What differentiates a “hot” firm from a “not-so-hot” one? In our experience, virtually all successful, marketing-driven A/E/P or environmental consulting firms are doing something that the mediocre firms are not. They’re developing a marketing process.
Because design and environmental firms are project-oriented, they live and die on marketing. When firms look at marketing as a mysterious phenomenon, they constantly see-saw between being overworked and being underutilized. When marketing is a process, it works like any other type of process. It’s relatively predictable, can be steadily improved over time, and can be fine-tuned to match the firm’s current capacity.
A marketing process provides a firm with a steady and consistent amount of new work. It allows the firm to turn the flow of new work up or down as required. Successful firms have found there are several key elements in a marketing process. These include:
They know who they are trying to sell to. Very few A/E/P or environmental firms ever spend the time to define this in exact terms. The process-marketing-oriented firms develop a good database that includes virtually all of their present, past, and potential clients, and have a system to make sure that database is maintained and grows over time.
They have a consistent method of frequently reaching all of their past, present and potential clients. They want to be sure that their firm is always at the front of their clients’ minds when any potential need for their services comes up. They don’t rely on sporadic personal contacts with one person in their client’s organization. Instead, they use direct mail, P.R., and regularly-scheduled personal contacts with a wide range of people in the client’s organization.
They constantly come up with new services to sell the same group of clients. They understand that it’s easier to sell something new to a client who knows and likes you than it is to get a new client. This requires research and regular methods for collecting and evaluating these new service ideas, as well as a willingness to invest in their implementation.
They regularly provide information of value to clients so the firm (or its key people) are perceived as experts. This may be in the form of original research data they have collected and analyzed, legal or governmental regulatory requirements which could affect them, or training.
They evaluate each project opportunity through some sort of rational go/no-go decision process. They do not allow precious opportunity-response dollars to be wasted chasing after projects that the firm can’t make money on or has little chance of getting, or that are inconsistent with their strategic plan.
They regularly monitor and report on the effectiveness of the firm’s marketing program in sales dollars, numbers of jobs, and numbers of new clients. Then they share this information at all levels in the firm through a well-structured internal communications program.
They make adjustments to their marketing process as needed to make sure the desired results are achieved. This requires the firm to know what the results are. Too many firms do not adequately account for sales— they look at billings and cash, but not sales.
Environmental consulting firms are, in many cases, miles ahead of consulting engineering and architectural firms in process-oriented marketing. Many founders of environmental firms did not start their careers in a traditional A/E or consulting engineering firm environment. As a result, they haven’t had the years of programmed, self-imposed constraints about marketing that those of us who did come up through a traditional design firm too often have.
When the marketing process is working, it’s as if the firm’s is on “autopilot.” Not least importantly, it means that the firm is not in a position of being overly dependent on the personal selling efforts of a one or a few key staff members, who, if they were to die or quit, would leave the firm in dire straits.
Originally published 4/15/1993