Bernie Siben has thrived as an independent marketing consultant for many years. He has an especially strong network within the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) and I’ve heard him speaking at several SMPS events. He knows his stuff.
His blog, at least until recently, was an intermittent thing, but always he has managed to achieve substance and depth in his writing. Thankfully, he has decided to post much more frequently. You’ll certainly learn from him as you read his entries.
Recent postings for example provide advice on how someone can follow his footsteps into the world of independent consulting, and delved into the challenge of determining whether you should be a specialist or generalist in your career aspirations.
Closer to my marketing heart, in a recent post he tackled the somewhat challenging boundary between marketing and business development. (Folks in the AEC professional services world seem to regard the word “sales” as a bad word — and in fact, SMPS researchers have learned that owners much prefer working with “seller/doers” (rainmakers) than professional sales representatives.)
Today, we seem to be in agreement on the definition that everything we produce for communication to the general marketplace is marketing, and everything we produce for communication to a specific client, especially if it is related to a specific project, is business development.
This distinction feels right to me. I am comfortable with it. For as long as I was aware, the business development folks were concerned with pursuing the specific project, closing the sale and taking care of the client.
However, there is a monkey wrench that is thrown into the works on a consistent basis, which is exemplified by the following questions:
If pursuit of a specific client and/or a specific project are the province of business development, why is the RFQ or RFP for an individual project or ID/IQ-type contract automatically handed to the marketing staff? Even when a business developer brings the RFQ or RFP into the office, marketing staff still get the assignment.
In some instances, the business development folks give an RFQ or RFP to the marketing folks and then disappear. In most cases, they will at least tell the marketing folks what they think the client is looking for, what the client wants (or doesn’t want) to see in the proposal, and what the client’s “hot buttons” are for that project.
So, as Siben rightfully asserts, the distinctions between sales and business development can become a bit blurry, though he asserts that marketers within the AEC environment tend to get more sales jobs (like writing specific proposals/letters and sometimes staffing trade show booths) than salespeople engage in marketing.
I suppose these observations then lead to challenging question of whether you should specialize or generalize. If seller-doers (in other words people with true professional qualifications) are best at bringing in the business, it seems that the best direction for a marketer or business developer within an AEC firm would be to obtain some genuine professional designations (like becoming an architect or engineer, or at least achieving some technical certification through groups such as the Construction Specifications Institute or Construction Specifications Canada). Conversely, if you have the professional designation and really want to get ahead, study some sales/business development or marketing and you’ll go much further than you would otherwise.
In part, one reason to read Bernie Siben’s blog is that you’ll expand your own thinking and stretch outside the boundaries — while receiving well-grounded and focused AEC business development and marketing insights.
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