Marketing and business development in the AEC industry has evolved greatly over the past two decades. When I joined the industry 20 years ago, the primary responsibility of the marketing staff was to compile and produce proposals. At that time, project acquisitions came from repeat clients, referrals or reputation. The best business strategy was solidifying strong relationships. While it is still very much a relationship-based industry, the role of marketing and business development professionals has expanded significantly to include project pursuits, client relationship management, public relations, project promotion, digital marketing, research and data management.
Project Pursuits: The majority of Studio W Architects’ portfolio is public works projects for which we are required to undergo a qualifications-based selection process to be selected or awarded the project. This typically entails responding to a Request For Qualifications/Proposals (RFQ/P) from the client organization with our Statement of Qualifications for the scope of work, then participating in a shortlist interview and presentation. This is a deadline-driven environment where being organized, establishing graphic templates and maintaining a library of assets (resumes, project cut sheets, photos and imagery, narratives, etc.) are key to streamlining the process.
Business Development & Client Relationship Management: Before getting to the RFQ/P stage, however, there is a plethora of background due diligence in building a relationship with the client. This entails understanding the decision makers, consultant needs and “hot buttons” of the client organization. This level of information is typically gathered through multiple meetings and interactions with the client by the business development staff as well as the firm’s technical staff. This can be an intimidating process for some, but it becomes second nature over time. It’s important to remember—we’re all humans with personal interests, families and other commonalities that unite us—building relationships is about connecting with other people. We hire people we trust and with whom we enjoy working.
Once the foundation of rapport has been established, the team makes a go/no go decision when the RFQ/P is released and goes through the project pursuit process. The marketing professionals stay engaged throughout the project with periodic check-ins to make sure the technical team is performing satisfactorily and to continue nurturing the relationship. The ultimate goal is to develop a mutually beneficial relationship between both parties. We want to deliver an exceptional facility to the client and the users, while striving to solidify future work together as well. Research shows it takes seven times more investment to secure a project with a new client than it does to get a new project with an existing client.
Public Relations, Project Promotion & Digital Marketing: Promoting the company’s culture, signature projects and talented staff are key responsibilities of the marketing and business development department. The company website is the “front door” or brochure for the business and should remain professional and up-to-date at all times. This is where prospective clients and staff will go to research the firm. Don’t hesitate to include a lot of information, but ensure it is easy to navigate, allowing visitors to review the areas of most interest to them (and ignore the other stuff).
Likewise, social media is a prevalent communication vehicle. Perhaps the MOST prevalent vehicle. Invest in the platforms where your constituents are engaging – LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Establish an editorial calendar and curate content. This should be an intentional component of your marketing plan.
Once you’ve earned the project, celebrate it! It’s exciting to see a project evolve through the design and construction stages. Post renderings, progress photos and drone footage on the firm’s social media accounts and company website. This establishes goodwill with the client, technical team members and the consultants and partner companies involved in the project. The marketing department should also get involved in project celebrations, such as groundbreaking ceremonies, ribbon cuttings, dedications and site tours. Collaborate with the client organization’s communications department to assist in planning and executing these functions or volunteer to take a leading role if the client doesn’t have these resources in-house.
Promoting project awards, announcing professional recognition and authoring articles and white papers are also great techniques for positioning the company and the staff as experts in their respective disciplines. Use your website and social media to circulate and celebrate these accolades.
Research & Data Management: Client, project and competitor research are vital to informing the pursuit effort and helping the project team to spend time and resources on the aspects that are most important in winning the project. A lot of this information is gathered in the business development process leading up to the RFQ/P. Conversely, effective research can prove that some prospects are not in the company’s best interest to pursue.
This intelligence, along with project data, personnel information and response narratives, are stored in and reported out of the company database (Deltek and Cosential are the industry-leading database software platforms). The marketing team has a significant role in implementing the database, maintaining it and keeping current with data entry.
Chelsea led a holistic rebranding initiative to transition the firm from BCA Architects to Studio W Architects in January of 2021
Beyond the intricacies of the day-to-day functions of the marketing and business development department’s role in an AEC firm, there are a variety of other business operations to be conducted, such as defining and promoting the corporate brand, developing and maintaining the marketing budget, file organization and management, influencing company culture, assisting with internal communications and facilitating strategic planning.
The importance of building a network of peers cannot be emphasized enough. It is one of the greatest assets a marketer or business developer can possess. This group can help connect people at all levels and can be an invaluable resource for information throughout one’s career. The Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) and PSMJ Resources, Inc. are both excellent organizations with which to get involved for access to resources, educational opportunities and like-minded people.
Blog post authored by Chelsea Pozar, Marketing & Business Development Manager/Associate
About the Author: Chelsea Pozar, CPSM, has 20 years of experience in the marketing and business development profession specific to architecture and engineering firms. She has worked for mid-sized and large firms and has been involved in pursuits as large as $2 billion. Under her leadership, Studio W Architects has increased their shortlist and win rates to 76.6% and 59.5%, respectively, averaged over the past five years. She also championed a corporate rebrand at the beginning of 2021, which entailed renaming the firm and transforming all brand assets.