Marketing vs. proposals

Aug 07, 2017

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If your marketing people are writing proposals, then they’re selling, not marketing. You need to know there’s a big difference between the two.

Is the marketing department in your firm really a proposal department? If it is a proposal department, then you don’t have a marketing department, you have a proposal department. They are not the same thing. Please print them new business cards with an appropriate title.

I am regularly meeting with senior leadership from other engineering and architecture firms, and I sincerely believe that they think proposal writing is marketing. If you’re writing a proposal, the time for marketing is over. If you’re writing a proposal, you’re now in the selling process, or more specifically, you’re at the point of sale. Marketing comes before the sales process. Way before.

These are really smart people, but they know not their mistake, which I’m content to let them continue to make. Why? It means that our firm, BIG RED DOG (Best Firms To Work For Multi-discipline #44 and #65 on the 2017 Hot Firm List), gets to continue marketing, really marketing, and building a brand, while our competitors write proposals. It’s not that we don’t write proposals. We write tons of them, enough to be on the Hot Firm List several years running. It’s just that proposal writing is not the marketing department’s job at our shop. Instead, our marketing team is directed to put the pieces in place that allow our seller-doers to be successful in winning new work. They build and operate our BIG RED Filter.

The marketing strategy for BIG RED DOG is incredibly easy to understand, yet requires a commitment to consistent and constant execution in order to be successful. We’re building a brand. We are not selling a specific person or project, but rather we are selling our culture, and that means that marketing is the responsibility of everybody in our firm.

We have two desired outcomes for the results of our marketing strategy.

First, we want to create raving fans of our company through our performance on behalf of our current clients, our thought and design leadership in the community, and our educational and news content creation. Everything we do to create raving fans comes together to represent our company culture, culminating in our marketing and branding efforts that the outside world sees.

And second, we want to elevate the sales process beyond the skills of any one salesperson by making target clients pass through our proprietary BIG RED Filter before they reach the point of sale. In most cases the point of sale for our company is being asked for a proposal or invited to submit a request for qualifications.

The two desired outcomes converge – the power of our raving fans (read: happy clients) forces prospective clients through the many screens in our BRD Filter. By the time a prospect is visiting our office for the first time, they’ve already decided to use BIG RED DOG.

I’ll give you a great example of how that works for another company. Have you ever been to an Apple store to look at new laptops? Apple has a powerful brand and extraordinary marketing. My guess is that if you’re at the Apple store, which, as a premium brand commands a premium price, you were not considering the $600 Dell. You were considering the $1,500 MacBook or the $3,500 MacBook. Either way, you decided before you met with the sales representative in the Apple store that you were going to buy an Apple, right? Now how would that situation change if Apple didn’t really do any marketing or failed to build that premium brand? What if they just wrote sales orders (proposals in our world)? Would they still be Apple? Or would they be one face in the crowd, totally undifferentiated from other computer makers?

It works the exact same way with our BIG RED Filter – our marketing and branding is so powerful, that prospective clients visit with one of our team members for the first time with the mindset that ours is the firm that they need to be working with. The point of sale effectively becomes a “meet and greet” process, because the sale has already occurred in the prospective client’s mind. Their itch had been scratched; often answers had already been provided, all before an initial face-to-face meeting.

True marketing requires leadership that really understands what marketing is and what it’s intended to accomplish. More importantly – and this is the second time I’ve stated this because it’s not to be dismissed – our strategy means that marketing at BIG RED DOG is in the job description of every team member, not just the marketing department.

So do you have a marketing department, or a proposal department? Which is more important?

Will Schnier is CEO of BIG RED DOG Engineering & Consulting. He can be reached at

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