Marketing Information Management (MIM) — and thoughts about communication

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Kevin Hebblethwaite
SMPS president Kevin Hebblethwaite

Quite frequently, the old-style SMPS CPSM listserve (I know, that’s a technical acronym on top of another technical acronym) provides some incredibly useful marketing insights. These occur because membership qualifications to access and use the listserve are quite high.  You need to be a member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) and have completed the certification program as a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM).

These achievements require some resources (membership dues) and effort (completing the certification course, passing the initial exam, and maintaining your status through continuing education), though the club isn’t quite as exclusive as the Prometheus Society‘s private discussion group. (For that one, you need to pass intelligence tests putting you the population’s top 99.997 percentile; or, your intelligence has the probability of being higher than anyone in a group of 30,000 people. No, I don’t qualify, but know personally a few individuals in that extremely brainy network.)

Although this posting from SMPS president Kevin Hebblethwaite was originally not public, he and several other SMPS members who participated in the thread have given me permission to reproduce their remarks, with the help of SMPS vice-president Lisa Bowman. These observations will give you plenty of room for thought about the relationship between marketers and project managers in architectural, engineering and construction practices.

Subject: [CPSM] Get Dirty with your Data

OK, now that I have your attention, I’d like to add a few thoughts to the great dialogue already underway regarding marketing information management (which we’ll call MIM).

We all know that the story is the same everywhere regarding collecting info and closing out.  Billable professionals have other work to do.  Let them.

If there are interim and close-out processes, forms, etc, that you use (or should be using) for collecting MIM, YOU figure out a way to take ownership of it.  Don’t treat this challenge as something “PM’s won’t do (duh!),” but rather something that you can do very well!  It’s that important, and at the end of the day you are better equipped as a marketer to collect and tell the great stories that develop from your firm’s MIM.

Now, there are obviously contributions that can ONLY be made by the technical staff, and I am not excusing them from that responsibility.  I loved the comment about the bonus tied to marketing’s sign-off.  Your job is to help promote the BELIEF that your firm’s marketing info is one of the MOST IMPORTANT ASSETS KEEPING EVERYONE EMPLOYED.

Assuming that’s not too over-the-top at your firm (yep, ask your CEO if he/she believes), your next step is to roll up your sleeves and dive in to the data.  Learn how to run the “stupid report,” fix the report that has “never worked,” buy a beer for the PM that runs and hides every time you show your face.  Don’t stop with “I gave him/her the form to fill out.” Schedule a quarterly love-fest called “Whine & Cheese: Tell Your Stories” where PM’s are expected to (and excited about) getting their awesome projects documented.  Oh, and collect the data right then!

Well, that last idea may be a little weird, but hopefully not off the deep end.  You MUST get dirty (accurate, controlled, and non-duplicative) with your data!  IMHO, the “MIM Specialist” part of our profession is poised to take off. Those marketing pros with sleeves rolled up will personally benefit from this trend.

Others in the group added their suggestions relating to the communication and respect needed between marketers and project management staff in the architecture, engineering and construction businesses that generally employ CPSM-qualified marketers. (Others are independent consultants; not too many own publishing businesses, but I’ve always followed my own path and in any case, I’m a firm believer (from a marketing perspective) in belonging to communities where potential clients — or people who know potential clients — hang out.)

Here are some of the follow-up commentswhich add to the story:

  • . . . “communication” is also a two-way street. Remember that the question you ask to or of your technical staff may not be interpreted they way you, as a marketing/business developer, may think. The “important details” of a project to a technical PM are not necessarily the same “important details” that you want to put in a marketing write up.  “Understanding” is key to this communication. Kurt S. Yoshii, PE, GE, CPSM, principal engineer Ninyo & Moore, Irvine, CA.
  • As marketing and BD professionals we know that communications with the technical folks has to be in their comfort zone. We know how best to get what we want out of our PM’s.  Trying to force their conformation to a procedure is, in my experience, counterproductive.  I got together with some of my senior PM’s and marketing coordinators and we hashed out a procedure that works for the coordinators who will be preparing the project write-ups and the PM’s who are responsible for accurate content. It’s not perfect and it doesn’t work every time but it’s so much easier to cooperate and work together . . . Beth A. George, CPSM, director of business development, Converse Consultants, Monrovia, CA.
  • Having tried and spectacularly failed at getting others to enter the project data for marketing (we have a marketing tab we’ve customized in Vision), you are right in all your statements. What’s more … I’ve found that actually doing the work yourself is a golden opportunity: learn much more about the project–the ins and outs of it for a fuller and richer story) to use in business development while simultaneously deepened my relationship and understanding with PM/Principal. It’s amazing how more effective you are as a marketer because now you really know the story of the project. As my dear Aunt Kate would say, “Chance of a lifetime!” OK – that may be over the top – but you get my drift. Susan Buchanan, CPSM, director of business development, WRT/Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, Philadelphia, PA.
  • I’d just like to add that I always take the approach – regardless of whom I’m dealing with, be they marketing staff, technical staff, owners or clients – of “What can I do to make your job easier?” . . . Now this doesn’t mean that I’m taking on more than I can handle all the time, or that I’m a pushover. What it means is that service is the baseline for my interactions with others. I believe that, for the most part, you give what you get. Be of service to others, make their job easier, then it’s likely that they’ll be cooperative and do the same for you. Shannah Hayley, CPSM, marketing and communications manager, Beck, Dallas, TX.

Here’s another observation, from Brad Thurman, PE, FSMPS, CPSM, principal, Wallace Engineering – Structural Consultants, Inc. in Tulsa, OK:

Whenever I hear marketing and BD folks talk/comment/vent about their technical folks and say “they just don’t understand what I do,” my response is always the same:

“Do you understand what THEY do?”

Issues like respect and trust are two-way streets.  I’ve always found (and firmly believe) that you get respect and trust by giving it first, not by earning it.  As a technical-turned-marketing type, I know that it’s easier to get what you need from them – and anyone, for that matter – if you understand the pressures that they are under.  Believe me, your technical folks know you have a deadline.  They do!  And, in their heart-of-hearts, they want to help you with what you need.  But, just like us, it’s a juggling act to get everything done.  I’d encourage all of us to spend some time with those on the technical side…not to learn to do what they do, but to understand how they do their jobs and how you can work with them to improve the fortunes of your firm.

Be empathetic.  Be positive.  Be proactive.  And, above all, be specific about what you need and when you need it.

W. David Eckard, CPSM, marketing co-ordinator at Arora Engineers Inc. in Chadds Ford, PA, added these thoughts:

We recently completed a massive data gathering/quals building project at our firm as part of our transition to marketing data storage in Vision (previously stored mostly in Word docs).  This involved a large amount of QA/QC to purify existing data – filling in gaps, scope review, completion dates, $values, is the contact still a viable reference, etc.  The challenge was doing it within a relatively tight timeframe without becoming too much of a burden on our PMs.

I used multiple sources for collecting/checking/cross-referencing data – existing profiles, Project Info Forms (PIF) completed by our PMs at project kickoff, proposal and contract files, and some support from accounting/billing.

I definitely agree (as others have mentioned) that meeting the PM halfway, giving them a “skeleton” to work with vs. a blank page, always creates better results.  A preliminary write-up can usually be developed by reviewing the RFP, proposal, and/or finalized contract scope.  Then it can be passed off to the PM for further refinement.

When the PMs know that you’re willing to get into the trenches and dig for some of the data, too, they’re more inclined to climb down there with you.

Finally, on a personal level… knowing you can be self-reliant and find data from various sources on your own is not only satisfying, but a great confidence booster!

Another observation, from Anne-Marie Funk, CPSM, director of business development, ADG, Inc., Oklahoma City, OK:

Providing great service and making life easier for everyone you work with…

It takes group effort to bring in work…

Understand what other people do so you can help them do it better…

Be specific about what you need and when you need it…
and suggest that this is a task that can be d-e-l-e-g-a-t-e-d…

Stay positive…

All are great words to live by!

During project design or construction we start with a project data/narrative outline and interview project managers for a minimal amount of time (15-20 minutes per project is usually enough). We might have a few blanks to fill in for a project. After a project is complete we keep it on our project status report until a comprehensive data sheet is completed by the project team. The project is not officially closed out until photos are taken, a copy of the final pay app is attached and a narrative is written. That means that everyone—principals to project managers—sees that project listed until it’s done.

Marketing collects and puts all the facts and figures into a spreadsheet (this year’s goal is to import everything into a proper database).

One of the most important things is keeping track of the information that you garner from discussions and data collecting so you won’t have to ask the same questions next week, next month and next year. These data collections are powerful tools for EVERYONE, not just marketing and business development. Once you have built a great collection of accurate data—from sizes and costs to plans and photos—you will be a seen as a valuable resource. “They” will become “we.” Trust me.

And, in the process, you will have learned so much about your firm and the entire industry that you will know how to do your job better.

Finally:

One great idea that is embraced here – and that is absolutely embraced by all our teams – is a monthly program to ‘share information’

Since our studio’s are ‘market-based’ and spread across offices – the best way for THEM to learn about the projects their studio is working on
:: Is to have a once-a-month studio meeting that quickly looks at all their projects
:: It is one hour long and done via GoToMeeting on flat screens in each office
:: Each team/project has limited time (for us it is 2 to 3 minutes) and 3 to 5 PPT slides
:: The first slide is general info (team, sf, costs, schedule overview, etc – MIM info!), second is successes to-date, third is challenges-to-date, and forth is what’s next
:: The full slide show is on our intranet for that studio (we have 3 market-based studio’s in our firm) for everyone to see
:: The teams are not only informing each other but sharing lessons learned

BUT – the great thing is that lots of good factual info and great before/during/after photos or up to date renderings of projects, etc. is ALL THERE!
All the marketing staff are available to attend to hear and see all the projects (they sometimes split up who will go to which one), I attend all 3

We can return to the PPT anytime to ‘gather’ the info – and we then can go to that team (or PM) and talk intelligently about their own personal project and ask them some more ‘probing’ questions – such as “now, what was the final bid that was accepted on your project – down to the penny?”

And, I am sure you can imagine how much the marketing staff benefit from listening to these monthly info sharing meetings in all other ways. So, even if they are on deadlines, this is a priority of mine for them to attend.

Bill Strong, FSMPS, principal and marketing director, Mahlum, Seattle, WA.

This is one of the longest blog postings I’ve ever written, but I think the topic’s importance is worthy of review. If you are a marketer within a large organization, you really need to know what your front-line project managers are doing, and truly understand their challenges, projects, and goals — and respect that in their day-to-day work intensity, “marketing” may seem to be a useless time overhead waste, especially if your practice/firm is lean, well managed and attracts best-in-class individuals to do their work.

However, if you can gather the key project details, graphics, successes and the like, you’ll be in a much better position to respond creatively and effectively to future RFPs, suggest practical go/no go responses when determining persuit cost/risk for future work, and you’ll be able to gather enough information to build meaningful measurement/tracking tools to assess potential, without burdening everyone else.

Underlying all of this stuff, however, you are respecting your non-marketing colleagues, and, in turn (though you can’t earn this by “expecting it” you will earn the respect of others in our organization — and that will truly increase your effectiveness. You can, of course, transfer this advice to any endeavour.)

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