Because marketing really is “where it’s at” for firms in this business, it’s hard for me to keep from writing about it. You see, an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm can solve just about any problem, if marketing works like it’s supposed to. If clients are beating down your door to hire your firm, there will probably be time to stave off creditors, attract the staff you need, solve tough operational problems, and make a profit.Here are some suggestions for more effective marketing:Don’t spend one nickel keeping firms off of your prospect list. I find it fascinating so many A/E/P firms actually spend money to keep buyers and potential buyers off their marketing contact list. I’m talking about doing things like making it a requirement that no one can be added to the list unless someone in the firm has actually met that person; “prequalifying” clients by pulling out those we think won’t have a budget for our services during the coming year; or eliminating potential clients who are already working with a capable competitor. None of this makes any sense. What we should do is try to get every single buyer, potential buyer, and influencer of the buying decision on our lists, and then bombard those people through every available means. Then when they call us, we can decide if we want to pursue each job or client relationship on a case-by-case basis. The only potential clients I don’t want on the list are criminals who don’t pay their bills— they go on a different (i.e., black) list. Don’t make PR any tougher than it is. Nothing is much easier for do-it-yourselfers than public relations. For most firms in this business, it’s simply a numbers game. Send out enough press releases and eventually you’ll find your name in print. Include some publications you might normally not, such as The Wall Street Journal or the airlines magazines. What’s realistic? You may only get one or two percent of your press releases picked up— that’s two or four articles per 200 releases mailed. But that’s O.K. It only costs you $60 to $80 to send out 200 releases, if you make the copies yourself. There’s no cheaper advertising! Capture every inquiry from a client or potential client. Each person who calls your firm should be logged into your client database. These people would not be contacting your firm if they did not see you as a possible source for what they need— whether that’s to help them solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity. So why lose contact with them if you don’t get together this time? Get all the work you can from local clients, before you go out of your area to find new ones. This helps keep marketing and operational costs down. I’m convinced some people in this business really love to travel, despite what they might say to the contrary. Why else would someone travel to Timbuktu at the drop of a hat over the most remote possibility of getting a job? Very few design or environmental firms have more than a single-digit percentage of the markets they are now in, and many have only a few tenths or even hundredths of a percent of their local market— yet their principals will go out of state (or out of the country) to find new prey. Go after fewer jobs, not more jobs. About 85% of a firm’s marketing resources are consumed reacting to opportunities that come in over the transom, usually in the form of an RFP or CBD announcement. But firms pursue so many, they don’t have enough time or money to react properly to them all. It’s not uncommon for a marketing manager or marketing coordinator to turn out 20, 30, or even 40 proposals each month! With that kind of activity level, is it any wonder that the stuff they put out is 94% fat and only 6% beef? If you find one person with a problem, call everyone in that role in similar organizations, and you’ll probably find that they have the same problem. This idea was taught to me by my first post-graduate-school, work-world mentor. He said this is the fastest way to cash in on recently acquired experience. Look to existing clients’ competitors or peers for more of what you are doing now. When it comes to building relationships, aim high. One of the biggest mistakes marketers in this business make is that they enter the organization at too low of a level. There are certainly exceptions to this. But you’ll almost always get more out of a relationship with the top person in a client organization than with someone at the bottom or middle. The top person can always kick you down, but it’s a lot harder to get pulled up.Originally published 11/14/1994
About Zweig Group
Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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