The human element

Nov 06, 2017

The ‘next big thing’ in marketing and business development is not a piece of software, but the people behind it.

I recently provided a day-long marketing and business development consultation for a very well-known niche engineering firm. The scope of the session was to evaluate the firm’s recent and current marketing and business development practices, and then to develop an action list for tweaking or eliminating ineffective activities and creating new ones.

I spent a very intense day with the company’s president, COO, CFO, BD director, and marketing person, with a few other people joining for short discussions of specific areas.

We spent a lot of time talking about the current nature and value of client relationships – of turning the firm’s clients into friends – and how that can impact the firm’s bottom line. We talked about the huge value of having the person who owns a relationship bringing others into that relationship so it will continue and thrive when he retires.

We talked about current trends in client relationship management software, and how these packages are, unfortunately, both mislabeled and misleading.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no CRM software package on the market that can actually manage your relationship with a client. There is no software that can get in its car and drive across town – or get on a plane and fly across the country – to visit the client. So you can’t rely on a software package to actually manage a client relationship.

Only a person can do that.

And if the person makes proper use of his or her firm’s CRM software, they will write up the meeting when they return to the office. That will allow others to see what is being discussed with that client, whether promised materials were actually delivered, when the next meeting is scheduled, etc.

In other words, the software – which should more properly be called client relationship management tracking software – simply tracks what a human being, or a group of human beings, does to manage that relationship.

Now, couple these required human activities with the manner in which clients now want to have their short-list interviews run.

When I started in this business almost 40 years ago, the team for the short-list interview included the principal in charge, the proposed project manager, and a specialist or three. In most cases, it was the principal who conducted the session, with the others speaking only if there was a question about project management or a specific technical issue.

Today, the typical invitation to make a short-list presentation comes with an instruction that the principal can have one minute for an introduction and one minute for a conclusion, with the remaining 28 or more minutes being conducted by the proposed project manager.

In other words, the client’s interview team wants to hear from the man who will be in charge of their project – and their relationship – as well as from the leaders of primary technical activities. The client wants to hear from the people with whom they will actually be working, to be sure they can work with these people on a day-to-day basis, whether the project takes two months or two years. So the interaction of client team with proposed project team is much more important than the slide show created for the session.

If you are dealing with a potential new client, the short-list interview is where the relationship really begins. In the case of an existing client, especially a current or recent client, the interview is a means to strengthen the relationship or turn it over to a new staff member. In either case, the short-list interview is one of the most important BD tasks with direct impacts on the firm’s bottom line.

So whether we’re talking about managing client relationships or the specific importance of the short-list interview, we’re talking about a “people” function. Hence, my constant reminder to clients and others that, whether we’re talking about general business development, client relationship management, or short-list presentations, the next big thing is people!

Bernie Siben, CPSM, is owner and principal consultant with The Siben Consult, LLC, an independent A/E marketing and strategic consultancy located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at

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