Laurin McCracken AIA, Chief Marketing Officer at Jacobs Global Buildings NA sent this email yesterday to his network at the Society for Marketing Professional Services.
I am sure that most of you are familiar with the author Malcolm Gladwell from his books such as The Tipping Point and Blink. In the January 18 issue of the New Yorker he has a piece “The Sure Thing – How Entrepreneurs Really Succeed.”
While I recommend the entire article to you, I was struck by one statement he made in the article:
“…Ninety percent of the fastest-growing companies in the country sell to other businesses; failed entrepreneurs usually try selling to consumers, and, rather than servicing customers that other businesses have missed, they chase the same people as their competitors do. The list goes on: they under-emphasize marketing; they don’t understand the importance of financial controls; they try to compete on price.”
This sounds like the AEC Industry in this down market. We so often fail to service and market to our unique power base, our existing clients.
We quickly fall into the trap of believing it is all about marketing and sales and forget that it is about winning.
I also direct your attention to the terrific article in the December issue of SMPS’s Marketer by Bruce Lea and J. Rossi, “What it Takes to Win – The Cold, Hard Truth.” Bruce and J point out that firms that win work have taken the time to develop a relationship with a client before the RFP is issued. Firms are seldom successful in responding to RFP’s where they have no relationship with a client. Therefore, as always, just because there is an RFP out there you can respond to, doesn’t mean that you should. (MB: See my blog posting referencing this article here.)
These are great and simple points. We need to focus on our relationships, on our connections, and building the base for real business, rather than chasing our competitors (or shadows).
In the last two weeks, I’ve seen how this plays out in the real world. Today, I received an inspiring call from a community leader who had seen one of our publications, and wanted us to produce a similar magazine in his area. Meanwhile, another key influencer, who helped us to obtain the contract to produce the magazine locally called me to tell me about a strange call he had received. One of the also-ran bidders on the project (rules required it to be posted publicly) had phoned him to see if she could rebid on the magazine contract.
Surely, the outsider, trying to gain attention for a “second chance” at a project she never could have won in the first place, hasn’t learned the basics of marketing. Perseverance is one thing, but you have to be able to connect the dots and build on your relationships and trust unless you want to play in the dog-eat-dog world of brutally low prices (and no profit.)
One important lesson I learned early on (and Gladwell suggests in his article) is that successful entrepreneurs are far from risk-takers: They find opportunities where others perceive much greater risk than they know to be true. I discovered these lessons travelling to Africa, living 18 months through a a civil war as a working journalist, while (trying rather unsuccessfully) to learn the art of motorcycle mechanics. Sounds pretty risky, eh. But the closest I got to any real danger occured on one reckless night at the end of the trip, when I dared to hitch a ride while more than intoxicated with an equally intoxicated Liberian soldier, a week after a military coup. Most of the time, however, I used common sense and enjoyed the experience, connecting with local people who told me where things were safe and where they were too risky. But at home, of course, everyone thought of me as a daring adventurer. The experience opened many doors and taught me not to be afraid to go where others fear (but I always check first to find if the risk is more perceived than substantial.)
Take perceived, rather than real risks, do you work exceptionally well, build and maintain your relationships, and don’t chase others’ jobs (or the competition). These are simple, but effective concepts, and they will allow your business to thrive even in the toughest times.
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