We talk a lot about marketing in The Zweig Letter. And we’ll continue doing so until we think all our readers have gotten the message about what it takes to really start using the knowledge that has already been gained on this incredibly crucial area to every firm. Questions about marketing keep coming up. I wanted to answer some of them. Here goes:What’s really new about this type of marketing? Nothing, if you look at it from a marketing point of view. Marketing people believe that demand is stimulated by what you spend on marketing and that the whole area is very much a science. There’s everything new about it if you look at it from an A/E/P and environmental firm point of view. In a nutshell, we don’t do much of anything in this industry beyond sending out proposals and qualification packages and personal selling. Marketing is much broader than that, and involves distribution (where do we sell and produce from), pricing (cheaper is not always a way to stimulate demand), promotion (including direct mail, PR, Internet marketing and more), and research. It’s a heck of a lot more than what the typical A/E/P or environmental firm does!What is this marketing called? We’ve dubbed it “process marketing” and “positioning.” But while engineers and scientists love the word “process,” I don’t find it very exciting myself. I think it turns more people off than it turns on. Maybe a better term is “high performance marketing” or “the new marketing.” It has to be something exciting but not too corny or it will turn off the very people who have to embrace it and implement it. Does it mean I don’t want my people to sell? Heck, no! It means just the opposite. We want people to sell like crazy! We just want them to sell to clients who know who they are, who know what firm they are with, and who are predisposed to buying from them. That takes building a brand name in a particular client sector so you have a lot more to compete on than price.How much do I have to spend? A lot. I think we did a disservice to our readers publishing numbers such as 4.6% of NSR for a marketing budget in growing firms. That may be true for mature growing firms—i.e., those that have been doing this a while and who have been growing for a while. But my experience is that firms that have been flat or that want to really accelerate their growth will have to spend more than that— as much as three times more! That’s a lot of money. But the rewards are worth it. Won’t this take an army of people? It could (take an army), or it could be done with very little resources. It’s up to you. We make things complicated in this business. We take entirely too long to get anything done. We make everything too long. We use expensive printing. We have too many people reviewing and redoing things that end up being no better than the first effort. All this takes time and that can mean adding people. Or, it can be done very simply with low-cost and/or part-time staff who have a schedule that management holds them to and whose products are not reviewed repeatedly.Don’t I run the risk of overdoing it with the direct mail? NO! I have people tell me that we do this at Zweig White & Associates all of the time, usually at a seminar we are conducting that they paid to attend, or a consulting job where they called us! Then I ask them who else in this business can claim that they have had at least a 30% annual growth rate for more than 10 years, and always made a profit and had a positive cash flow? That shuts ‘em up fast! When you adequately fund your marketing program, the phone always rings and everyone knows who you are. That makes it easier to sell and easier to recruit. It also makes your firm worth more, something every owner ought to think about every day.What’s a good response rate? For most direct mail, a ¼% to ½% response rate is great! That means if you send out 1,000 pieces you will get between 2.5 and 5 inquiries. It’s certainly possible to do better than that with the right pieces and a good list. Generally speaking, your own list pulls better than any list you’ll rent. But the good news is, the people who respond called you— not the other way around. That makes a big difference in the entire working relationship, from fee negotiation through project execution.What if we don’t have exciting projects to talk about? Who says you should be talking about projects? That seems to be all design and environmental firms think about. Instead, talk about something goofy that a client did (don’t name them), a new regulation and what it means to your readers, or new funding sources. Interview someone (not necessarily a client but perhaps someone you would like to have as a client). Talk about original research data you collected. There’s a lot more than projects to cover in your direct mail!Originally published 4/05/1999
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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