Who are you trying to sell to?

Dec 06, 2020

Marketing starts with identifying who your target clients are. Your entire business needs to be focused on them.

A huge problem with the majority of A/E firms that we have worked with over the years is they don’t really know who they are trying to sell to.

This was no big deal when demand outstripped supply – the situation most A/E firms have been operating under up until March of this year. But now – while an amazing number of companies in this business are still doing well – there are some that are really starting to have marketing and resulting workload problems.

Marketing STARTS with identifying who your target clients are. Your entire marketing effort – heck, your entire business – needs to be focused on them. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Start with identifying the market sectors (groups of buyers with common wants and needs) that you can serve. What are you good at? What do you have experience doing? What kinds of clients do you like to work for? What market sectors are bound to be strong during a time like we are living in now? Determine what your market sectors are and what you want them to be.
  2. Every market sector you work in has potential clients that could hire your firm. In some of these markets, geographic proximity to the clients is critical. In other markets, an A/E firm can serve those clients from virtually anywhere. Take a look at each of your market sectors and determine what a reasonable geographic reach would be. Identify every single potential client organization in that sector within your reach.
  3. Stop thinking that if you have never met or spoken to someone they shouldn’t be on your target client list. That is bad thinking that will only hurt you. And yes, there are still people who think prior contact in some way should be a condition of entry to a firm’s target client list. It shouldn’t be.
  4. STOP worrying about which clients have current projects or a budget that you are aware of to hire an A/E firm or firms. A/E marketers are obsessed with knowing who has money. Get off that track! It is not relevant. Instead focus on finding ALL organizations that make up each sector within the geographic range you identified in step No. 2 above. Why do I say this? The reason is simple. You don’t know and won’t know what any individual organization’s plans really are, and whether or not they will have needs soon. You also don’t know if the people you are marketing to will move to another potential client organization at any time, and you want to be sure they know who you are and are top of mind the next time they need services from a firm like yours.
  5. After you define your sectors, define the geographic reach you can serve, and find all organizations in that sector, regardless of whether or not they have money or you have had prior interactions with them, find all of the people in those organizations who could potentially influence the decision to hire your firm. The group of people in any organization is probably much larger than you realize. You need every one of them in your list.
  6. There are many ways to find these people. Besides web searches, organization websites, trade or professional association lists, and more, we now have vehicles such as LinkedIn that allow one go to any specific organization and find many, if not most, of the people there. Get them all on your list.
  7. These lists have to be much larger than most A/E firms realize. It’s not uncommon to see firms that have only a couple thousand people in their target lists. That is not enough to feed anything but a very small firm. I have more than 4,500 people in my phone alone. You need to change the way you think about your target clients and the list. A 50-person A/E firm, depending on the market sectors served, could easily have 20,000 or 50,000 people in its target client list. Instead of two or three people in a large client’s list, there could be 20 or 30, or even more per organization. Cast a much wider net.
  8. These target client lists won’t do you any good unless you USE them. The idea that you will send out a Christmas card and then a couple boring project descriptions to your list over the course of the year and this is going to create new leads is naive. You need better content and much higher frequency. I can imagine in some cases potential clients may be contacted as frequently as daily or even more than once a day – especially if the information you are providing them with is valuable or useful to them and not just an attempt to sell them something. You have to abandon your old ways of thinking and your personal prejudices and kick up the activity dramatically. Here is why: If your response rate is 0.1 percent (one tenth of one percent), that means that you need to reach out to 1,000 people to get a single response. If you have 2,000 people on your list, that means you may get two responses. If you have 50,000 people on your list, that means you could get 50 responses. Not all responses will be leads, either, but each represents a potential lead.
  9. Just because a potential client does not respond to any specific marketing effort does not mean that your effort was wasted. Your company name may now be familiar to them when it wasn’t before, and that alone could result in you making it on a shortlist or getting an approval to be hired by someone in that target client organization that you didn’t even know had anything to do with the decision-making process. Remember this.
  10. If you want this list to remain viable, you have to use it. The best way to keep it current is to make it available to every single employee. Restricting access to the list and sending all changes to one person is not the way to see any but a really small list maintained. The decentralization is a critical element. And yes, there are ways to keep people from stealing the list while still providing access and the individual ability to change it when it needs changing.

One last thought. Stop worrying so much about duplicate entries to your list and keeping people off the list and instead focus on getting more people on the list. Track the numbers of organizations and people on the list, and the number of changes to the list, and share this with all of your employees. Keep this list front and center. Make it important. That is the best way to build it and maintain it.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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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.