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Competition in the A/E/C industry is fiercer than it’s ever been. Firms have emerged from the recession leaner, meaner and laser focused on bringing the most value to their clients. It’s no longer just about the best design, quality or service – because every firm provides this (or at least promises they do). Marketing teams must dig deeper to truly discover our firms’ competitive edge. What does this mean? It means in order for marketing teams to be successful in this endeavor, they need to be linked to all aspects of firm management: financial, operations, and HR. Here’s what this looks like:

Financial

The marketing team needs to understand the firm’s full financial picture in order to successfully pursue the best projects. What is your firm’s profit margin on a design-build project vs. a full-service CMGC project? On a full-service project, what percentage of fee is your firm getting vs. the consultants? If you’re teaming with another firm, what’s the typical split in work and fee? Do project type and location influence these aspects of a teaming agreement? A firm’s marketing team should know the answers to all of these questions when evaluating project leads and making go/no go decisions.

How much billing from new projects does your firm need in order to meet its revenue goals? This is also imperative for a marketing team to know when evaluating leads and future opportunities. If a firm can identify how much new work is necessary and when it needs to start, marketing teams can seek out those projects to meet these requirements in order to position the firm ahead of time. Timing is everything, and knowing this information is vital to a firm’s pursuit of the right projects at the right time.

Operations

What gives firms the biggest advantage over their competition? Simply put: process. Every firm says they are the best designers, have the most innovative ideas, and provide the most focused service. A streamlined process saves clients time and money – what could be more valuable? It is the marketing team’s responsibility to understand a firm’s process and successfully communicate it in proposals and presentations. Involve your marketing team in the planning conversations around these processes and they gain a deeper comprehension.

The marketing team also needs to have a complete understanding of staff expertise and availability. If the appropriate team is not available to staff a particular project, this should factor largely into the go/no go decision. Additionally, the marketing team needs to know the full breadth of expertise within the firm in order to help them effectively evaluate potential project pursuits. Again, it all comes down to pursuing the right projects at the right time and with the right team. If all of these pieces aren’t in place, don’t waste valuable firm resources pursuing a project. In the end, you’ll only hurt your firm’s reputation and potential for repeat business if the project team can’t provide the best service possible.

Human Resources

The latest recession hit the A/E/C industry particularly hard, and with double the national unemployment rate, many technical professionals left the field. As soon as we began to emerge from the recession, industry reports predicted a major shortage of skilled workers by 2014, and in 2012, as high as 69% of A/E/C firms expected this to become reality – and indeed it has. As a result, increased competition to recruit top talent has required firms to think outside of the box in order to effectively communicate the top reasons to join them over the next firm. Sounds quite similar to the process to procure new work, doesn’t it? Involve your marketing team in the recruiting process to develop a consistent message through every interview to provide the benefits of joining your firm. Additionally,the marketing team has a better understanding of new staff and the expertise they bring to the firm in order to successfully assemble the strongest team on the next project pursuit.

Client and consultant surveys are another way in which the marketing team can offer value to a firm’s operations. If you’re conducting surveys at key project milestones, the marketing team can gather information on the members of the project team. This information then contributes to employee reviews and professional growth plans. How effectively do employees communicate? How is their QA/QC? What were their successes? Failures? Providing client and consultant team feedback gives additional perspective to the review process and helps to develop a more in-depth picture of employee performance. Project surveys by the marketing team can also help to identify areas in which the firm as a whole might need improvement and additional training. Not only does this process add value to your firm, but it provides your clients with the opportunity to further engage in the design process and proactively ensure their project completes on time and within budget.

Marketing no longer operates in a silo; it is connected to all aspects of firm management and operations. Or, at least it should be. You want to discover your firm’s competitive advantage? Open up communication between all aspects of firm management and include your marketing team as a part of it. Only then can you truly discover what value-added benefit you can bring to your clients to help them be successful.

Train your staff on these (and other) business management and operations practices with the AEC Online Business Management Training Program for Architects, Engineers and Contractors from AEC Business Solutions.

Sources:

1 2012 McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report “Construction Industry Workforce Shortages: Roles of Certification, Training and Green Jobs in Filling the Gaps.”

About the author

As director of marketing at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture (BRS), Rebecca is primarily responsible for collaborating with the firm’s partners on strategic planning. In this role at BRS, she is constantly seeking new and innovative marketing and business development initiatives and systems to implement. Rebecca has 13 years of experience marketing in the A/E/C industry in both New York City and Denver, Colorado, and as a wife and mom of two, she is a strong proponent of a good work-life balance. Rebecca is an avid Broncos fan on the weekends and an aspiring chef of Puerto Rican cuisine. She is also actively involved in SMPS and currently serves as the Treasurer for the Colorado chapter.

About Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture

Through a fun, passionate and people-inspired process, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture designs lively, purposeful buildings and places that draw people together. Earning more than 75 design awards, BRS has completed projects for more than 200 communities in 40 states across the U.S. With offices in Denver and Dallas, the firm is dedicated to designing places that build community, including recreation facilities, wellness and active-aging centers, field houses, aquatic centers, park structures, ball fields, clubhouses, water parks, resorts, libraries, city halls, cultural centers, and related facilities and master plans. Please visit our website at www.brsarch.com.

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