No more SOQs!

Feb 05, 2023

SOQs that are assembled without any direction just end up in the delete folder or the wastebasket. There’s a better way.

"We need an SOQ” is probably one of the most common statements in the AEC industry. SOQs, or Statement of Qualifications, are the biggest crutch in the history of business development. OK, that sounds like an exaggeration (and probably is), but it is time we talk about how we work with SOQs and if we even need them at all. In my more than 25-year career, I have not met one person who has read an SOQ; glanced at it, sure, but read it in its entirety? No way.

A typical scenario looks like this: Practitioners secure an in-person meeting with a potential new client and then request that marketing put together a comprehensive set of qualifications for a particular market sector and/or practice area. At this junction, we need to reply with the ever-so-powerful question: Why? Usually, the reply is that we need to show the prospective client our expertise in writing and that this SOQ will support what will be shared at the meeting. Hold on a second – first face-to-face meetings should be overwhelmingly more about active listening. The goal is to understand the potential client’s pain points and what they may need from us in the near term. Do you honestly think anyone will read an eight-, 12-, or 24-page document? They barely read your proposals!

Let’s go through the typical sections of an SOQ:

  • Title page. What a beautiful photo! Next...
  • About us. I guess the assumption here is that the person who agreed to a meeting did not even bother to check your website. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and imagine getting this document – do you see yourself reading it? To make matters worse, most “about us” sections are like Mad Libs: “XYZ firm was founded in whatever year and has grown to something or other with a significant number of offices.” At the very least, try to go with an infographic or a suitable alternative that could convey your message “at a glance.”
  • Services/capabilities. Your guess is as good as mine on this one. The main decision here typically revolves around how long to make the laundry list. Imagine how little benefit it has for you to jot down a bunch of services that dozens of other firms can include as well. This is a perfect example of why it makes sense to wait until you know which services your prospective client needs. Only then can you focus on describing your capabilities in those specific areas and in a way that is relevant to the reader, not in your standard boilerplate language.
  • Project experience. Another guessing game – name that tune! Often, firms go with “flywheel” or “big” projects that showcase their unicorn moments in the sun. Hopefully, your crystal ball is polished and shiny so that the stories you include are the ones that resonate with the recipient. After all, your intuition should be spot on identifying the type of projects the reader is interested in – huge national multidisciplinary decades-long programmatic endeavors, small task orders at local sites highlighting a specific service, etc. Would they rather see tons of projects that prove you have done extensive work or just a handful of examples with concise but relevant stories? You catch my drift.
  • Representative staff. Do you include local staff? A more diverse group of professionals? Principals in charge or project directors? Project managers? Subject matter experts? Which subjects matter? A mix of all? How many? What information or stats should be included? Licenses and certifications? Years of experience? A short bio? A list of projects? Descriptions of a handful of projects? The guessing game continues.

This is not an attempt to pull a “Jerry Maguire” claiming SOQs should not exist at all, but rather questioning the value of the ones assembled without any direction that end up in the delete folder or the wastebasket, if you provided a printed copy (for reasons that escape me). Do people still have printers?

Most of the content in these SOQs should be available on your website, where visitors can easily find the information. You can repackage the high-level content on your website into one or two pages in case someone wants to share something by email along with a link. Anything more detailed or extensive only makes sense when it is specifically requested and you know precisely what information they need.

Say it with me: “No more SOQs – instead ask me about it.” Feels good! Now go talk to the architects, engineers, scientists, and other business developers and get on the same page of this issue.  

Javier Suarez is a marketing manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at

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