A couple weeks ago I attended the SMPS Heartland Regional Conference held in Cleveland and had the opportunity to sit in on some very interesting marketing breakout sessions. Kristin Hosni and Stephen Johnson from Resource International, a civil engineering firm here in Columbus, OH, shared their approach for making the RFP process more manageable and how to avoid the typical fire drill. Christine Hollinden from Hollinden Consulting evaluated a couple professional services firms’ brand strengths and weaknesses.
The most engaging presentation was given by Holly Bolton from CE Solutions out of Indianapolis.The session was very interactive and the attendees shared some opportunities and threats they are facing from social media, technology-enable worker mobility and the recession. In Holly’s presentation, she inserted a few quotes from a survey she conducted about six months ago highlighting how the recession has impacted life in the A/E/C marketing world. As expected, many in the A/E/C space have experienced increased workloads (as high as 87% for construction firms), are pursuing more markets (52% of architecture firms) and have added more services (46% of engineering firms). An informal poll of the attendees in Holly’s session added some supporting evidence for these findings.
On the flip side, when asked how many firms responded to the weakened economy the past few years by increasing their focus, very few hands went up. While I was not surprised by this, it seemed like many professional firms responded to a soft economy by trying to do more of what they were caught up in before the recession – more markets, more services and offerings and, of course, more RFPs. What’s that definition of insanity about doing the same thing over and over again?
I realize the importance of responding to RFPs in the A/E/C space, but I came to a new realization that in many firms, the marketing function is solely dedicated to addressing RFPs. So much so that when marketing is mentioned, the conversation almost immediately turns to RFPs. Responding to RFPs is already an inefficient process that often will result in a likelihood of success well below 50%. When that activity is stepped up, not just by your firm but by others too, the odds get much worse. When firms start adding markets and services they become more of a generalist and thus commoditize their overall offering even more and drive the market more aggressively towards RFPs and price.
So get off the treadmill. Focus on your strengths and leverage your expertise via thought leadership in those areas – and only in those areas. Make it less about price and more about expertise and your business development efforts will be more efficient and effective. You may not be able to completely avoid the RFP circus, but you should be able to drastically narrow the field and improve your chances.
For some additional thoughts on this matter, please refer to an article I wrote last month, “Differentiate or Die,” where I addressed the need for more tightly defined positioning in the professional services sector. For thoughts on how to position your firm, check out the article, “Three Ways to Position,” written by our Principal, Jason Mlicki.