Until the 69,000 firms who make up the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry wake up and start doing something different marketing-wise, we’re destined to remain a fragmented group of small firms owned by people who have to work 60 hours a week just to keep up. Why do I say that? Consider the two basic approaches used in marketing by just about every firm when they need work:Put out 38 proposals and qualification documents a week instead of “only” 32. Gather all your key people together and make client contact assignments.Now let’s take a look at what these approaches mean to the typical firm. Approach #1 usually results in an already abysmal conversion rate of proposals and qualification documents getting worse. Think about it— getting 32 proposals out is already straining the system. The quality of these things is probably pretty poor. They are, as the old Sunbeam Bread trucks used to say, “Batter Whipped”— all fluff and very little substance. Does anyone really need a nine-page resume? Do you think anyone cares that your chairman was president of the local Kiwanis Club in 1968? Pushing more proposals through an already strained system that is turning out cookbook stuff means that the cookbook stuff gets even worse and the hit rate declines. But we convince ourselves we are being “more aggressive marketers” when we do this.Approach #2 also may hurt us. We make these client contact assignments to people who, in many cases, have had no training in how to make a business development call. They usually aren’t geared to make cold calls from a personality standpoint, either. Did you go to architecture, engineering, or science school so you could be a salesman? Yet, we go to the trouble to buy turkey croissants and giant peanut butter cookies for all, have a two-hour meeting, and make three sales call assignments per person. Then we come back the next month to discover that only 2 of 19 people made their calls, and the others have some lame excuse for making either only some or none of theirs. And the two who made their calls probably would have done so anyway without you telling them to.This is why we advocate a third way of marketing for firms in this business. You see, technical and professional staff really don’t mind closing a sale— they just hate making cold calls. Closing comes fairly easily to most people in this business because they like to help. They really want to do the work, and closing the job has to happen before they can start to work for the client.What technical people don’t do so well is generate leads. That’s why I recommend that firms spend whatever it takes to get the phone ringing so their technical people can close. And hiring a bunch of business development people is rarely the answer. It’s too expensive and they aren’t very effective in most market sectors served by A/E/P and environmental firms. œHere are a few things to do instead of turning the proposal mill faster and faster, and making client contact assignments that take $80,000-per-year technical people out of production:Do a monthly, one-sheet, typewritten newsletter, and send it to everyone who could hire or influence the decision to hire your firm. I am not talking about one of these four-color, braggardly jobs that gets longer and more expensive each time. Kill your eight-page quarterly newsletter and go to a two-page typewritten one that has interviews with clients, regulatory updates, war stories of good and bad things clients have done, and your opinion on something relevant to the client. Crank up the PR machine by sending out weekly press releases. Don’t settle for 10 or 20 newspaper editors and reporters, or magazines that only we insiders in this industry read. Go for the mainstream media. Build a press list of 200 or 400 names. Put out a one- or two-page press release that offers your opinion, quotes your company president, quotes one of your experts on something, quotes a regulator you interviewed, or cites original research you conducted. Send out a one-page project progress memo on every job you’re doing. Get this not just to the person you are dealing with in the client firm, but to that person’s boss as well. Make sure they all know what a wonderful job you are doing and keep your firm from getting blamed for screw-ups by the person in their organization running your job. This way, you will make sure you keep the client happy and get all their follow-up work. Give your receptionist a list of all clients who call so they get recognized when they do call. This makes people feel special. I suggest two lists. One lists individual clients by name alphabetically and shows their associated company or organization along with their phone number. The other lists client companies or organizations alphabetically, along with who might call from there. Keep these up to date! Do seminars for clients and potential clients. This doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming. Perhaps you want to start with breakfast meeting that will last from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. Charge $35 and have the meeting in a nice hotel or your office, if you are able to comfortably accommodate a group and not embarrass yourself with your facilities. Give them some information that they need to hear. Talk about what they want to talk about— perhaps hold a roundtable discussion. Keep good notes and send them out to all who attend. Do not brag about your firm or what you are doing. No one really wants to hear that. Do original research on clients. Perhaps a one-question survey is all you need: “What do you think about ______?” Then report the results to everyone, whether they responded or not, and to the media through your press release program. Do it every one or two months. Collect and report back. You’re then in a position of influence over your chosen client group.The point of all this is that we need to do lots of things marketing-wise, not just send out more proposals on jobs we won’t get, or make client calls to people who don’t want to hear from us. Be creative! It takes many, many, many steps for clients to become so familiar with your firm’s name that they will call you every time they have a need, and will feel that using any other company to do what you do is too risky to seriously consider. That’s marketing!Originally published 8/19/ 1996
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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