In my many years of advising AEC and environmental consulting firms on effective business development practices, I’ve seen that firms who are successful have several things in common:
- They understand the need to position themselves within their key markets using a one-to-many marketing strategy (instead of relying solely on 1:1 relationship-building).
- They put systems in place that allow that strategy to deliver valuable data that can drive and inform BD strategy and implementation.
- They align both business development and marketing efforts to clear and client-focused business plans for each of their key markets.
This level of strategy and focus is what allows firms to successfully drive growth, brand and client relationships. But it’s not always easy to implement. Trying to drive the effort from the marketing department without enforcement and accountability from the top is rarely effective. Employing marketing and BD tactics without clear alignment to market growth plans doesn’t deliver ROI. And rolling out systems and strategies that aren’t tied to expected daily behaviors means they rarely get followed.
In this issue, we’re highlighting an engineering firm— P2S Inc. (Long Beach, CA)— that has been successful in integrating their BD efforts with highly focused integrated marketing, tying it all to clear growth plans and developing a culture where everyone’s on board. As a result, they’ve expanded services and geographic markets, become more visible in their markets and improved client relationships—all while streamlining internal operations.
In some ways, P2S has changed dramatically in the last decade, growing from an 80-person firm with no marketing plan or staff to a 290-person regional firm with sophisticated and strategic marketing/BD operations.
“But it hasn’t been a radical change,” says President and CEO Kevin Peterson. “We’re still mostly seller-doers, but today we have a high-class marketing department and BD staff who help to set the table for our high-level pursuits. To us, the BD culture we have built really means that everything we do is client-focused.”
In 2008, P2S was profitable, had a large backlog and projects that (unlike many firms) weren’t being cancelled. The firm seized this opportunity to invest in marketing that would help them grow over the longer term—hiring a marketing director, realigning an employee into a BD role and putting new systems in place for more formal marketing and BD practices.
Today, P2S has market leaders for each of its vertical and horizontal markets who coordinate BD and marketing efforts in collaboration with a firmwide marketing team. Each market segment leader is supported by approximately 6-8 seller-doers who are responsible for client relationships and nurturing client leads and prospects from the firm’s marketing efforts. BD staff is also out building relationships through leads groups, industry and market conferences and partner groups with complementary firms. Leads generated by BD staff account for 10% of sales on average; they also pass along leads to the individual market seller-doers, who account for the majority of sales.
At a time when many firms are exploring CRM technology integration, P2S has gone all-in with their chosen platform, Salesforce, and has, over time, added functionality to create a streamlined system that governs marketing, client relationships, project management and accounting in one platform. While it took time to redesign processes and put the technology in place, when implemented, the firm had an immediate 90% adoption rate.
The new systems allow seller-doers to be a lot more effective in their BD efforts, says Marketing Director Stephan Freia Kruse. Now, everyone can review a full client history and it is quick and easy to get the information they need. Client and prospect data is organized so that it meaningfully informs the firm’s marketing plans, client communications, project pursuits, and most recently, digital marketing campaigns.
“Our first adoption of a CRM was horrible,” recalls Peterson. “When Stephan came in and decided to reorganize the client tracking system within the CRM, it was magic. We set up a process where staff had no other choice. They could not initiate a proposal or project without entering an opportunity into Salesforce. And when they started to use it, they understood the value of an integrated system.”
Using their web site as a hub, the firm is also deploying thought leadership content and digital marketing to raise awareness of individual services, increase market visibility and generate leads to diversify its client base. “The AEC industry is so seller-doer and relationship-focused, and we’re bringing digital expertise to that seller-doer model,” says Freia Kruse, who hails from a corporate marketing background.
Using marketing automation and lead nurturing tool Pardot, P2S is now running highly targeted two-month digital campaigns that showcase case studies, in-house content, videos and most recently, webinars. The opt-in campaigns, supported by Google and LinkedIn advertising, are closely tracked by marketing staff, who sort and assign viable leads to seller-doers and BD staff for outreach and nurturing. After the promotional campaigns, content remains available on the firm’s web site so that it can continue to generate leads and support service awareness.
Re-usable campaign content is created by P2S’ seller-doer subject-matter-experts. To date, videos and webinars have been most popular, but all of the firm’s campaigns have been successful in raising awareness and market visibility, as well as growing email contact lists and leads. For example, a highly targeted higher education campaign generated 88 quality leads assigned for personal outreach from 100 prospects, while a webinar showcasing the firm’s new CxMS service to foreign clients attracted support from the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration.
“We are looking at analytics to measure our success,” says Freia Kruse. “It’s a soft approach to marketing. We have very specific campaigns that are tied to our annual business plan and to our larger strategic plan.” Salesforce gives visibility throughout the organization on all aspects of P2S’ growth plans, allowing the marketing outreach to be adjusted as needed.
As these digital marketing efforts and client tracking systems mature, they will be used to predict growth and further optimize marketing ROI. In recent years, P2S has added five market sectors and dropped three, says Peterson, adding that the firm is not afraid to back off where they are less profitable to pursue better opportunities.
Always experimenting, the firm is adding livestreamed panels and media/industry partnerships to diversify leads and put their services in front of new audiences, particularly in new geographic markets. Digital marketing efforts have also focused on recruiting for newer offices.
“We want to be visible to the best talent we can access,” says Peterson. “You have to strategically plan and map out how you are going to attract that talent.”
As part of that plan, P2S realigned its organizational structure to limit the number of direct reports any one manager has so that those managers can know and develop their staff. Employees who see a strong career path for themselves invest in their relationships with clients. The firm also runs a 50-person Incubator, a think-tank with three teams dedicated to pioneering new services and business opportunities, and improving internal processes and technologies.
“This is what helps us to really be that trusted advisor to our clients,” says Peterson. “Our people are building those client relationships from day one. It’s fully ingrained into the culture here.”
At P2S, integrated marketing and BD is also improving the bottom line. The significant expense of a sophisticated CRM system has pushed the firm to continually look for new ways to integrate it into the business rather than seeing it as purely a client and contact tool. Recently, they added a Docusign add-on to track subcontractor agreements, making them faster to approve and review. Substantial data allows them to better evaluate and improve project and contract management and strengthen the annual market sector business planning process, including tracking accountability for implementation.
“All of this has had a positive impact on lowering overhead costs, which is also part of the ROI,” says Peterson. “We are never satisfied with not improving. We are always trying new things and we are not afraid to look outside the AEC industry for ideas.”
As P2S’ experience shows, the best time to be focused on business development is always, and the best way to do it is to have a clear and focused strategy. Tell me about your firm’s successes and challenges with this at firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 276-1101.