Gain a competitive advantage for your AEE firm, find the ripe apple aka opportunitiesThis post is part 4 of a 6-part series analyzing marketing trends, technology, and the role of the marketer in an A&E firm. The previous three posts looked at the culture of an A&E firm and how it affects marketing success, trends in marketing and where A&E firms are struggling to keep up, and how technology can help you gain a competitive advantage.

One of the aspects of the A&E culture that I write about in my recently published book, “Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms,” is the disappointing way that marketing is looked at in the A&E firm. Rather than taking a strategic view of marketing expenses, and how they can help to grow the business, many firms view marketing expenses, and their marketing resources as a necessary cost of doing business.

According to the Zweig White (now Zweig Group) 2012 Annual Marketing Survey of A&E Firms, the top performing firms spend between 12% to 15% of their revenue on marketing, yet the average firm spends 7% or less of their revenue on marketing, and during the recession this number dropped!

Yet those firms that continue to invest and even increase their expenditure on marketing during a recession were able come out of the recession in good shape, and positioned to grow.

You need to know where to spend money

Many firms have difficulty determining where to spend their marketing dollars. Marketing effectiveness depends on investing in many different areas that can take many months or even years to see a return on investment (ROI).

In most A&E firms, marketing and sales are inextricably combined and managed by the same people. So for the purposes of this article, we are talking about how to effectively bring business into the firm.

The first place to start is to try to understand your win rate and how it can be increased. The win rate is the percentage that your firm wins the proposals that you submit. This key metric is the number one measure of marketing and sales effectiveness. Understanding the key components of a high win rate is critical to improving marketing and sales efforts.

Several areas where many firms tend to under invest in include hiring stellar business development and marketing staff, improving their technology systems such as Client Relationship Management (CRM) and online analytics such as HubSpot, and improving their online brand image including their web sites and social media presence.

Today’s buyers are purchasing services very differently than they did even three years ago. Most of your new clients will evaluate your firm online, including evaluating your web site and LinkedIn page, long before they talk with you. Representing your firm as a technologically advanced firm that is able to keep up with modern trends may be an important factor to clients hiring on projects today.

What will make a client want to hire us again?

In addition to focusing on new business, a percentage of your marketing needs to be geared towards retaining existing clients and getting them to hire you multiple times. This requires an understanding of your clients problems, and providing value above and beyond what the average firm in your market is delivering.

One way to do this is to understand what your firm does exceptionally well, and talk about it in your marketing. It is not enough to just talk about excellent service and great employees – everyone is saying this!

One strategy is to pick a few technical areas where your firm has exceptional experience and skills, and provide educational information to your clients and prospects that will cause them to look at you as a trusted resource beyond the projects that you have worked on together. There is nothing better than having a client call you to get your opinion on areas that have nothing to do with your past projects.

Spending marketing resources on becoming a thought leader in a couple specific areas is a great way to focus your marketing dollars more effectively. By becoming the leading expert in a specific area of your field, you differentiate yourself, and draw attention to your firm in a very different way. Having this unique position in your market can also allow you to charge more for your services, and get out of the undesirable position of having to lower fees to get new projects.

Every firm says they focus on relationships. What does that mean?

Focusing on client relationships is a great marketing tactic, yet it is often a cliché that does not have a lot of real action and marketing investment behind it. In order to really ensure long-term relationships that encourage repeat business, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What are your clients saying about you?
  • What could you do better?
  • What happens if any key employees leave the firm?

True client relationships go beyond one or two people in your firm, including principals. Really adding value to your client’s business, and creating a mutually beneficial relationship that endures year after year is the key to solid business success and profitability. Investing in your firm’s marketing and viewing these investments as a strategic investment in your firm’s future is the secret of the most successful A&E firms.

Where can you invest in your firm’s marketing that will give you a competitive advantage?


Check out the other posts in this series –

In Part 1 – We look at the culture challenges for A&E firms today.

In Part 2 – We look at the trends that are shaping the marketing efforts for A&E firm marketers today.

In Part 3 – We look at how technology can help marketers to increase the firm’s win rate

In Part 4 – We discuss the benefits of viewing marketing as a strategic investment

In Part 5 – We look at how to measure the return on investment from marketing efforts

In Part 6 – We give some tips for marketers on how to add more value to their firm’s success.


RAISE Your Value: 5 Steps for Architecture and Engineering Firms to Uncover Hidden Value, Design a Winning Advantage and Charge More

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