How hard do you really need to work at AEC marketing and business development?

Can you change your marketing habits. It takes effort at the start, but the rewards will last you for decades.
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Sometimes you can try too hard — and you end up in a frustrating struggle when you can succeed with less effort.

If you’ve engaged in marketing and business development for any length of time, you’ll realize that things aren’t fair — at least on the surface. Some businesses and leaders seem to “get it all” with relatively little effort (at least for the rewards they achieve), while others struggle.

If you are on the top, you’ll attribute your success to your skills, initiative and hard work — and you’ll be right. However, if you think about it, the second, third and even 10th ranked competitor may be in many ways just as good or even better than you.

There are many reasons for this unfairness and the alternative, a truly unbiased achievement model where everyone is treated equally, would probably result in rather serious disasters. In the US for federal and much state and local government work, qualifications-based-selection (QBS) has become the law, avoiding the race to the bottom for price competitiveness within architectural and engineering practices. The Brooks Act rules have helped to avert the desperate fee cutting that results in sloppy documentation and profit-less projects in Canada, for example.

In the contracting field, while price still rules in fixed bid projects, there are still qualifications lists and criteria — and if the work?is truly “open and fair” you can be almost certain that your margins will be extremely low, except perhaps where the documentation is sloppy (see the results of low-price-wins-the-job design work above) and you can make some money through change orders.

However, QBS is a double-edged sword. While some qualifications can be measured objectively, there are many subjective elements in the decision-making process, and procuring organizations will almost inevitably bias in favor of vendors and suppliers with which they have solid relationships and experiences. This then causes them to behave much like the private sector, where the adage “once you are in, you are in,” applies.

Of course not everything is forever. Titans collapse. Upstarts sometimes succeed out of nowhere. And rules change and new technologies disrupt the established order.

How do you win in this environment? Some of the answers are obvious but maybe not easy to implement. However you should still check the boxes below:

Associate with winners: It is better to team up with a known leader in responding to a project proposal, than to go it alone, even if you have to share or lose your own glory. You’ll be more credible and of course you’ll learn from the other organization’s success.

Be generous. Be true. And contribute to your community (and relevant client-oriented associations) without expectation of return.?This is the most effective way to build ongoing trust and forge the vital relationships that will lead to success.

Treat your good current clients like gold. They are. Incumbency, repeat and referral business will always produce higher results than blind, cold new business development.

Finally, cool off if you are pushing too hard and trying too much. If you are pounding your fists on doors which won’t open, you are probably pounding on the wrong doors — in any case, you shouldn’t need do that to succeed. Look instead for the relationships and opportunities where you don’t have to try, and struggle, so hard.

Do you have thoughts and recollections of when things seemed extremely easy — or difficult — in marketing and business development. You can share your thoughts with an email to or as a comment to this post.

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