Too much business development?

Dec 05, 2021

Too much of a good thing can lead to a crisis for you and your staff and dissatisfaction for your clients.

Marketing and business development are fickle things. The rules say you’re supposed to be doing them all the time, especially when your firm is at its busiest, because you need to continue to fill the pipeline, right? But when does it get to be just too much? When does delivering projects, engaging your staff, meeting new prospects, recruiting new team members, and selling more work turn into a crisis?

I just returned from my first vacation in more than two years. As an avid traveler, my wife and I usually take at least one epic vacation every year, sometimes two. But I hadn’t left my own city (except for work) since September 2019. Unknown to pretty much everyone, before departure, I had been experiencing severe neck pain, debilitating headaches, and general malaise for more than three months. I was worried that something was seriously wrong, but I’m notoriously stubborn about going to the doctor. Then something wonderful happened.

By the third morning of my time out west, sitting on the balcony of our Airbnb drinking coffee and overlooking a valley near Arches National Park in Utah, all of those issues disappeared. I felt better than I had in months. It was then I realized that all of the negative news, the fear of COVID, the apps on my phone, and the fact I had been running at 150 percent capacity at work since 2019 contributed to how I was feeling. In short, as someone who usually is healthy, I was experiencing classic symptoms of extreme stress and burnout, and it was affecting me mentally and physically. The PTO couldn’t have come at a better time. One could argue it might have saved my life.

What does my story have to do with marketing?

Simple. I know I’m not alone. If you are reading this, my guess is you can relate to what I was feeling because 99 percent of the population is likely feeling the same way. And the result is tension, impatience, a short temper, missed deadlines, and feeling overwhelmed. All of that translates into performance issues that could affect your relationships with your team members and how well you deliver the client experience.

Creating the best client experience is critical to reinforce brand loyalty. But, unfortunately, the past two years’ business closures, worker shortages, construction material scarcities, supply chain disruptions, and other economic constraints have often resulted in clients’ inability to work with their first choice of consultant. In my company’s case, that can be a blessing and a curse because being busy is great for business, but it can also lead to unintended issues down the road.

In 2021, we have been fortunate to capture dozens of new clients. Of course, most of that success has been due to excellent pre-positioning and relationship building. But I would argue some of it comes from the clients’ need to move projects forward, but their usual consultant has been too busy, understaffed, or underperforming. In the consumer world, experts call that “forced trial.” In a LifePoints U.S. consumer survey during 2020, for instance, diaper buyers told researchers they were forced to try a different brand because of product shortages – and only 43 percent said they would return to their regular brand when available.

So keeping clients (and staff) happy and loyal will continue to be a challenge in this “new normal” world we live in. Our competitors are moving in on our client base and vice versa, and once the infrastructure bill is passed, who knows what kind of workload and staff shortages firms will find themselves in.

Short-term gains are not worth your long-term relationships. You must continue to take care of yourself and recognize signs of stress and burnout. Being proactive and communicating with your team about the need to pause occasionally to ensure that needs are being met is the best way to make sure that clients (and staff) stay with you. When you run at 150 percent or more, that’s when mistakes start happening that can affect your relationships.

If you are on the edge like I was, talk it out with someone, especially your boss and other trusted team members, because chances are they are feeling the same way, and there’s no better feeling than when people listen, understand, and empathize. 

Kraig C. Kern, CPSM is vice president and director of marketing at WK Dickson. Contact him at

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.