and effort, i.e., revenue. A busted brand means the client just may not believe you the next time you make a promise. Or, perhaps, that client may share the poor experience with your firm, on the street or in referring you to another potential client.
However, when your teams and your firm have a strong brand, it supports your revenue pursuit. It leads to better working relationships because the client knows they can count on what your people are saying. It means it’s easier to work with the client through difficult issues and it means the probability of that client returning to your firm is higher, i.e., revenue!
So, how can you uncover your technical professionals’ brands, put the right combination of brands together in proposals and interviews, and consistently deliver, during a project, on that brand?
Know the personal brand of everyone in your firm who may be on a project team
Whether you’re reading this for your firm or reading it to build your own personal brand, here are the components of your Professional Signature©.
As you’re working towards keeping your firm competitive, consider the personal brands of your team members. In your proposals and interviews, put the right people in the right roles and make sure they have the skills, experience, professional participation, and business etiquette to carry off theirs and the firm’s brand.
And, last, to make sure your project teams are delivering on their individual and firm brand, check in with clients throughout the project. Don’t wait until the project ends to find out from the client if they were happy or not. It’s fairly impossible to fix a situation after a project is completed and the chances of having a repeat client drops considerably, i.e., lost revenue.
Yeah, you got it: There is a strong connection between brand, what your firm delivers, and building strong revenue. BTW – Want to differentiate your firm? Tap into your team members’ individual brands.
What are you doing to support strong revenue?
For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
If this is your firm’s thinking, then you’re missing the big picture. Almost two thirds of the entire business development process is handled by marketing activities. It wasn’t always that way, but because of technology, the Internet, and today’s buyers’ journey, your marketing program has the opportunity to amplify your business development program well beyond where it is today and pour time into your BD’ers hands so they can focus where it counts.
Marketing exists to support the sales effort. I liken marketing's role to sweeping the street in front of the business developers and being the wind at their backs as they pursue new opportunities. Yes, there are other activities marketing undertakes that may not be closely aligned to revenue generation, but the majority of marketing activities should have a solid connection to the bottom line.
Four questions to consider:
1. Does your firm hold your sales meetings separate from marketing meetings?
Marketing can't support the sales efforts if they don't hear and understand what is going on. That happens best in a meeting setting with group sharing and discussion. Most marketers are strategists and their ability to be strategic is contingent on having great input from the sales team. Open the doors and let the teamwork begin.
2. Does your marketing group know the firm's revenue projections and what it will take to accomplish those?
Include marketing in understanding revenue projections. Those revenue projections should be broken down into a reasonable formula so everyone understands the size of target market the firm should be pursuing, what is needed to engage new prospects and nurture existing relationships, how many proposals must be submitted, and how many interviews must be won.
3. Do your business developers and marketers have different ideas on the company's value propositions?
Both sales and marketing must be on the same page when talking about the company, whether in person, in a brochure or on the company website. That common ground should include your company's vision, mission, differentiators, and value propositions. Everything said by both business developers and marketers must have a common voice in order for your audiences to believe you.
4. Is everything for marketing requested at the last minute?
If requests for marketing activities are almost always coming in at the last minute, there isn't a common sales and marketing plan in place where both sides know what is to be done to accomplish the goals. It means that individuals are working unilaterally and deciding what they need, on-the-fly. Yes, there are times that a last-minute SOQ is needed, but if last-minute requests are the standard method of operating, then, one hand doesn't know what the other is doing.
BONUS NOTE: Marketo™ does it best in this blog post on marketing automation, CRM’s, and managing referrals. http://blog.marketo.com/2016/06/how-to-beat-dunbars-number-with-martech.html
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Here we are again. Projects are rolling in the door, everyone’s happy, and marketing and BD looks great since there’s revenue in the AEC till. It’s often heard: “Oh, let’s roll on and ride this wave while we can. We’ll worry about the future tomorrow.”
But what about 2017???? We’ll be okay, you say? The economy will still be great? We don’t have to tee up anything for next year?
It never ceases to amaze that when the good times roll in, the bad times are forgotten, marketing’s and BD’s budgets are reduced, and pursuit of the future goes to the bottom of the priorities. After all, it’s said, there’s not enough time, right now, for our seller-doers, technical, and revenue generation teams to be involved in building new relationships, pursuing next year’s opportunities or purposefully planning the future. What are you thinking? And, by the way, what is with that word – purposefully?
The firms that succeed next year will be the ones who are being purposeful this year. They’re the firms who will be considering their revenues, business plans, and desired growth for next year, the year after that, and the five years after that. They’ll have a road map, in place, for where they’re going and plans in place to purposefully be successful!
Maybe it’s time to adopt the same mantra as global electronics and enterprise computing solutions, ARROW Electronics™. They drive their business with the slogan: Five Years Out©. What a great mindset for a firm: To be purposefully looking forward, considering the future and planning for it, and delivering products and services in anticipation of their clients’ futures rather than leaving all at a whim and up in the air.
You have the next few months to prepare. If you’re waiting until December to do your 2017 planning, it’s too late. A firm can’t build relationships, purposefully pursue the desired work for 2017, and be a serious player in the market by thinking short-term.
Five years out©? Maybe for starters, begin with One Year Out.
Want to know more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, we’re all guilty of it – being in a conversation with someone, but instead of actually listening to the other person, we’re busy, in our minds, figuring out what we’re going to say. What happens, too, when the other person really needs to be heard, yet, we’re still too busy thinking of how we’ll shoot back a smart comment and one-up them with our brilliance?
Being a great listener . . .
Stop your brain and engage your ears
It’s hard not to think about your response, in the moment, to what someone else is saying, but, it’s crucial to successful person-to-person communication. When someone else is talking, collect the content, think about what they’re trying to tell you, and, then, consider your response. Pauses in conversation are okay – they allow for reflection and a much better response on your part.
Quit one-upping people
If you haven’t read Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (pgs. 40-41), then hop on Amazon™ right now and order it. It is one of the best social intelligence books around and will give you a greater understanding of how to effectively interact and get along with others.
Show that you’re listening
Have you ever talked with someone who, when you say something, just stares back at you? There’s no nod of the head, blinking of the eyes, smile/frown, or any other reaction to what you’ve said. It’s like talking into a black hole. Make sure you’re acknowledging to the speaker that you’re actually listening to what they’re saying. It’s the feedback loop that says you’re engaged in the conversation and are interested in what they’re saying.
Rein in your emotion in an emotional situation
If you’re talking with a client who is very upset, it doesn’t do any good to respond back with emotion. Stop, take a step back, and fully engage your brain in what they’re trying to convey to you. Your response will be a thousand times better.
For example, if a client is angry over a glitch in a project, it doesn’t do any good to go into defensive mode and throw back every reason in the book why the glitch really isn’t a glitch. The best approach? Stop and listen. If possible, write down the client’s concerns as they talk. Do everything you can to demonstrate that you’re listening to the individual and clearly understand the problem. Only then, can you evaluate the situation and provide a solution – and that solution doesn’t even need to be on-the-spot. Your response can be, “Here is what I understand that you said about X glitch. I’m going to research it back with the team. Can I get back with you tomorrow and let’s talk further about a solution?” Wouldn’t that be a better way to deal with a “hot” situation?
I’m finding that empathy for another’s viewpoint seems to be going by the wayside. From watching too much television news analysis, it seems everyone has become a brilliant analyst on all sorts of topics and others’ viewpoints are immaterial. How about this for relationship building? How about putting the brakes on your viewpoint and actually listening to what a client is saying and giving it some credence? We all have different viewpoints and we have a right to those. Take the opportunity to learn how someone else views the world . . . wouldn’t that allow you to provide a better response?
And, last of all, when you feel the urge to run back to the office and gossip about a client, remember:
Great people talk about ideas
Average people talk about things
Below average people talk about other people
As we've said before, without measurement, there is no gauge to know whether you're doing well or not. Golfers, engineers, contractors, architects, runners, professional athletes, Fortune 500™ companies – all measure what they're doing in order to improve. Guessing or "a gut feeling" just doesn't cut it when they want to improve their performance.
More importantly, none of those professions or companies waits until the end to measure their performance. Golfers measure stroke-by-stroke and hole-by-hole so they know what to improve before they hit the final hole. Architects and engineers measure project completion via defined phases of a project. Runners measure by the mile, quarter mile, speed out-of-the- block, early performance vs. late-in-the-race performance and so on. They all measure their performance by the phase rather than by a single and final metric of the entire process.
"It is easier to tell where you will end up if you know where you're going along the way.”
Paul Selden, Sales Process Engineering
A lot of AEC firms only document the number of proposals submitted and how many projects they’ve won. That approach assumes there is only one measuring point in the process. However, in AEC sales and marketing, it's possible (and valuable) to evaluate multiple points throughout the process to make sure your firm is on track for success and, subsequently, make the needed adjustments before arriving at the end point.
Defining Your Own Key Performance Indicators
The best metrics to use will allow you to zero in on an issue. General metrics such as overall wins/losses don’t provide guidance to the specific areas to work on.
It’s also important to have a starting point, so, before going further, provide your firm with that starting point – a baseline of where you are today using whatever data you currently have available. Then, follow these five steps to establish your own key performance indicators.
Metrics to Consider
What you can measure, you can improve.©
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Huh?? What kind of question is that?
Yet, firms continually start from scratch every year or every time a new staff member joins their BD / marketing team. There are no standard practices in place and the approach to pursuing work is often, "I have an idea on how we should do this!" or "XYZ firm is doing this to chase work. We should do it too!"
If you take a sales position in a Fortune 500 firm, you will, inevitably, be put into a sales training program and you will have ongoing sales training and coaching. Why? Because, those companies understand that success in sales comes from using proven, repeatable processes. Those companies have already tested a lot of different ways of doing things and they have distilled those successful processes down to a common denominator process. From there, yes, individuals can personalize what they're doing to fit their personality and the company, but a standard sales process is trained and used.
Does your firm have a standard sales process?
Using predictable, repeatable processes takes individual preferences and trial guesses out of the picture. It also means the process can be used by more than one individual and is trainable to others.
Consider it this way:
So why have defined processes?
When people use proven, repeatable processes, the predictability of the outcome increases.
That doesn't mean the processes can't or shouldn't be customized to the individual firm. Each firm has its own personality, culture, operational procedures, and so on. So that leaves us with two steps:
1.Define a basic BD process
2.Customize that basic BD process to fit your firm
How can you define your firm's own basic BD process?
How do we customize our basic BD process to fit our firm?
Instead of forcing a highly defined BD process on to staff, build in customization, to fit both your firm and the individual who is implementing the process.
Lots of ideas for building that customization into your basic BD process, plus the customization provides you with the opportunity to differentiate your firm from the competition by the manner in which you handle your prospects. H-m-m-m, that sounds like building your brand, reputation, and differentiation!
This will get you started. If you need help defining your firm's custom business development process, let me know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and move your firm ahead of the competition.
Over and over, again, I'm hearing from firms that they're swamped with work. While that can be wonderful, it leaves the question on the table, "What about tomorrow?" Who is doing the needed business development and marketing today to bring in the work tomorrow. Tomorrow will show up, no doubt about it. But, it requires work today to prepare for it. What are you doing to prepare your firm for great revenues in another year? Here are three key directives to build assurance into your revenue future.
1. Client Relations (Future Dollars!)
Define and put into place a solid client relations program. Right now, your hands are full of clients and many of those clients represent future revenue. Do you have a process, in place and that all project teams understand and can implement, for effective client management? Do you have a service recovery process in place for when a project starts to go south? Do you have a stellar on-boarding process for new clients? Do your PM's know how to build client relationships so the clients return to you, again-and-again?
2. Positioning / Visibility (Future Dollars!)
Is your marketing and business development program automatically maintaining your position in your target markets? When your firm uses integrated marketing / BD and automation to keep your firm visible, it doesn't matter that your seller-doers are buried in projects. Your systems will take care of the majority of work of keeping your firm out there looking successful to your targeted prospects. BTW – If you disappear (lose your position) in your target markets, prospects aren't sure if you're around anymore. Plus, when you finally get back to marketing, you've lost ground that must be made up.
3. Target Your Future Prospects, Today (Future Dollars!)
Instead of waiting for projects to show up next year, take the time to hand-select the firms you want to pursue for future work, whether they have work right now or not. Chasing leads always leaves you in the position of chasing more leads. When you chase the firms and organizations you want to work with, in the long term, you can build those long-standing relationships that will carry your firm through. This month, take a list of all the prospects in your target markets. Then, hand-select the accounts (firms/organizations) that you want to build a relationship with. Put those prospects into your integrated and automated marketing / BD program and start the process of building your revenue for next year.
What will your revenue be next year? Time to start working on that!
Got questions? Email email@example.com.
If you don't understand that we're in a different world today and our buyers' journeys have changed, you're limiting the growth and long-term sustainability of your firm. Some of the big drivers of those changes in the buyers' journey– the online world, technology, and automation. The capabilities and capacities of marketing and business development have changed and, hopefully, your team is on-board with those changes.
Consider this progression created by the Internet and technology:
Who should be doing what?
The sales funnel is often used to define the buyers' journey, so, let's start with that. Fifteen years ago, the principals in a firm handled the entire sales funnel and there was only one main door into the firm – through the principals. Now, there are multiple doors into a firm and the initial contact into a firm can be handled by a variety of individuals. That change has impacted responsibilities!
The top half of the funnel can now be (and should be) handled, primarily, by marketing. It's the time when prospects are searching out information about projects, solutions, and firms. The top half includes initiating new relationships, nurturing relationships, and positioning the firm for future projects and it uses a full range of communication channels to accomplish that. Your marketing should include email campaigns, a dynamic website, social media, publicity, tradeshows, participation in organizations, and collateral materials.
That leaves the bottom half of the funnel to the BD'ers and seller-doers where they are focused on real opportunities, lead development, and significant relationships. While marketing handles the top of the funnel, your BD team will have the time and resources to focus on the priority contacts and opportunities. If your BD'ers are focused on the entire sales funnel or spending significant amounts of time in the marketing function, you will be limited by their time and firm resources to handle the volume of prospects you need in order to grow your firm. In addition, if your marketing is not picking up the top half of the sales funnel, you're missing a huge opportunity to operate more efficiently and effectively and have a greater impact on your revenue generation.
Got it? Good! Now, move forward with a fully functioning revenue generation program that:
- effectively positions your firm in your target markets
- continuously generates opportunities for your firm
- builds and nurtures desired relationships
- supports the acquisition of new and repeat projects
Looking for more info? 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