- A/E firms have a labor multiplier well below that of other professional firms, such as attorneys, accountants, management consultants, and advertising agencies. The median in our industry is 3.0 compared to 5.0 for other professionals. The mark-up on labor costs is certainly one measure of perceived value.
- Not surprisingly, A/E firms are among the least profitable of all professional service sectors. According to BizStats.com, only employment services and travel arrangement and reservation services have lower profit rates. Even administrative support services have higher profits!
- Price competitions obviously contribute to lower profits. One survey found that 68% of A/E firms had participated in procurements where cost was the primary selection criterion. Imagine what it might be if we didn't have Qualifications-Based Selection rules in place.
- Our clients are also less loyal than in other professions. A study by RainToday.com found that 88% of A/E firm clients were open to changing their current providers, the highest percentage among the professional service sectors they investigated.
- Several client surveys concur that clients see little real differentiation among firms in our industry.
These facts lend credibility to the growing sense among us that our business is becoming increasingly commoditized. This was a pervasive concern even before the economic downturn. In an environment of tighter funding and more scrutinized spending, we can expect to have to work even harder to deliver distinctive value.
Why are our services less valued than those of other professions? I don't have any ready answers, but I do have some reasonable theories. In subsequent posts, I plan to outline what I believe to be at least a big part of the problem, and what we can do about it. I hope you will contribute to the discussion.