The Cold, Hard Truth

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SMPS MarketerIn the most recent SMPS Marketer issue, W. Bruce Lea and J. Rossi remind architectural, engineering and construction marketers of a simple, painful truth:  You don’t succeed by pushing through dozens of responses to RFP proposals and public bid opportunities; you cannot hope to win unless you have established and developed a solid relationship with the proposing organization and its key leaders well before the RFP is issued.

The writers retested studies from 1991, 1999 in 2009, and found generally the same results, with these composite numbers.

  1. Did you or someone in your firm meet with the client before the RFP was published?  Yes – 81%, No = 19%
  2. How many months before the RFP did you have your first meeting?  Average = 7 months
  3. How many meetings did you have before the RFP?  Average = 5
  4. With whom in the client’s organization did you meet?  — Senior executive:  81%; Department manager:  65%; Staff:  42%.
  5. Who from your firm attended the meetings?  – Principals:  81%; Non-principal professionals: 38%; Full-time marketer/business developer:  55%.
  6. With what percentage of the selection committee did you meet before the RFP? –  Average = 75%
  7. Did anyone in your firm develop a relationship with anyone in the client’s organization involved in the project?  (The writers go on to say:  “A relationship is defined as something resulting from multiple meetings, participating in at least some activity together away from the office, and being on a first-name basis.”) — Yes = 89%
  8. Who in your firm had the relationship? — Principal: 71%; non-principal professional:  44%; Full-time marketer/business developer:  41%
  9. Did you develop an advocate for your company prior to receiving the RFP?  Yes = 71%

My strongest advice to marketers within the AEC community is to read these numbers carefully.  Better yet, read the entire SMPS Marketer article, which of course you would receive if you are an association member, so join the group.  Alas, far too many people just don’t get it.

“Co author of this article, Bruce Lea attended a pre-proposal conference with nearly 100 people representing 30 firms,” the authors write.  “Gilbane (where Lee works) usually follows protocols closely aligned with the fundamentals demonstrated by our studies, so his team made a “no-go” decision.  Because Bruce had “signed in,” however, he remained on the e-mail list for receiving information sent to the competing firms.

“What he learned:  Twenty-nine firms submitted proposals, five were shortlisted, and the project was awarded to the firm who had successfully completed the client’s three previous projects.”

Lea and Rossi point to the folly and waste of marketing time and energy for the 29 firms that bothered to apply for the opportunity and, even sadder, the five who went all the way to the short-list.  Surely, just a little research would tell the others who failed that the incumbent had a natural, built-in edge and would not be dislodged easily.

Note also their study reveals that the key marketing and business development work is not something you can easily delegate or download to marketing or non-marketing professional staff, or hired business developers (though the latter will do better than nothing.)  You need to be involved as a principal; and this involvement is more than showing up on the date of the RFP presentation!

Rossi and Lea don’t spend much time in their article telling readers how and where to develop the relationships within the prospective client’s organization, and they acknowledge there are exceptions:  Sometimes someone comes out of the cold, and wins.  But the odds of success with this sort of approach are daunting. They  point out that you won’t get very far in marketing unless you shift your focus and direction from the public bid to the story behind the scenes.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll look at some options to build and develop these key relationships.

W. Bruce Lea is senior business development manager in Gilbane Building Company‘s Southeast Regional Office (Atlanta) and J. Rossi is chief marketing officer for Burt Hill (Philadelphia).

P.S.  You can read my own contribution to this issue of The Marketer here:  Marketing Metrics:  Gaining a Powerful Competitive Edge.

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