As president of the SMPS Southeast Louisiana chapter, I recently moderated an outstanding client panel. Our panelists represented a local port, a regional commission, and a private real estate developer. They were open, sincere, and frank with the audience of AEC marketers, business developers, and principals.
Three main themes resonated throughout each of their answers. Buyers of our services look to AEC firms to be concise, relevant, and willing to develop a relationship.
- Concise – Each panelist stated that they never want to see a 2″ or 3” binder ever again. They want brevity because they are busy, and most of the “padding” in those larger proposals is just fluff to boost the firm’s egos. The private developer praised two construction firms specifically for always producing concise 30-page proposals regardless the project size. He said these concise proposals have all the information he needs to make his decision without the useless, superficial information like the CEO’s volunteering efforts or hobbies.
- Relevant – To be concise, your proposals, presentations, and marketing materials need to be relevant to them. Each panelist noted a desire to see how you can help him or her, not the entire world. They suggested focusing your proposal's messaging on how you can impact this specific project and nothing else. The developer stated that he has his preferred three architects because they work in his sector. He’d look for other specialist firms if his company ventured into a different arena.
- Relationships – To the surprise of many audience members, the two public sector panelists said they want to know your firm, even though they each use a state-required point system. The panelists noted the point system gets them down to their top three candidates and personal relationships reassure them that the selected firm can complete the project without many issues. The panelists even gave out their contact information, business cards, and their preferred method of meeting new firms. Neither want lunch; they want you to schedule a meeting at their office to introduce your firm.
Their responses did not surprise me because this is a shift we’ve seen throughout the AEC industry nationally, a move away from wining-and-dining clients on the golf course and toward true relationships between client and the AEC firms that understand them and provide relevant services. At Hinge, we know this trend well thanks to the extensive research on the topic of how buyers select professional services firms (see Inside the Buyer’s Brain).
It starts with understanding your clients’ challenges. Each panelist, public and private, noted a challenge with funding and finding the dollars to do the work, whether it is investments, tax credits, or the life cycle ROI of building green.
We asked the panelist how they find new vendors. The two public entities both had formal processes and specific state forms AEC firms had to submit to be considered. The port’s director noted a need for “new blood” to mix things up, and her office contacted local AEC firms that colleagues recommended and firms they found online to encourage them to fill out the forms. Again, both public entities wanted to meet you before the bid to start building that relationship. This prevents surprises later on during a project.
The private real estate developer noted that his firm had their go-to architecture firms and usually bids construction services to three construction companies from a shortlist of 8-10 companies in the area. He said any more than three companies bidding was a waste of time for everyone. As the moderator, I asked him how he finds new AEC firms and we said two places – asking a colleague or online.
The three panelists’ responses match our research’s top four results perfectly.
Our research also noted the disconnect in the buyers’ and sellers’ mindsets regarding cost. Each panelist noted that price is a factor, but not the leading factor. The two public entities each have strict point systems to find the best-qualified AEC firm for the project. They also looked at the team’s expertise. Each panelist struggled with generic project teams, and they wanted to know who specifically would be working on this project. Reputation came to play for each of the panelists’ selection processes with each noting a good memory of your past performance with them and their colleagues. The regional commission representative stated they specifically look back three years of work with them and related government agencies.
The panelists’ needed concise, relevant messaging in proposals to assure them that they were selecting the correct team that could handle the project scope. They each noted a challenge in differentiating AEC firms because many of them give the same boilerplate proposals with non-specific, irrelevant information that was just a waste of time.
When asked what “tips the scale”; each panelist said nothing specifically tipped the scale every time, but it usually came down to the AEC firm’s relationship with the selection committee and their reputation with the agency. Another factor that buyers and sellers disconnect on within our research.
When working on your firm's marketing, messaging, and especially your proposals, keep the focus on your clients, not your CEO's hobbies. You must be concise, stay relevant, and have a relationship with the client. (Proposals should never be the first time an potential clients hears your firm’s name.) Without these things, you become a commodity fighting for the lowest bid. This mindset is not something Hinge made up; it is backed by eight years of research, which these three AEC clients confirmed.
- Learn about the most effective online marketing strategies to generate leads in our Online Marketing for Professional Services book.
- Our Lead Generating Website Guide details how your firm can generate qualified leads with its website.
How Hinge Can Help
Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠ to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.