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The Making of Visible Experts: A Path for Seller-Doers in AEC

Seller-doers: It’s a term you hear often throughout the AEC industry. And if you are a seller-doer yourself, the constant battle between winning new business for your firm and delivering the work should be all too familiar.

The good news is, you are a highly valued, technical professional whose expertise is the reason prospects seek out your firm. The bad news is, your days are a constant balancing act. For many AEC firms, the seller-doer role is well established —after all, most potential clients want to get to know the professionals they will be working with. In fact, the seller-doer mentality keeps many firms from hiring a full-time sales force.

So how, then, does a seller-doer find the time for business development and project delivery? How can AEC firms take advantage of a seller-doer strategy?

By making their expertise visible.

Enter the Visible Expert®

A Visible Expert® is a knowledgeable professional who has attained high visibility and a reputation for his or her area of expertise. These individuals create a personal brand that is recognizable industry-wide.

In this post, I’ll discuss how almost any seller-doers can achieve Visible Expertise by sharing their knowledge widely using a mix of digital and traditional marketing strategies. And I’ll point to research findings from Hinge’s new Visible Expert Study to support this strategy.

The study, believed to be the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, investigates 220 Visible Experts and 275 of their clients. It updates our groundbreaking 2014 study on the topic.

The Path to Visibility

So how does an AEC seller-doer become a Visible Expert? As I tell my clients, it takes a specific set of skills which we at Hinge call the Three Pillars of Visible Expertise:

  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Networking

In fact, the Visible Expert Study found that all three of these skills appeared in the top five marketing techniques reported by Visible Experts.

 

But don’t be intimidated by this list. As I advise many of my AEC clients, you don’t have to be the best at all three. You should adopt a mix of techniques that suits your strengths and skillset. You can always work on developing new skills later.

 

Where Do You Start?

All Visible Experts are teachers. If you want to raise your professional profile, you will need to become one, too.

One thing these skills have in common is that each is a way to deliver content marketing. Content marketing is the process of producing valuable, informative content that educates your audiences on topics they care about.

Educational content can come in a wide variety of forms: blog posts, videos, eBooks, webinars and white papers, to name just a few. The key is to teach without directly promoting your firm. The more you are perceived as unbiased and generous with your knowledge, the more your readers and listeners will trust and rely on you. And the more they trust you, the more likely they are to seek out you or your firm when they need help solving the complex problems you write and speak about. Producing this content also helps increase your firm’s visibility (for instance, in online searches) and makes you more visible to prospective clients.

Getting the Bang for Your Buck

What are the techniques that Visible Experts found to be most impactful? Once again, we turn to the study for answers. You may notice in the chart below that most of these techniques are components of content marketing.

Three Facts About Content

Seller-doers who set out to create content should keep the following best practices in mind:

  1. Content comes in two flavors—technical and non-technical. In the AEC edition of Hinge’s most recent study of professional services and buyers, Inside the Buyer’s Brain, we found that after asking their peers for a recommendation AEC buyers were most likely to do a general web search when they wanted to learn more about a business-related topic. But these searchers vary in levels of expertise and technical comprehension. Some are decision makers while others are influencers.
  2. Your content should address the different stages of the buying process. Early stage buyers, for example, gather information and seek to understand challenges and trends (think blogs and speaking engagements), whereas later stage buyers are willing to consume longer, more technical content (think guides or webinars).
  3. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, marketing content is not content marketing. This is the mistake we see aspiring thought leaders make the most. Good content marketing is selfless—it focuses on issues your target audience cares about. In contrast, marketing content is about your firm and its capabilities. It is by necessity self-serving and salesy. Marketing materials have their place, but they should never take center stage in your content marketing.

Reaching Your Destination

Using a content marketing-based strategy, you can shorten your path to Visible Expertise. But it does require a commitment of time, as it won’t happen overnight. And you have to be willing to “give away” some of your knowledge. With the right mindset, AEC seller-doers can build their expertise and their personal brands—and in turn, help increase the visibility of their firms.

Katy headshot

Author: Katy Pultz Katy is an account director at Hinge, where she enjoys working closely with senior leadership to develop marketing programs that engage stakeholders at every level. When she isn’t leading client engagements, she writes about professional services marketing for C-suite executives.

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