More on Presentations

Dec 18, 1995

Most A/E/P and environmental firms spend a lot of money just for the opportunity to make a presentation to a client. You send your technical/professional staff chasing all over the countryside, hither and yon, looking for leads. You send out all kinds of brochures and newsletters. And finally, you have a “sweat shop” of proposal writers in the marketing department churning out and endless stream of SOQs and 254/255 packages. You’d think, with all of this expense, we’d do everything within our power to do an outstanding job at the presentation, too. But we don’t. In fact, we often hurry through the presentation planning and preparation process like it’s the least important item on our “to-do” list. Although I have talked about presentations before, I think there’s so much ground to be gained by better presentations for most A/E/P and environmental firms that I must offer more on the subject. Consider the following advice: Don’t be boring. You’ve got to do something that will make your audience remember you. Certainly, that won’t happen if you just restate your proposal or repeat the same old stuff, such as, “This is our team, here is our experienced project manager, these are the 42 jobs we have done just like yours, here is the QA/QC process we claim to use but don’t ever really follow,” and so on? Yawn— the same formula is being used by every other firm. The problem is compounded by team members who drone on in monotone about obscure technical details on projects done in the past. Come up with something new that proves you have incredible insight into the client’s situation. And contrary to the stereotype, engineers are no more guilty of being boring than the rest of you architects, allied design professionals, and environmental people! Communicate the idea that selecting any other firm is risky. Did you ever think about how you make decisions at the grocery store? Why would you reach for “Coca Cola” instead of “Generic Cola?” Because there’s risk in buying generic cola, right? Even though intellectually, you know that it may have come out of the same bottling plant, you are certain of getting that familiar and satisfying Cola taste from a Coke. The same kind of marketing psychology applies to the A/E/P and environmental business. If you can convince the client that your firm is the low risk choice, they’ll hire you every time. Do this by demonstrating empathy with the client. Show that you understand their business and goals for the project. Create doubt in the minds of your clients about approaches to the project that your competitors are likely to suggest. Have original research information that no other firm has. In the long term, use direct mail and public relations, go to trade shows, participate in trade and professional associations, and hire people out of similar client organizations. Every client involved with the selection process should have already heard your firm’s name 50 times before the presentation. If you haven’t done so already, establish a personal relationship with the client right there at the presentation. There’s nothing magical about the fact that clients will hire the people they like. They will also give you better fees and pay your bills more promptly. How do you get your clients to like your firm? By hiring employees with personalities, instead of just those who have the minimum technical skills. By having staff that doesn’t insult the intelligence of your clients. By using name tags with first names. By telling jokes (ones in good taste, of course) that make selection committee members laugh. By telling stories about yourself and what you have learned that could help the client. Through anecdotes. And by demonstrating your understanding of the goals of the project, the clients’ hopes and fears, and so forth. Always go in with the attitude that if the client doesn’t hire you, it’s their mistake. Sound arrogant? Perhaps it is. On the other hand, if you don’t think this way, how in the world will you and the rest of your presentation team have the energy and enthusiasm level necessary to be the winners? Nobody likes a loser. So when someone in your firm says, “ABC Company already has that job sewn up,” or, “We can’t win this job, but we want to keep our name in front of the client,” go ballistic! Let these negative people know, in no uncertain terms, that their defeatist attitude is unacceptable. It will do nothing but lose the job for you. Don’t be dependent on winning a particular project. A word of caution is in order after the previous point. Knowing you can and should win is not the same thing as feeling you have to win or you’re dead. That kind of pressure won’t help anyone. Have faith that your marketing efforts will continue to present you with other opportunities for work. And if you don’t have this faith, do something about it so you can have it. That probably means spending more money on the kinds of marketing activities that bring leads to the firm— such as direct mail, personal calling activities, and PR. Don’t forget to tell clients why they should select your firm. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this very important question is left unanswered by A/E/P and environmental consulting firms in the course of their presentations. And when you do answer this question, why not tell the client how hiring your firm will save them money, time, and headaches, instead of talking about a bunch of other things and then hoping they somehow make the connection? With an industry average hit rate of somewhere around 20% on jobs pursued, there’s probably a lot more you can do with your presentations to increase your success rate. But it won’t happen if you are married to the old ways of thinking about marketing as a whole and presentations in particular. Try something new! Originally published 12/18/1995

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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.