Marketing is the Secret Ingredient

Jan 07, 2008

If you look at why most A/E firms just sort of muddle along, and yet a few are growing by leaps and bounds, you’ll find the “secret ingredient” in the growing firms’ recipe is often marketing. They do it better, they do more of it, and it works. These firms keep marketing at the forefront of their thinking. It impacts every single decision that they make. It is the driver, the spark, and the energy that keeps the firm continuously regenerating itself. It is what they “are,” not just something they “do.” How can you develop a “marketing secret ingredient” in your firm? Here are my thoughts: Get a CEO who truly values marketing. I have met a lot of CEOs of A/E and environmental firms who say they care about marketing but who really don’t. Actions speak louder than words. When the preoccupation is with keeping the budget down, or making sure every marketing effort pays for itself, or with finding heavy hitters with connections who can sell, you are not dealing with someone who values marketing. And if the CEO doesn’t value marketing, you’re dead. Get a marketing director (or whatever you call your top marketing person) who is obsessed with marketing. We’ve all met these people— you can’t talk about the firm, about the business we’re in, or about anything— without the conversation coming back to the subject of marketing. These people come up with new ideas. They never rest. They keep finding new ways to promote the firm. Obsessed marketing directors CAN change companies. They don’t come cheap— unless you get lucky. Don’t forget that there is much more to marketing than selling. I’ll probably be writing this on my deathbed because it seems like so many architects and engineers just don’t get this. Here’s the bottom line: You NEED to sell, and sell hard, when you have no marketing. But when your marketing is in tune, all you have to do is answer the phone, check your e-mail, and write orders for new projects. Some people— heck, most people in this business— don’t think that achieving this state of affairs is possible. They believe that marketing in the form of direct mail, signage, PR, original research, and more is just a waste of money. They think that strong selling is the only thing that works. The problem with strong selling is what happens when you don’t have strong sellers. You’re dead! Also, more of the firms who buy A/E and environmental firms are smart enough to rate down and devalue companies whose entire marketing plan is based on having strong sellers. They’re vulnerable! Give marketing the budget it needs and force yourself to spend it. Spend, spend, spend— and don’t get too married to any one marketing activity. Look for different ways to spread that money around and increase your chances for success. Spend more than other firms if you want to do better than them. I like to think of marketing as an “off balance sheet” investment in the future. Think about how to get everyone in the firm involved somehow in your marketing program. Whether it’s insisting that everyone use just one name for the firm in every situation, or insisting they slap a magnetic sign on their car doors every time they go anywhere on business, or putting everyone through some sort of marketing training program, there’s always something you can do to get the involvement of your rank-and-file with marketing. And if you are successful in getting some of them to see the light about marketing’s critical function in your firm, it will be money well-spent. Do these things and tell me what you think. Better marketing could be the “secret ingredient” for your success in 2008 and beyond! Originally published 1/07/2008

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.