Business development in AEC firms

Jul 06, 2020

When firms encourage a hybrid role between business development and sales, the result is often improved collaboration throughout the firm.

Business development at an AEC firm is a multi-faceted role, unlike many other markets. At a high level, as business development director for Pennoni’s Energy Region, I am tasked with growing top-line revenue for the firm’s energy services. A traditional BD role entails identifying, attracting, and generating well-researched, qualified leads which would then funnel to a sales team. However, I view my role as a BD/sales hybrid.

This role is fast-paced and requires bouncing back and forth between various tasks. I often split my time based on business needs between sales and BD. It takes discipline to switch tasks and wear different hats, but it brings incredible rewards and benefits as I get the unique pleasure of working on closing business that directly drives revenue today, while also focusing on opportunities and channels that will expand the firm’s future revenues. The varied activities and responsibilities require interaction with every line of business within the firm and promote breaking down silos that often exist within large multidisciplinary professional services firms.

In the BD capacity of my role, I’m focused on leveraging and establishing relationships both externally and internally. Key activities revolve around finding and qualifying prospects and developing relationships with key partners to pursue joint sales opportunities including:

  • Identifying the business problem for prospects and teaming partners and determining whether we can help them solve this (i.e. do they use the services we offer?)
  • Collaborating with key stakeholders internally to ensure we have appropriate marketing collateral, business development and marketing plan strategies, social media content, etc. that not only expand our energy-related services to existing clients, but also introduce the firm to new prospects
  • Participating in internal groups throughout the firm to find new opportunities to help colleagues solve their clients’ needs
  • Participating in relevant external associations and attending regular meetings
  • Attending and exhibiting at relevant trade shows and conferences
  • Identifying internal resources required for pursuits and proposals

In the sales capacity of my role, my daily tasks are focused on shepherding prospects through the sales cycle to close leads and generate revenue including:

  • Regularly communicating with clients
  • Scheduling client meetings
  • Assessing client needs and understanding how they buy
  • Identifying competitors
  • Managing internal team members working on joint pursuits
  • Conducting product demonstrations
  • Working closely with technical sales support, i.e. Operations Managers
  • Understanding and handling objections
  • Asking for the “order” and closing deals
  • Updating all activities in company CRM

When firms encourage a hybrid role between BD and sales, the result is often improved collaboration throughout the firm. A healthy firm is one that internally promotes and achieves cross marketing. Having the flexibility to see a prospect through closing results in the ability to solve additional problems they may face as a business, as well as bring in more revenue for your firm. Just as important, we have found most clients want continuity. They appreciate having one point of contact as a business partner and trusted advisor who knows their business and can bring them ongoing solutions that solve their problems today and can address their future needs.

Liz McCormick is the business development director for Pennoni’s Energy Region. She can be reached at

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.