Brand Building: ’Tis the season for giving

Dec 24, 2014

Marketing is the area of your business intended for giving to others.

I was on-site with a client recently and we were discussing a business development strategy for their new planning group. One of the senior leaders made a key observation that I think is important to share. He said: “We need to make sure we do not apply our traditional utilization targets to this group.” You may not think that comment is profound, but too many firms do try to start a new group to add value for their clients and then do not really give the group the flexibility and resources to adequately succeed. Firms find it difficult to not apply their refined management systems to all groups in order to keep an eye on them. I believe the comment brought up a very good point that we can all learn from – marketing and business development is a business of giving. It requires a great deal of faith that, by giving to others, you will eventually get something in return. There are some things that require a completely different set of rules and measures for accountability. For this firm, adding a planning group would add value to their clients; something to set them apart from their other general engineering competitors in the area. Here are tips for taking a leap of faith in marketing and business development without completely losing control of those precious marketing and BD dollars:
  1. For new areas of business, whether developing expertise or a new geographic area, set realistic expectations for revenues and costs based on specific information and research you gather. At the same time, do not buy into commonly circulated myths – i.e. “all new offices take three years to become profitable.” There are many situations when, if executed right, you can become profitable almost right way. There are other situations where it may take five years to become profitable. Keep your expectations (and faith) based on what you know related to the specific investments you are making. Do lots of research!
  2. Be willing to give a lot to get a little. This ties in with the season. Marketing and BD is all about offering information and services to current and potential clients in order to earn that very important quality – trust. Anywhere you can offer to help a client upfront before a project opportunity exists is a tremendous way to build trust and loyalty. Offering to help write the RFQ, scope the project and provide cost estimates, provide ideas for saving money or even suggesting alternate projects are just some of the ways you can offer your expertise and advance your chances of becoming a preferred provider in the future. Give to others!
  3. Be ROI minded. Return on investment is, at the end of the day, what marketing and BD is all about. This concept is applicable even in this season of giving. We give to others in order to provide them with a benefit now or in the future. And giving to others always comes back to the giver in a positive way. A/E firms certainly must manage utilization carefully and not invest wildly in marketing and BD without any accountability or strategy. However, firms must also realize that new ventures need different rules and mechanisms for accountability. Investing in something where returns may not be realized for years down the road can be hard for our utilization-obsessed industry to embrace. Consider all of your marketing expenditures and where to best spend those dollars and realize that giving something of real value to clients, like your time, is at the top of the effective list. Many firms waste tens of thousand of dollars on worthless marketing giveaways like pens, koozies and other junk that does not make near the impact that an hour of your time does. Focus on activities and investments where you have the greatest chance of return. Be ROI minded!
Any decision of giving or investment should be guided by a strong business plan. As we close out an outstanding year of recovery for our industry, every firm should be taking a hard look at its strategic plans. Much has changed and lots of opportunity exists at this time. The firm that spends time developing a thoughtful plan for the future will be the one that outperforms its peers. Decide what you want to be and who you want to be with you and start giving to them in a smart and deliberate way. Chad Clinehens is The Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1084, originally published 12/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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.