Or, why are many consulting firms missing so much potential business?

After 20 years working in the consulting engineering community and primarily pursuing architectural firms to get our business, I left that area of the building industry back in 1985. It seemed to me there was more to learn, and I was anxious to expand my educational horizon to the construction side of this business. What I wasn’t expecting was the education I began to receive in sales, marketing, and business development (SM&BD) once I entered the construction side of the business.

Before I left the consulting side of engineering, I didn’t really recognize that a consulting engineering firm doesn’t really need much of a SM&BD organization because most consultant engineering firms focus primarily on architectural firms for their business. I believe the reason is that the architectural firm goes out and gets the design work and then a consulting firm can reap the project benefits if they:
  • Have completed work with this architectural firm in the past with little design or construction problems;
  • Have worked for the architect’s client on a past job(s);
  • Have a low consulting fee; and/or,
  • If the architectural firm is looking for another engineering firm to draw upon for consulting services.
When I joined a mechanical contracting company, I was immediately introduced to a 14-member sales force that pursued design-bid-build jobs, HVACR service jobs, design-build jobs, building automation jobs, energy retrofit jobs, and outsource building O&M contracts. Their prospects and repeat clients were building owners, property managers, general contractors, and construction managers. This represented a wide range of services, so pursuing this work required a diverse marketing effort to establish who we were and what we did in each of these six business sectors for six different business prospects.

Next, we needed to develop business based on how marketing presented our company to the public and what differentiated us from the competition. Based on our marketing and business development potential, we needed to develop a sales strategy to allow us to win projects. Together, these three responsibilities formed a three-legged stool to generate business and to be profitable year after year.

Based on my experience, consulting engineers are novices at SM&BD because architectural firms have made it so easy for engineers to get work by simply waiting for a call or RFP. What is currently missing is the “winning instinct,” the ability to consistently close jobs. Right now, a consulting firm may be hoping the stars and the moon are aligned so that they are selected to work for the architectural firm who did all the work to get the project.

A consultant’s business development efforts aren’t much different from the marketing mindset. The consultant will attend sessions, meetings, and forums where his clients (the architect) fill the room along with a lot of other consultants vying for the same engineering work.

What I learned from leaving the consulting engineering community back in 1985 was that there are a lot more clients out there that engineers weren’t seeing and/or didn’t know how to sell their services to. Builders, design-builders, owner representatives, and developers know how to be awarded work from building owners, and you won’t find many of them attending sessions, meetings, and forums populated by architects and engineers. They know where the money trail starts.

Since 1985, I have been very active marketing and business developing the engineering services I’ve honed my skills on since I got into the building industry business back in 1965. Certainly, this column is a way for me to develop business because people read what is written and form opinions, learn about current and changing technology, and find topic that catch their interest.

Pursuing awards is another way to create business opportunities because the award may generate a job from a prospect with a similar need. Presenting at seminars and sharing your experience and/or your company’s experience is another way to create business opportunities because “perception is reality” and the speaker can often be perceived as a specialist or expert in their field.

Still, marketing your services and developing your business simply supports the ability to close on jobs. Sales, that third leg of the stool, is closing the deal (the critical leg of the process). There are basically two types of selling, with one type being the “shoot into the air and hope you hit something” approach. The other type of sales is the target-shooting sales person who focuses on a select few opportunities, using a single shot at the target. This individual will qualify his or her chances to win the project based on best value using market strategy and business development tools to position the win. Next month, I’ll share with you my experience in selling and closing the sale. ES

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