AEC business development: Thinking for the big picture

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Business development (a two-word phrase for sales) for the architectural, engineering and construction community is challenging because in the real world, very few clients want to deal with sales reps, especially for design and professional services. Yet business development is vital because passively hoping for business to arrive, or seeking business only through public RFP/tender opportunities, creates a highly uncertain and potentially unstable business environment. You are also caught in the trap of either already being connected or struggling against insiders or chasing jobs with massive competition.

These issues are both resolved and aggravated by QBS or Qualifications Based Selection processes for public works. In many ways, QBS is a lifesaver for architects and engineers, because proven skills and experience count in the selection process far more than price. (In the US for federal work and many state and local projects, this is dictated by the Brooks Act. In Canada, the federal government and some local jurisdictions are experimenting with QBS procurement, though a large percentage of public design/engineering work is still based on price.)

The challenge: How do you build the relationships/experience/capacity to win the QBS jobs when you are an outsider and lack the relationships/experience and connections? And that is the AEC business development paradox. Business development in many cases is so easy that you don’t really have to do anything but what is natural — maintaining warm relationships with your current clients who can provide more work or refer/reference you for new jobs. Or it is absolutely daunting, because you are facing competitors with all the inside track advantages.

The answer, to me, relates in part to strategic research and engagement, and here a good first start will be an article in the Society for Marketing Professional Service’s (SMPS) Marketer Magazine: Bringing Clarity to Business Development, by Megan R. Miller.

She writes:

As business development and marketing teams continue to find more time, what can you do today to better prepare for next year so you can get the most of your business development? Here are a few questions to ask your teams. What does your business development and client management processes look like? Where are you wasting time? What will have  the greatest impact on your pipeline? Are you leveraging the power of your CRM? What are you doing right? What are your benchmarks telling you, and how can you positively impact your numbers?

Her article concludes with a pitch for CRM program Deltek’s Clarity Report. I won’t go into pushing whether a CRM/project management system such as Deltek is necessary (and it isn’t inexpensive) and recognize some marketing/business intents here, but it won’t hurt to download the report at bit.ly/SMPSclarity2018.

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