Business is booming, so why take the time to read an article on marketing? You have more pressing matters, don't you? Depends on your perspective. Are you just riding the wave for as long as it lasts or are you planning ahead for sustained success in any economy? Are you taking whatever sales opportunities come along or are you specifically targeting certain markets and clients for growth?
thing: Marketing (as contrasted with sales) is almost never a priority
in the A/E business. When times are good, we're happy to think that
marketing is humming along in the background, keeping our name out there
and polishing our reputation in the public square. But when business
drops off significantly, marketing is one of the first expenses to be
cut (witness the many marketers shown the door during the Great
Odd, isn't it? When we need new business the most,
marketing is one function we decide we need the least. Why? Because most
firms don't really expect much from marketing, and they don't track
marketing outcomes enough to know really what to expect.
of the matter, in my opinion, is the loose connection that typically
exists between marketing and sales. This came into focus again for me as
I was assessing the marketing function for a mid-sized engineering
firm. In interviewing their key seller-doers, several openly questioned
how much marketing contributes to their sales success. Even those who
viewed marketing most favorably could only speculate how marketing might
improve their ability to sell.
Why do we need marketing if not to
help us sell more? The problem is that most firms can't explicitly show
where marketing improves sales performance. The benefit is only
assumed. Now is the time to put such assumptions to rest and identify
demonstrable ways that marketing increases sales success. Why now?
Because when your seller-doers are too busy to sell, you need effective
marketing to help keep the pipeline full. Marketing also helps you
better position your firm with the markets and clients you really want
to do business with.
Another key reason for investing in marketing
now, as I alluded to at the beginning of this article, is building a
hedge for the inevitable downturn. It's always easier to optimize your
business development process in good times than when you're desperate
for work. The Great Recession hit most firms hard, but others did pretty
well. The primary difference between the two groups, according to
research, was not external circumstances but internal competencies.
There's no better time than now to be strengthening your marketing
I'm quite bullish on the potential of marketing to
deliver tangible, bottom-line benefits in good and bad times. But not in
the usual configuration. Marketing needs to go beyond the ethereal
image building and collateral creation, and help drive the sales
process. It needs to be the clearinghouse for marketplace insights. It
should be a prominent voice in shaping business development strategy.
That's the role of marketing in most industries. Let's make it that way
A few thoughts on how to make that happen:
Your marketing should be a substantial lead generator. Done
right, marketing and sales aren't just complementary activities; they
are different stages of the business development process. Marketing
attracts interested buyers; sales secures their commitment to do
business together. Sound overly idealistic? Data and experience prove
Let's first contrast two approaches to marketing: (1) outbound marketing
(the traditional method) is centered on producing promotional content
like press releases, advertisements, brochures, and newsletters that
focus on your firm's activities and accomplishments; (2) inbound marketing
is centered on producing educational content like articles, white
papers, blog posts, regulatory alerts, conference presentations,
seminars, webinars, and newsletters that focus on issues of vital
interest to clients.
Now some data: Companies that employ inbound marketing generate over 3x as many sales leads and spend 62% less than
those using traditional methods. Professional service firms that
generate half their leads online through posting valuable content grow 4x faster (unfortunately,
the A/E/C industry only produces 8% of its leads online). According to
Zweig, A/E firms win 74% of the time when the sales lead comes through
I could go on with the evidence, including from my
own experience as an A/E firm marketer, but you get the point—the best
way to start integrating the marketing and sales functions is to turn
marketing into an effective lead generation machine.
Shift focus to creating content that serves clients. This
is inherent in making the change to inbound marketing, but I think
additional emphasis is warranted. Transitioning from self-congratulatory
content to client-centered content is a big step for many marketers in
our business. Unfortunately, many of them think they're already doing
content marketing (essentially a synonym for inbound marketing) because,
well, they're creating content. But content that serves the interests
of clients is far more effective than the usual promotional content.
often help stunt the transition to client-centered content. What they
usually want marketing to produce are service- and market-specific
brochures and SOQs to hand out to buyers. But an article, white paper,
or checklist that offers advice and information directly relating to the
buyer's concerns works better, in my experience. Content that demonstrates your expertise is always better than content that just tells about it.
Don't let proposal production consume your marketing resources. This
is the classic marketing challenge in smaller firms, and even in some
larger ones. The so-called marketers in these firms spend the vast
majority of their time working on proposals (a sales activity). But the
real problem is that they often are spending 65-75% of their time on
losing proposals. That's a tremendous opportunity cost.
we've grown so accustomed to this that it's become normative in many
firms. But firms in the top quartile in overall financial performance
sport win rates of 10-15% higher than average. Best way to get there? Be
relentlessly selective. One of my clients during the last recession, a
100-person engineering firm, was struggling mightily in acquiring new
business. After studying their situation, I advised that they cut the
number of proposals they submitted in half. They were stunned.
eventually they (mostly) agreed to try my approach. They reduced the
number of proposals the following year by 42%, increasing their win rate
to 46% from 26%, and increasing sales by 31%. A key factor in their
turnaround was reallocating marketing and seller-doer time to focus on
higher-priority lead generation and sales pursuit management. That
resulted in a much better integration of the two BD functions.
Consider getting marketers more actively involved in guiding key sales pursuits. I
just made the case for preserving marketers' time for marketing. Do I
now contradict myself? Technically yes, but I have a broader objective
in mind—the integration of the marketing and sales process. Keeping
marketers strictly within their marketing box doesn't help achieve this
goal. Nor do we want seller-doers to be uninvolved in marketing. The two
should work seamlessly.
The seller-doer model still predominates
the A/E profession, and it has many advantages. One big disadvantage is
that when seller-doers become overwhelmed with doing, they aren't likely
to be doing much selling. Who will help maintain the focus on business
development? It can be a sales-savvy marketer, particularly when it
comes to major pursuits that deserve special attention. Such pursuits,
done right, blend marketing and sales tactics over the course of the
sales cycle in an orchestrated collaboration.
In many cases,
marketers are better positioned to prioritize the sales process, keep it
moving when the project workload tends to crowd out everything else,
and see the big picture in weaving together a winning strategy. And you
know what else? Such involvement in sales makes them better at
Invest appropriately in market and client research. Being
something of a research wonk myself, I marvel at the paucity of
business development-related research in the typical A/E firm. I
remember the old days when market and client research involved a
half-day trip to the university library. Now I can get better
information online in a fraction of the time.
So why isn't such
research on the increase? Same answer as above: Too busy. Same solution:
Dedicate people to conducting regular research—marketers being a good
choice. The benefits seem clear. One firm picks up market and client
insights primarily from casual conversation with clients, consultants,
contractors, and vendors. Another firm conducts regular research and
knows the status of every facility in their region that they might have
interest in working with. Which firm has the competitive advantage?
One study found
that professional service firms that conduct ongoing research grow 10x
faster and have 60% higher profits than firms that conduct no formal
research. That finding jives with my experience with firms in both
categories. There's no justification in the digital age for foregoing
regular market and client research. I recommend assigning this
responsibility primarily to marketing, which is where the function
normally resides in other industries.
Imagine being the firm known
for its thought leadership, delivered through a variety of media and
formats. When clients consider certain issues and challenges they face,
they naturally think of your firm because yours is the most visible in
offering relevant advice and information. You receive frequent inquiries
from prospective clients because of your client-centered marketing.
inquiries often lead to discussions about how you might help
further—essentially the start of your sales process. That process guides
a series of planned conversations leading to an eventual decision to do
business together. By the time the RFP is released, your firm is at the
head of the pack and knows exactly what they want to see in your
proposal. Throughout the entire sales process, you are supplying the
buyer with valuable content that helps them define the path forward.
is the vision for a strong marketing function, merged with a seamless
business development process (as illustrated below). Most A/E firms
aren't there yet, in large part because the role of marketing hasn't
been properly valued and aligned. There's no better time to take care of
that shortcoming than now.