In last week's blog post, I uncovered six not-so-secret secrets that you clients want you to know. If you missed that article, check it out here. As promised, I'm back this week with strategies on how to uncover and develop your TRUE competitive advantages so that you stand out in a sea of sameness.
1. They don't see much difference between you and other similarly sized firms offering similar services. This is where knowing your brand comes in. At it's most basic level, your firm's brand is the promise it makes to existing and prospective clients. Think about it, when you open a bottle of Coca-Cola anywhere in the country, you know exactly what to expect. Is your brand promise clearly communicating who you are and what you can do?
2. You talk too much. Clients want brevity because they are busy. A lot of the fluff about your depth and breadth of experience over a 25+ year career is just to boost your own ego. AEC firms waste valuable face time with clients by talking about how successful they have been, listing the number of past projects, or reciting their work process without explaining what they offer the client that is different than other firms and how they will solve the client's problems. Clients want you to be specific about exactly how you are going to help them with THEIR problem. And to do that, you need to get close enough to understand their problem. Is it funding? A lack of specialized expertise in-house? Negative public opinion? When you know what the root issue is, you can direct the conversation around solving it and your client will love you for it.
And on that note:
3. They're not reading every single word of your proposal. Picture this: An owner receives 15, 20 page submittals to the same RFP. That's 300 pages for them to read. Ummm... they aren't. Would you? They are skimming through looking for the answers to their questions, and you are only going to capture their attention and entice them to read more if you have a well curated proposal with the appropriate amount of white space, photos, and call-outs to break up the sea of text.
4. You don't let them get to know you. Even though many clients use a point system or go with the lowest bidder, they still want to know who you are. Points help a client get down to their top three picks and from there, they often want to have a personal relationship with the finalists.
5. You need to know the truth. On a technical level, many AEC firms are the same. It's the people, the experience, and the relationship that makes clients favor one firm over another — not technical skill. Debriefing clients where you didn't win a proposal or soliciting candid feedback from a new client on a current project provides valuable intel that allows you to improve your positioning, win "brownie points" from the client, and even be the first to know about a new project or RFP in the pipeline.
6. Typical "differentiators" get you invited to the table but won't guarantee you'll stay there. You deliver projects "on time and within budget." You offer "innovative solutions." And I bet you even have "unmatched experience and expertise." Sound familiar? Congratulations! You have the same competitive advantages as everyone else. These advantages are often short-lived because any firm anywhere can make a new key hire, purchase the latest and greatest technology, or add a new service offering to their portfolio. Sustaining your competitive advantage happens only when it can’t be easily and quickly imitated by your competition.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, stay tuned for next week's blog post. I'll dive into strategies for overcoming client opinions; fine tuning just what your competitive advantages are; and developing a plan for communicating them to clients.
What if I told you there was a way to predict which proposals your firm can win and then submit only on those?
Trends come and go but sometimes they are here to stay. Many of the trends poised to make a big impact on AEC firms have already proven themselves effective in other industries. If you're reading this article, jump on these marketing tactics while the opportunity still exists and your competitors are lagging behind.
Social media will make or break your online marketing.
75% of prospective clients and employees check out your social media presence. What message does yours send? Many AEC firms talk the talk about using social media but few actually walk the walk by strategically engaging with their audience on social media platforms and/or using their employees to foster social engagement. Employees can serve as built in "brand ambassadors," and strategically relying on them to drive your social media messaging amplifies your online presence and provides a second measure of authenticity to a well developed social media action plan.
SEO is just as important as sales prospecting.
A generation raised on the web is fast becoming the beating heart of our industry. That means your website is only going to become more important to your firm’s success in the coming year. When you get a lead or referral, 9 out of 10 times, they're going to check out your website prior to the time they meet you or even call you. Developing an well thought out, SEO-friendly website is essential to ensure that your site pops up in searches so prospective clients can easily find you. People have short attention spans in this fast-paced, internet-driven world and they aren't willing to click around to try and find your website or contact information.
Targeted email marketing.
The Construction Marketing Association reports that 75 percent of firms in the industry are planning to increase their spending in email marketing. Are you one of the 75%? Because if not, you can bet your competitors are among that number. Without a doubt, email is still the easiest way to make a direct connection with clients and potential customers, and it provides an opportunity to present targeted information in a personalized format.
Thin profit margins for design and construction firms are here to stay.
For better or worse, there’s always a firm out there willing to do more for less. So the question of “How can we charge more?” has become “How can we be more productive?” Lean design and modular construction are solutions. Combining that with a driven and targeted marketing strategy can give you the framework necessary to run a streamlined business that does more with less all while making a healthy profit.
Content is king.
Our industry can take a while to catch on to marketing trends embraced by other industries, but we’re finally gaining an understanding that clients have no interest in being "sold to," but rather they want to be educated. This means providing educational resources and thought leadership that makes your clients want to engage. Thought leadership takes a variety of forms, from blog posts and technical papers to research reports and videos. No matter the format, this content will be produced with one goal in mind — to demonstrate the firm’s expertise. Stoping selling to your clients and prospects and start helping them.
What do you think? Have you seen any of these trends positively or negatively impact your firm?
The economy has recovered. Thank goodness! For those of us in the AEC world, that means more projects, more work and more revenue. YAY! But for many firms, the hiring budgets may have not caught up just yet. Full-time employees (especially marketing professionals who are often lumped into overhead) are expensive. You've got to pay them a full-time salary, provided competitive health insurance, paid time off and sick leave. Not to mention the red tape you have to go through if... GASP... your new hire doesn't quite live up to your expectations.
Bottom line: It's hard to make the case to hire another full-time person.
Or maybe, you don’t even need another full time marketing team member; you just need just some extra help to get through your current surge in work.
Maybe in one situation, you are down to one marketing coordinator and needed help with a few proposals. Hire a freelancer to help. Or maybe your best marketing coordinator is gone for 12 weeks on maternity leave. Hire a freelancer to help.
That's where outsourcing your marketing help to a qualified marketing professional comes in. There are marketing and graphic freelancers across the country that are experienced in responding to local, state and federal RFPs, developing competitive presentations and helping AEC firms win work that boosts the bottom line.
These consultants work at home or at their office and will usually sign a confidentiality agreement or agreement to be exclusive to your firm for particular pursuits. The trick is finding a good AEC marketing consultant that you can trust in their availability and skills when you need them. Usually, by the time you realize you need help, you're already in a crunch. Having the number of a qualified marketing consultant on demand can be priceless to get you out of the trenches so the final product your clients see reflects the high quality of your brand and technical services.