The business of business development: Where are things headed?

AEC Business Development

AEC Business DevelopmentThe Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) has, I think wisely, decided to dedicate research and focus on business development initiatives. It has published a new book (which I have just started reading): A/E/C Business Development: The Decade Ahead, and a key session at the Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) Day, was a session titled: The Business of BD: Coffee, Lunch, Golf . . . Now What?

Business Development (of course reduced to another acornym, BD) is the phrase that professionals don’t generally like to use loudly for a rather simpler word: Selling.

The SMPS Foundation’s book (it doesn’t claim a single author) says BD is:

“about defining needs and making decisions about specific services, identifying and selecting participants, discussing terms and conditions, and completing the procurement processes. ?In essence, business development is about doing deals and making the proverbial ‘sale’.”

We can all appreciate that the process of finding customers for $5 (or $500) million construction projects, or specialized sub-trades linking to government procurement policies and multi-disciplinary relationships, is a whole different kettle of fish than the sort of marketing challenges experienced by a residential roofing contractor selling shingle installation services to homeowners.

After all, in general, the professions are not seen as “selling” and general contractors and sub-trades have (for eons) raced like lemmings to bid jobs — winning (or more accurately, in many cases, losing) based purely on price in cattle-call competitions.

This is where SMPS comes into the picture — introducing marketing discipline, knowledge and best practices for the architectural and engineering professions that were, by traditional rules, not even allowed to assertively market their services until the 1970s (which may seem a long time ago for young people, though many modern marketing and business development practices for other industries trace roots back to the early 1900s, at latest.)

Consider these remarks from Holly Bolton, marketing director at structural engineers CE Solutions Inc. in Indianapolis:

business of bd
SMPS business development panelists: Scott Butcher, vice-president , JBD Engineering Inc., Holly Bolton, director of marketing, CE Solutions Inc., J. Douglas Parker, chief marketing officer, BoyarMiller and Nancy Usrey, associate vice-president, HNTB Corporation.

We have relationships with owners, architects, construction firms. What do our clients value about us . . . some subs just have their hands out, you have brought us leads, you have projects where you have relationships with owners. . . . (Once) we had an engineering solution which saved money and decreased the scope of work for us . . . How can you help your clients achieve their goals . . . remember the karma.

Meanwhile, Douglas Parker of Houston law firm BoyarMiller described how social media and community forums/events has helped propel his practice. Yet he reminded the audience that the real business development occurs when the practitioners do their work.

Clients talk to the technical people. . . If you can convince your owners (that) you are not a magic pill, that is the misconception, its just the opposite, we are the coach, the pusher, the teacher, getting people out of the office and in front of people.

Obviously, different-sized firms, in different disciplines and distinctive market areas have their own specialized challenges, but one thing is absolutely certain: Conventional “selling” tactics don’t work well in the professional AEC space — you will want to avoid cold calls, in-your-face and pushy marketing, and superficial glad-handing “relationship building,” especially with the more technically-focused purchasing decision-makers. You need to communicate your how easy you are to work with and your expertise, and truly know and appreciate your clients’ challenges before you start the business development process — you’ll turn potential clients off with hard-rock sales pitches, extensive boilerplate descriptions about your own business or practice (and most challengingly) if your first visible meetings are focused on asking questions, prying, probing and trying to find out what the potential client’s needs are (in other words, doing your research on their time.)

Is this stuff easy? ?Of course not. ?I’ll have more thoughts about the BD process and the SMPS book once I’ve finished reading it, and digesting the insights gathered at this week’s conference in Orlando.

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