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One firm decided to change how they pursue work. Here’s what happened

One of my goals in sending The Friedman File is to spur new thinking about ideas and practices to move your firm forward. In this issue, I’m shining a spotlight on a firm that’s having great success in redesigning how they do something critical: pursue new work.

While the degree to which each A/E/C or environmental consulting firm participates in the competitive procurement process differs, this story has lessons for those that struggle with effective knowledge sharing, identifying and developing leaders, and cultivating a firm-wide business development (BD) culture. And that’s the majority of firms I’ve encountered in my years in this industry.

(In the interest of full disclosure, the firm highlighted is a client of Friedman & Partners, and we recruited the principal interviewed. I have no doubt that you’ll take away valuable learning from their experience.)

When it comes to pursuing new work, the all-too-common scenario is that there’s no clear strategy for deciding which opportunities to chase and no systematic approach for pursuit. Often, people are stretched for time and preparing last-minute — working late, pulling all-nighters to complete a slide deck before a morning presentation, rehearsing in the car on the way to the interview. Further, many firms struggle with making the shortlist but in the end, losing.

When Principal and Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Quackenbush arrived at 70-person architecture firm Goody Clancy (Boston, MA) last year, fixing this quickly rose to the top of her agenda. “For one opportunity, we started working on our interview 2.5 weeks ahead of time and we won,” she says. “As skeptical as people were at the beginning, that win was really important.”

A system for focused preparation

Eleven months later, things have changed. Now, Goody Clancy keeps an ear to the ground for upcoming projects and tries to visit potential clients before RFPs go out. They’re putting together interview teams that better reflect the firm’s culture and collegiality, mixing ages and genders and breaking up presentations so that two people share delivery.

The firm is making a concerted effort to tap younger architects for project walk-throughs, welcoming their observations and input about the opportunity. Staff members watch interview rehearsals. Presenters are coached on body language and messaging. “I now travel with interview teams to provide ongoing guidance and strategy,” says Quackenbush. “We often have a local partner or local consultants, and we’ll rent out a hotel conference room and prep as a team.”

The value of the (not-so) instant replay

While preparing for presentations is key — even more important is opening the curtain on how they went.

“Often people will come back and say that things went ‘great.’ But what does ‘great’ mean? What actually happened?” says Quackenbush. “We’re trying to grow a culture of people who understand that going out and winning work on behalf of the entire firm is expected.”

To that end, Goody Clancy leverages the “lunch and learn” by having shortlist interview teams re-enact their presentations as a learning tool for the entire firm. Win or lose, employees hear firsthand what the client asked and how it was answered. Presenters candidly answer questions on everything from what content or case studies were included, to how client deliverables and schedules were discussed.

When selection committees record the interviews, links to those recordings are shared so that employees can hear the whole process — their team, competitor teams and the client discussion.

It’s not just about shortlist presentations

Systematizing, rehearsing and re-enacting important presentations — from interviews to conference talks — can benefit a firm in many ways. Sharing knowledge and identifying and developing leaders are issues that every firm struggles with — and these practices do both in a way that benefits the whole firm and the individuals who participate.

At Goody Clancy, Quackenbush serves as a presentation coach for leaders who are speaking at conferences or making important internal presentations, such as the firm’s “design conversations” where designers talk about themselves, their ideas about design and their favorite projects.

Stronger presentations lead to better opportunities, more effective BD meetings, client interactions, project management and project delivery. They also help to attract and set expectations for up-and-comers in the firm. Re-enacting conference talks can improve everyone’s understanding of the firm’s services, capabilities, and expertise.

The proof it works

While it’s taken focus and commitment to implement these practices, Goody Clancy has seen impressive results quickly. The firm has won 13 of 17 shortlist interviews in the last 12 months. There’s been a noticeable improvement in presentation and interview skills.

Employees say they appreciate the transparency and clear expectations about what the firm seeks from those who go out on interviews, and more of them have expressed interest in being a part of that process.

The changes are also helping younger staff acquire the BD and presentation skills they need to be successful in their careers, and impacting the culture of the firm. “We’ve seen walls coming down and people feeling invested, that they’re part of the bigger team,” says Quackenbush.

Could this work at your firm?

Whether you want to improve knowledge sharing, boost win rates or create more effective presenters, implementing a comprehensive strategy often requires a cultural shift. It also requires an investment of time, often by leaders with high billing rates and few precious hours to spare. It requires strong backing by senior leadership and someone capable of steering the process.

For many, it may be practical to start small by re-enacting one interview presentation, coaching or re-enacting one conference presentation or debriefing one important BD or client meeting per month. The potential ROI is worth it:

  • Improved transparency and knowledge transfer from subject matter experts and thought leaders
  • More compelling professional association talks to peers and potential clients
  • A higher win rate
  • A streamlined way to identify and develop next-generation leaders
  • Low-cost, high-impact BD training that benefits everyone
  • A firm-wide BD culture
  • Presenters who can clearly articulate the firm’s services, value and expertise
  • Stronger project management and delivery

“The quickest way to reenergize a group of people is to win work. The firms that currently have a chaotic BD/presentations process or think this is a strategy that they couldn’t employ — maybe they’re right. And if they are, that’s great news for us! In the meantime, this is what we’re doing, and it’s working for us,” says Quackenbush.

Is there a way you could adapt this strategy to make a change in your firm? I’d love to hear about your efforts. Call me at (508) 276-1101 or email me at rich@friedmanpartners.com.

By | 2017-07-31T14:01:55+00:00 February 2016|Business Development, Case Studies|

About the Author:

Rich Friedman, President of Friedman & Partners, has worked in and consulted for the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries for more than 25 years. Starting out in the trenches as an environmental consultant and business developer for Stone & Webster Engineering in Boston, Rich expanded his reach as the partner in charge of marketing and business development research, consulting and training for ZweigWhite. He also managed a variety of other projects involving strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, and executive search. Since launching Friedman & Partners, he has worked with firms at all levels, from small niche consultants to large ENR 500 organizations. He’s also conducted hundreds of seminars and workshops for firms, design and environmental industry professional associations and venues, including AIA, SMPS, ACEC, AGC, NSPE, Build Boston/ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX), WTS and Chief Executive Network.