The Importance of Investing in Marketing and Business Development (and Why AEC Firms Struggle to Do It)

Investing in Marketing and Business Development for AEC firms
February 20, 2020


Marketing, business development, and sales aren’t usually the top priorities for an architectural, engineering, or construction firm. Most firms simply don’t have the expertise or know where to start. Many principals don’t even think they need to market themselves, because clients and prospects will just call for their exceptional design, right? In reality, this type of scenario is few and far between. Think about how many firms are out there to choose from — if you aren’t reaching out to prospects in multiple ways, someone else is! You must make the marketing investment today.

With the current market conditions, it’s difficult for people to understand why they need to invest in marketing and business development right now. They are so busy that they don’t think they need it. I often hear, “I’m so swamped right now, I can’t keep my head above water.” I understand their pain.  But as a principal, you must have the foresight to realize the fire hydrant is going to close… probably sooner than you think. By investing in marketing and business development now, it allows you to select the clients you WANT to work with and the ones that align with your company’s core values. It gives you the ability to work with the clients you want, request higher fees, and design projects YOUR team wants to work on. By the time the market does slow down, you have already set up your pipeline and your company for success.

Principals are also challenged with knowing what works and what doesn’t work as it pertains to marketing and business development, so as a result they do nothing. Putting together a marketing and business development plan helps firms see where and what is getting them results. By implementing a plan, they can see where their time and money is being spent. Once it’s determined where your investments are seeing results, then you can invest more in those things and eliminate the things that aren’t producing results.

Success in marketing and business development is almost always due to a combination of things occurring over time. It’s sponsoring a chamber event, attending networking events with your prospects, following up with an email requesting a one-on-one meeting, building that relationship, seeing them at a community event, submitting a project proposal, interviewing for the project, and then getting the signed contract. It takes months, and many times years, for these investments to create a return, but it’s always worth it. There are SO many touch points and all of them make a positive (hopefully) impact on your prospect. It’s hard to decide which one to cut because they all helped you land that project! That’s what marketing and business development is all about — building a relationship.

It’s also about education. AEC firms often struggle to understand the difference between marketing, business development, and sales. Most principals just lump them all together, but that’s a mistake. Let’s clear up the confusion:

  • Marketing is everything that happens before you have a personal connection with someone. This includes your branding, website, word of mouth, content marketing, social media, marketing collateral, advertising, and sponsorships.
  • Business development is when you start to build that relationship, face-to-face, with a prospect. This includes trade shows, association involvement, community and civic organizations, networking events, and presenting at conferences and workshops.
  • Sales is when you get you and your team interview for that project, and the prospect signs your contract to work with your firm on their project.

These three areas each require a unique set of skills to achieve success. If you can find someone who possesses knowledge of all three, then they are a rare gem! Understanding these pieces of the puzzle is instrumental in identifying where and how to invest time and money into marketing and business development. Once you understand the difference between the three, your life will become much easier.

Firms who invest in marketing and business development are more profitable, get to work with clients who align with their company values, and recruit and retain great talent. Every firm desires these things, so investing in marketing and business development just makes sense for your firm. If you struggle with the first step to putting together a marketing plan, contact us today. One of our talented employees would be happy to assist you with this process.