The unfairness of marketing and business development: Can we do anything about it?

hissy fit

istock discussing the projectHave you ever wondered why things are so unfair in architectural, engineering and construction marketing and business development.


  • Why do?your competitors always seem win the big jobs, when you can do them better, perhaps for less money;
  • Why do some people in your organization achieve such greater results, when they seem to work less hard (sometimes, it seems, spending much of their time at conferences in warm and sunny locations, on the golf course, or (around here) at professional hockey games?
  • Why do you need to beat your head against the wall, in frustrating, futile, marketing and proposal efforts, when the others just walk away with the work?

There can be scientific answers to these questions; such as the principle of reciprocity and perhaps the security that arises from consistency/confirmation. It is simply easier (and safer) for people and organizations to maintain habits than try something new. Breaking in is hard to do.

Your best answers, in my opinion, are to think indirectly, and focus on relationships. Consider, for example, that you have virtually no chance of winning an RFP for an architectural, engineering or design-build project unless you have known and had a positive relationship?with the project’s owner/leader for at least six months before the RFP. So you won’t have much success blindly and bluntly banging on doors, sending emails or responding to every public RFP you can answer.

Think of how the picture changes when you volunteer your services/skills and time for worthy community and association activities (and then deliver on your promises). You need to keep your selling/business development instincts under control, but you’ll soon begin to build both the relationships with decision-makers, the reputation as a contributor, and the inside knowledge about where you can find further opportunities.

The same principle applies internally. Here, you shift the story from worrying about unfairness to thinking about what you can do to contribute. If you hang out with your firm’s leaders — without being a suck — you may find mentoring, support, and guidance (however, I acknowledge some sales/business development leaders may profess to help but might instead sabotage you if they think you are stepping in their turf — in this case, find more neutral, but well-respected, allies.)

These ideas indeed have long-term power, and I see the results every day. Once our sales representatives “get it” that their focus should be on building and contributing to the community/relationships rather than just bringing in the orders by calling on more and more people, they break-through and succeed. I specifically mandate that our representatives spend at least 25 per cent of their time on community/association service — yet I know the weaker ones rarely do. They think they are more productive on the phone, or sending emails or (even worse, visiting offices uninvited to meet potential clients.)

You might say: “This is fine, but I have a quota.” (Our business also has quotas/standards, though we provide a sliding income guarantee for the first six months, about the time required for relationships to build to a sustainable level.) The best advice here would be to look at your current and previous clients, and — truly understanding their needs and your ability to contribute — suggest some mutually profitable initiatives and projects. No blind, thoughtless, repetitive cold calling, though.

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