This post was originally published on September 14, 2012 and updated with new content, new reference links and additional recommendations in 2019. It outlines the 5 key things any new Architecture/Engineering (A/E) firm marketer should be focused on when marketing engineering services, and provides links to relevant topical reading for each.
So, you’ve just been thrust into the marketing function at an engineering firm. Welcome aboard. Now, go market the firm! I feel like every few months on the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) discussion boards, I see a post that sounds something like this, “I’m new to marketing, where do I start?” or “I’ve been in marketing for a number of years, but this is my first time marketing a professional services firm. Where do I start?”
It seems to me that architects and engineers sort of have a love/hate relationship with marketing. They kind of know they need it, yet it’s sort of fuzzy what it is. Marketing sort of feels like fluff (though, we know it’s not), and they kind of wish they could do without it. And, when they hire a new marketing manager (or thrust a former engineer into the role), they’re not really sure how to indoctrinate them into the firm or really what they even expect from them. Assuming your firm is one that operates in commercial markets (not government ones), this post outlines the 5 macro level things I believe today’s A/E firm marketer needs to tend to in their proper order. This post is addressing real marketing—things like building preference, creating demand, generating leads and cultivating relationships — not pure coordination tasks like preparing capabilities books, drafting case studies and responding to proposals. I hope you find it useful.
I believe positioning is fundamental to any firm’s business strategy. For any marketer to be successful they need to start with clarity on where the firm intends to focus its client acquisition efforts. An effective approach to positioning should clarify the core markets we serve, the value-creating services we provide, and the meaningful expertise we offer that aligns with the needs of each market. Ideally, a firm should address no more than 3 markets and 3 core services with its positioning. This leaves you with no more than 9 issues to attend to. As a new marketing manager in the firm, you have the right and obligation to demand that the leadership of the firm provide clarity on the firm’s positioning before approaching any marketing plan, strategy or tactic. Some additional information on positioning you may find useful:
- Three Proven Ways to Position Your Firm
- Positioning the Middle Market Firm
- 5 Examples of Well Positioned A/E Firms
Branding is a complex topic that could be addressed across 100 posts and we’d barely touch the tip of what brand building in a professional services firm is really about. I’m not going to drive into strategic concepts here (see the links below for that). For the purposes of this post, I’m going to describe it simply as your firm’s “packaging”—how you visually present and verbally explain yourself. Once you’ve clearly defined your expertise through positioning, you need to determine if your firm is packaged and presented in such a way that prospects will take you seriously. Do you look like a leader? Do you sound like an expert? Are you saying things about your firm that no other firm can say? Or do you look just merely credible? Or, quite frankly, do you look incompetent and completely unprofessional? If you simply don’t know, collect up all your primary communications materials and visit a handful of clients. Ask them what they think. Then, call up a local creative agency and ask for their input. Or, if you like, call me and I’ll even take a look. Additional information on this topic:
- The Rattleback Brand Strategy Framework
- Professional Services Branding vs. Consumer Branding
- Case Study—Rebranding MSA, a Multi-Regional Engineering Firm
Today’s modern marketing website functions nothing like the brochure-ware website your firm built 10 years ago. Your website should attract, educate, and inform prospects early in the buying process through your expertise (expressed as thought leadership). Simultaneously, it should reassure prospects later in the buying process through your experience (demonstrated through your projects and your people). While these are just cursory indicators, if you answer “No” to even one of these questions, you almost definitely have a website problem:
- Does it offer educational content?
- Has it been updated within the last 60 days?
- Is it easy to read on a mobile device?
- Does it effectively present your firm’s projects, its people and its unique perspective?
Additional resources on this topic:
- Elements of a High Performing Professional Services Website
- 6 Best Practices for Your Website’s User Flow
- Case Study—Redesigning the Woodard & Curran Website, an ENR 75 Firm
Upwards of 56% of most buyers’ decision-making have already been made before your business development team ever speaks to them. By the time, a prospect actually reaches out to your firm, chances are he already has an entrenched belief of what his needs actually are. As a collection of professional consultants, it is incumbent upon your firm to be shaping those learnings and that preliminary diagnosis that your prospect brings to the conversation in order to demonstrate your expertise and establish your firm as an expert BEFORE your prospect reaches out to you.
Experts write. In order to make your positioning credible, you’ll need to develop a content-driven approach to marketing that incorporates some combination of blogs, articles, proprietary research, or webinars to engage prospects early in their buying process. Your goal as the marketer should be to make your firm, and its website, the definitive source of expertise for the core audiences you defined within your positioning. Additional information on this topic:
- 7 Steps to Develop Your Content Strategy
- The Content Marketing Blueprint for A/E Firms
- The Content Marketing Wheel – Drive Your Content Like a Campaign
5. Key Capture Plans
The line between marketing and business development in most A/E firms is quite blurry. Ultimately, we believe marketing should be primarily focused on creating visibility for the firm in the market and shaping how potential clients perceive it long before an opportunity takes place. And, business development should be focused on identifying, pursuing and winning new projects for the firm. That said, in a lot of firms marketers are expected to wear both hats. Even if you’re not, marketing’s ultimate job is to deliver new revenue to the firm so being intimately involved in the firm’s best new business strategy is a critical part of ensuring that you’ve aligned all your marketing activities correctly. Ultimately, your firm’s positioning, branding, website and content should all point your firm directly towards the new client engagements you hope to win. Beyond that, your firm should develop a key capture plan. A key capture plan lists the major projects you’re pursuing in the next 24 months. It identifies who the key decision makers are, what you expect will drive their decision-making process, and the strategies you’ll use to pursue and win the engagement. Ultimately, the marketing lead should be facilitating the process of developing the firm’s key capture plans with each of the firm’s practice leaders. Additional information on this topic:
While this blog post is far from a “how to market an engineering firm check list,” I hope it gives you some structure by which to start your endeavor. If you’re new to this role, I encourage you to browse some of the referenced content on these topics. I think you’ll find it helpful.