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The Friedman File2017-08-02T12:04:04-04:00

When “free food” isn’t free

Folks who’ve worked with me know I’m fond of using the term “free food” to refer to RFPs that you had no prior knowledge of, or a call from a partner firm asking you to team on a project opportunity that neither firm has tracked or is pre-positioned for.

Firms that are facing fierce competition and a dwindling backlog are regularly tempted by these “opportunities”. They’re tempted to prepare quals packages and proposals for prospective clients (and sometimes clients) even though their firm:

  • Was unaware of the project opportunity until the RFP hit the streets
  • Knew about the opportunity, but for whatever reason is not effectively pre-positioned
  • Knows that their chances of winning are slim, and in fact, the project may be wired for an incumbent or another firm

Of course, some firms don’t have to worry about this temptation because they’re magnets for sole-source […]

By |February 2013|Business Development, Business Strategy|

When social media is worth your time

In this issue, I’ve asked long-time business partner Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications to follow up on her January 2012 The Friedman File article (Social media: strategy, not hype) by sharing additional thoughts and A/E/C industry case studies. — Rich Friedman.

While the use of social media is skyrocketing all around us (including in the markets we serve), few A/E/C firms are taking full advantage. And those that are, are using social media more for employee engagement and recruiting: connecting with new hires on LinkedIn and Facebook pages that focus on new projects, employee awards and fun around the office, for example.

We’re missing the marketing opportunity.

In fact, when Building Design + Construction surveyed A/E/C professionals about their firm’s social media use, just 28% said they use social media as a marketing and promotion tool. And more than half (61%) said their firms aren’t […]

What’s the secret sauce? The story of Nelson\Nygaard

Occasionally, I come across firms that cause me to scratch my head and ask, “How do they do that?” Such was the case last year at the A/E Advisors’ CEO Forum in Scottsdale. There, I met Paul Jewel of Nelson\Nygaard, an 80-person transportation planning firm based in San Francisco, with six other offices across the country.

Paul has the title of COO. His firm does not have, and has never had in its 25 years, a CEO. Nor does it have a Chairman of the Board. But those are just a few of the interesting quirks about this firm, which Jewel refers to as “a bunch of progressive planners who began with two women working out of a garage.” Since those humble beginnings, the firm has grown significantly and, says Jewel, is “changing the world one project at a time.” Before you dismiss Nelson\Nygaard […]

It’s client retention, stupid!

With a (self-reported) A/E/C industry repeat work average of 80-85%, it’s tempting to assume that most firms understand client retention. However, if these past few years have taught us anything, it’s that doing good work is necessary, but not sufficient for holding onto clients.

The time, energy and focus required to keep a desirable client coming back can be overwhelming. Yet the economics are indisputable. Consider the wasted pursuit costs of landing a new client when that client becomes dissatisfied and goes elsewhere. Depending on the client, the opportunity, travel, proposal and labor costs, the hours you’ve lost can easily run into thousands of dollars. And that’s not factoring in the difficult-to-measure intangibles, such as the impact that a dissatisfied client may have on your firm’s reputation.

One invaluable way to track what clients truly value and what their hot-button issues really are is client […]

By |July 2012|Business Development, Business Strategy|

Is there still life in the federal market?

I get this question a lot these days, from principals pondering whether their firm should enter the Federal Market for the first time, as well as those whose firms are already active. In this issue of The Friedman File, I’ve asked one of my business partners, Dave Alexander, Principal of Lincoln Strategies, LLC, to share his thoughts and advice. Dave knows this market better than anyone I know, and I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with him on several market research and planning engagements. Lincoln Strategies provides strategic, marketing, and management advice to firms interested in entering or expanding within government markets. His clients include A/E/C, management consulting, environmental, and scientific services firms, as well as manufacturers of high-tech equipment.
— Rich Friedman

By any standard, the Federal Market is huge. In the last federal fiscal year, the government spent almost $2.7 billion […]

By |May 2012|Business Development, Business Strategy|

Making PR pay off: projecting thought leadership

During my more than 17 years as a growth strategy consultant to A/E/C and environmental consulting firms, I’ve been mystified why so many firms have so much difficulty grasping the art of strategic messaging in the area of public relations (PR).

Even in this day and age, when terms like “thought leader” and “subject matter expert” are bandied about, it’s the rare firm that successfully steers clear of inwardly focused, self-serving press releases about projects won/completed, and people hired/promoted. These announcements, which I refer to as “transactional” rather than strategic, are perpetuated on web sites, in newsletters and sometimes even in quals packages. Yet they do little to convince clients that you understand their universe, their pain points and what information they need to be successful in today’s economy. Further, they’re a real yawner for editors of trade journals and professional association publications.

But enough […]

By |March 2012|Marketing & Branding|

Social media: strategy, not hype

Two questions my clients routinely ask are, “We’ve read a lot about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools, but do they really help to market and sell professional services?” And “What should our firm be doing in this arena?” In this issue of The Friedman File, I’ve asked one of my long-time business associates (dating back to our ZweigWhite days 15 years ago) Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications ( to share her thoughts on social media strategy and critical success factors. Sally is a deft researcher, ghostwriter and communications consultant who has collaborated with me on numerous projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. In addition, she has crafted and implemented social media content for many service and experience-oriented businesses and contributes to industry blogs (both on behalf of Artisan Communications and many of our clients) — Rich Friedman.

Over the past […]

By |January 2012|Marketing & Branding|

Developing the talent pipeline: a story of two progressive firms

How many A/E/C firms do you know that employ staff with titles such as “Director of First Impressions,” “Talent Scout,” and “Chief Human Potential Officer”? The past few years of economic Maalox moments have yielded numerous stories about staff cuts, reduced salaries and scaling back employee benefits. Yet a number of firms have quietly stuck to their strategic hiring plan by recruiting the best and brightest from colleges, struggling competitors and even thriving competitors.

These firms view tough times as an opportunity to strengthen their pipeline of future leaders and “swap out” old-school naysayers with can-do, out-of-the-box thinkers with non-traditional skill sets. Here are two:

Luckett & Farley: A Commitment to Key Talent Development

One such firm is Luckett & Farley, an 85-person A/E firm based in Louisville, Kentucky.

How important is it to be recruiting and searching for future leaders? President Ed Jerdonek says this: “It’s […]

By |November 2011|Case Studies, Recruiting & Retaining Talent|

Avoiding the appearance of ambulance-chasing

We’ve all done it. We’ve waited until the “alarm bells” signaling a drop-off in project backlog begin ringing to get on the phone/meet with past, current and prospective clients to drum up leads and work. And we’ve contacted a past or current client with whom we’ve been out of touch because we read or heard something that suggests they may have a near-term need.

Don’t get me wrong. If it’s a choice of reaching out or not reaching out, I’d opt for making the call. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” You fill in the appropriate idiom.

But this “dialing for dollars” exercise has become problematic because:

  • With the softness in many markets (particularly commercial), more A/E/C business developers are having to do this.
  • Owners have less time and patience than ever to field these calls.
  • You’ve been out of […]
By |September 2011|Business Development|

Winzler & Kelly: an evolving BD culture sows the seeds of success

As promised in my May The Friedman File, this issue includes an in-depth case study. We’re about to find out how one firm successfully evolved from a Rainmaker to a Seller-Doer culture, and is now establishing a firm-wide business development (BD) culture.

Winzler & Kelly (Santa Rosa, CA) is a 300-person multidisciplinary engineering and environmental consulting firm serving public- and private-sector clients in the western U.S. and the Pacific Rim. With offices in California, Oregon and Micronesia, the firm has grown 10–15% annually for 12 years and is ranked #217 among ENR’s top design firms.

During its first 50 years, Winzler & Kelly relied on a few rainmakers to bring in the majority of its new work. About 10 years ago, however, the leadership recognized that this model was impeding the firm’s growth. I had the pleasure to interview Marc Solomon, Vice President of Corporate […]

By |July 2011|Business Development, Case Studies|

The business development model mix: what works for your firm?

While it’s always been a top-of-mind issue with my clients, based on recent workshops I’ve conducted, it’s clear that understanding evolving business development (BD) models and cultures has taken on even greater importance. During the last few tumultuous years, most firms have asked, if not required, that more staff become actively involved in the firm’s BD efforts. For these reasons, I’m dedicating the next few issues of The Friedman File to helping you better understand current BD models and which may be most appropriate for your firm.

The models that I’ll address in this issue are the Rainmaker and Seller-Doer (or Doer-Seller) models, as well as what’s best described as a firm-wide, institutionalized BD culture, in which all staff are expected to contribute to BD efforts. In many firms, elements of more than one model may be combined (particularly the Rainmaker coupled with the Seller-Doer).

The Rainmaker

Firms using […]

By |May 2011|Business Development|

Market research: war stories from the front lines

Hi everyone. To close out my series on market and client research, I want to share with you one case study and two anecdotes that, over the course of my career, have left an indelible mark on me.

Case Study: Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back

We’ve all heard this platitude during infomercials for the latest skillet that makes 500 different meals in a jiffy. But should this apply to professional services? I recently conducted a phone interview on behalf of an ENR 100 firm. The interview — with one of their key clients, a Fortune 500 company — was conducted to elicit opinions on a number of topics and assess their satisfaction with my client. The interview did not go as my client expected, as their client was quite displeased with both the quality of services provided and value imparted. It was clear that […]

Client research: an underutilized BD tool

Welcome to the second of my four-part series of The Friedman File articles on client and market research. My last article discussed how to use powerful open-ended questions in the business development process. Today, I’m addressing client research — arguably one of the most misunderstood and underutilized tools in a firm’s practice management arsenal.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” This truism is applicable to business development, and it’s particularly relevant in client research. There’s so much valuable information to gather, yet asking the right questions, of the right people, at the right time requires a specific skill set. There are three primary types of client research:

  1. Client/prospect perception studies
    Typically conducted every 2–3 years, often as a precursor to a strategic planning and/or marketing/business development planning session
  2. Continuous client monitoring
    Ongoing brief interviews of current clients, via phone or in-person, that are used to […]

Ask, don’t talk: using probing questions to pursue and win work

I’m excited to launch the first of a four-part series of The Friedman File articles on client and market research — a topic near and dear to my heart. Those of you who know me and/or have worked with me also know that I love asking questions, especially open-ended ones. Do you know what an open-ended question is? (Hint: it’s not the type of question I just asked.)

Asking questions, and even more to the point, having your primary motivator be curiosity rather than a specific outcome, is the lifeblood of development — be it personal, professional, career, market, or business development. Any “Business Development 101” class has, at its foundation, the value of asking probing questions rather than talking. As Steven Covey writes in his widely read book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand, then be understood.”

In my upcoming […]

The key to killer short list presentations: go long on them, short on you

As many of you know all too well, competition among A/E/C and environmental consulting firms has become extremely intense. In addition to key pre-positioning and business development strategies I’ve addressed in previous issues of The Friedman File, the shortlist presentation is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. It’s your last shot at winning the business. Yet with all that at stake, one of the biggest problems I observe is the lack of a well-conceived, crisp message. Often, the content ends up rambling, running long, or otherwise failing to influence.

One of my consulting partners, Terri Langhans, CSP, (Certified Speaking Professional), is out to change that. I first heard Terri present her “Maverick Marketing” program at a Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) national conference a few years back. She has cleverly named her company “Blah, Blah, Blah.” (Not surprisingly, her URL is, and […]

CSI: the sales meeting

For all of the business development (BD) training and coaching I’ve provided as a consultant to the A/E/C industry (to professional service firms and vendors to the industry), it’s rare that I observe a client directly during a BD meeting. Recently, an opportunity arose to be a “fly on the wall” for a client to whom I had provided lead generation assistance. Ever since that meeting, I’ve been chomping at the bit to share what I learned.

As hard as it was, I kept my mouth shut through the entire meeting, busily taking notes and making observations about my client (what he said and didn’t say) and the prospect (what he asked; his body language). After the meeting, I walked my client out and stayed to debrief the prospect (an architect friend of mine). It was sort of a BD lab, minus the fingerprint […]

By |March 2010|Business Development|

The rules have changed (maybe forever?)

If you look hard, there are a few silver linings to this economic mess. Let’s face it, many A/E/C firms were fat, dumb, and happy — riding the wave of an almost insatiable demand for their services. And it hasn’t served them well.

Many had the luxury of saying no to prospective clients if they were too busy or the project didn’t sound appealing.

Some firms became lax and sloppy with internal processes, including tracking meaningful marketing and business development (BD) metrics and project profitability by PM and client type. Holding staff accountable for achieving their goals wasn’t always a priority (assuming the firm was even conducting regular reviews).

It was not uncommon to hear, “Why do we need to develop a marketing/BD plan, conduct BD training, or seek to instill a firm-wide BD culture when we have more work than we can handle?”

Man, how things […]

By |December 2009|Business Development, Business Strategy|

Why no news is not good news… the need to over-communicate in difficult times

On the surface, it seems like such a no-brainer. We need to err on the side of over-communication when uncertainty and stress levels for many firms are sky high. So why is it that I and my A/E Advisor consulting colleagues hear so many stories about a lack of communication from the top down — often in the firms that are struggling the most?

Is this attributable to the weak communication skills of some industry leaders? A belief that staff are so deep in the trenches that they don’t have time or don’t value frequent updates from the “front”? An unfounded, “bury-your-head-in-the-sand” feeling that everyone is doing just fine? Whatever the reason, information-sharing within firms has not, and never will be, optional in an industry that sells knowledge and expertise to clients and seeks to retain this expertise as long as possible.

In the A/E/C […]

By |September 2009|Business Strategy, Leadership|

The anti-“doom and gloom”: three firms bucking the trend

You wouldn’t be human if you haven’t, at least once, wanted to curl up in a ball and hibernate until the economy is on a clear path towards recovery. Depressing news headlines coming at you through multiple media don’t help, nor does the fact that the unemployment rate is nearing 10%.

It’s hard to find an A/E/C industry firm that hasn’t been impacted in some way — even if it’s just keeping a cautious eye on spending. Yet the “doom and gloom” theme does not need to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for your firm.

Some firms (hopefully yours?) are holding their own, and a few are even growing, in this challenging environment. What makes these firms so special? Is it luck, being at the right place at the right time, purposeful strategies, or a combination of all four? This Friedman File explores three firms that, […]

By |July 2009|Business Strategy, Case Studies|

If there was ever a time… maximizing your marketing & BD ROI

With many A/E/C and environmental consulting firms experiencing layoffs, salary freezes/reductions, benefit cuts, and other cost-cutting measures, it’s more important than ever that firms invest their precious marketing and business development (BD) overhead dollars wisely.

Getting more staff involved in BD (especially project personnel), in ways commensurate with their role, career juncture, and skills is a no-brainer when compared with the alternative of relying on a few key rainmakers. But this approach also requires a commitment to training, coaching, and mentoring — a commitment that is lacking in many firms in good times and bad.

Complicating the return-on-investment (ROI) equation is the inherent challenge of measuring marketing and BD ROI, as the overall sales process for a professional services firm is non-linear, serendipitous, and circuitous. It can be a “black box,” with multiple strategies and touches contributing to a new client or new project. That […]

By |March 2009|Business Development, Marketing & Branding|


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