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New Research Uncovers Biggest Business Challenges in AEC

It’s more apparent than ever that architecture, engineering, and construction AEC firms face many of the same uncertainties as other industries—as well as many unique to their field. Making the future a bit more manageable, though, is a new body of research from the Hinge Research Institute.  

We gathered responses from over 500 professional services firms across seven different industries (accounting and finance, technology, marketing/communications, AEC, legal, and management consulting), with AEC making firms up nearly a fifth of those surveyed.

Despite the wide range of businesses represented, there were many common challenges.

Business Challenges Facing Professional Services Firms Today

As you can see, a large majority of professional firms share the challenge of attracting and developing new business. How does this compare to the biggest challenges for But AEC firms? Let’s, take a look at their specific responses.Top Challenges for A/E/C Firms

1. Attracting and Developing New Business.

AEC firms live and die by their projects. While many industries are fortunate enough to keep clients on retainer and enjoy a constant flow of work, most in the AEC field aren’t quite so lucky. What keeps them kicking is new and repeat business.

In a follow up question regarding what marketing initiatives AEC firms intend to pursue in 2015, the number one answer was to “Make Existing Clients More Aware of the Services Offered.” In other words, looking for ways to expand beyond initial services into additional work.  

2. Finding & Keeping Good People

Because of the often highly specialized training, certification, and experience needed within the industry, labor concerns are greater in this field than in others. While the 35.9% of the seven combined industries ranked this as a top challenge, 41.7% of respondents within the AEC industry marked it as crucial. Whether it’s because construction firms can’t find enough trade workers or because engineering quality is suffering due to labor shortages, AEC firms are entrenched in the perfect storm – high demands for end products and low availability of resources.

With success equating not only to financials and customer service, but also to issues of safety and extreme attention to the detailed completion of tasks, staffing will continue to be a concern moving forward for AEC firms. This means firms must make their organizational culture attractive to potential hires and make employee growth and satisfaction a priority.

3. Dealing With a Difficult Economy/Competitive Marketplace.

AEC firms consider this area a particular challenge, as almost 40% identified it as a key challenge, compared to the 28.3% of Hinge’s overall respondents. This is right inline with concerns over new business and the need to grow client relationships to leverage future projects.

The good news is that the steps involved in creating the employee-centric culture mentioned above work towards the ultimate goal of growth for AEC firms. One of the best ways to make your firm stand out in a competitive marketplace is to elevate your experts into Visible ExpertsSM—those thought leaders and go-to gurus in your firm. Keep in mind that the bookend issues of succession planning and recruiting within a limited talent pool are also heavily influencing the generational dynamics that are taking the industry by storm.

SEE ALSO: Top Trends in AEC Marketing for 2015

4. Dealing With Client Demands/Expectations.

With a third of AEC respondents admitting client demands and expectations represent a high-priority challenge, this industry is closely aligned with the larger community of respondents, 31.5% of who identify client demands as crucial. Clients can indeed be enigmatic. Fortunately, prior research offers a look inside buyers’ brains, helping unravel the mystery of exactly what clients and prospects want from the service industry—and how best to ensure satisfaction.

5. Maintaining Quality/Efficiency.

Quality and efficiency are crucial in the AEC space. Not only does it relate directly to issues surrounding safety and fiscal health, but producing excellent work on time and within budget goes a long way with current clients—if your AEC firm is hoping to transition single-project clients into long-term clients, quality and efficiency are key.

Conclusion

Bringing new prospects into the fold and educating current clients about additional services are both crucial to the success of AEC firms. Marketing efforts must begin with fulfilling client needs and developing a culture that grows employee expertise and rewards excellence.

While these might not, at first glance, seem like marketing techniques, effectively promoting a business begins with defining it in positive ways and then making those benefits visible to potential clients. Marketing efforts in 2015 will need to focus heavily on differentiating in a difficult market.

For more insights into the challenges and marketing priorities of AEC firms, download a free report detailing the research discussed here.

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2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities Report

Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM A Senior Partner and the head of Hinge’s A/E/C practice, Sylvia collects many shoes and wears many hats. When she’s not traveling around the country for speaking engagements or client meetings, you will find Sylvia creating marketing and branding strategies for clients, supervising her A/E/C team, developing new business, or working on her personal brand. With a 20+ year career spanning visual communications, strategy, and marketing, and over a decade working in the A/E/C sector, Sylvia brings a creative, business-focused approach to her client engagements.

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