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The Friedman File 2017-08-02T12:04:04+00:00

Value: the A/E/C industry’s biggest blind spot?

The Friedman File readers know the importance I place on asking clients and prospects probing questions — whether it’s to:

  • Learn more about their organization and role, their greatest challenges, and trends and drivers impacting their success
  • Determine how they define and measure value from a firm like yours
  • Identify who they view as your most potent competitors and why
  • Assess how you’re performing on a project
  • Better understand why you won or lost a recent project pursuit

In this issue, I want to focus on a key area — eliciting client feedback to enable your firm to assess the value you bring to the table. As a strategy consultant to the A/E/C industry, I see far too many firms struggle with determining and articulating their differentiators, benefits (not features!), and value. All too often, expensive off-sites are held where principals, marketing staff, and […]

What makes you different? It’s time to find out.

Now more than ever, firms are struggling to determine what makes them different in the eyes of their clients. For clients, when multiple firms appear to be equally technically competent, it can be difficult to distinguish one firm from another. Many firms spend countless hours trying to determine their differentiators, value, and benefits — with very mixed results.

In this issue of The Friedman File, business partner Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications shares a wonderful, effective process for tackling this difficult task. Sally is a deft researcher, ghostwriter, and PR/communications consultant who has collaborated with me on numerous projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. — Rich Friedman.

During my many years of working in the marketing realm, there have been three mainstays that infuse everything I do — from coaching to copywriting to assessing and reviewing communications efforts to setting strategy and developing […]

By | April 2014|Business Strategy, Marketing & Branding|

You lost. Find out why!

In the business development realm, it can literally be the $1 million question: “Why did we lose this project?”

“We’ve been scoping the opportunity well in advance of the RFP, and we thought we were well positioned.”

“We knew the competition and thought we’d answered the questions, ‘Why us? What value do we confer?’

“We thought our presentation was solid.”

To learn more about why you lost, you attempt to gather feedback from your prospective client. And that’s where the wheels come off for the majority of A/E/C firms that don’t have a steady stream of sole-source work.

Anyone who’s conducted a loss debrief knows how difficult and inherently awkward they can be — for you and for the prospective client — if not done well.

Why Debrief After a Loss?

I’d like to think that firms attempt to conduct loss debriefs at every opportunity. However, this is not the […]

I’m losing clients and I don’t know why

In this December issue of The Friedman File, I’m thrilled to have guest columnist Shari Harley share her insights on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart — creating candid relationships with your clients.

Shari is the author of How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide for Building Business Relationships that Really Work and is founder and president of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace. 

We’ve all had clients we thought were satisfied, and yet the next month, they’re off our books and we don’t know why. Your clients are under no obligation to tell you why they replaced you. In fact, they have no incentive to give you feedback at all. It’s easier for clients to disappear than to tell you what they don’t like about your services.

It’s fine to get fired […]

By | December 2013|Business Development, Business Strategy|

LinkedIn: on steroids?

In my years of writing The Friedman File articles, I try not to rant too often. No one likes a crotchety consultant who complains about stuff but doesn’t offer advice or alternative solutions. But for months now, something’s been getting under my skin. What’s up with LinkedIn? What used to be a unique, thoughtful B-to-B social networking tool has become an annoying commoditized pain in the butt. In this issue, I’m going to address a few of the observations I’ve made and review what I believe are LinkedIn’s most valuable applications for marketing, business development and recruiting.

What perplexes me about LinkedIn

About six months ago, I started noticing multiple pings each day from folks (some I knew and some I didn’t) wanting to “connect” with me (a definite uptick). One explanation: more and more, it’s becoming common practice in many industries to put LinkedIn […]

By | October 2013|Recruiting & Retaining Talent|

Searching for key talent: don’t get caught flat-footed!

With more Baby Boomers retiring, a small pool of Gen X’ers, and many Gen Y’ers and Millennials having left the A/E/C industry during the latest recession, the scramble for talent is on.

If you’ve done a good job identifying and cultivating your rising stars, the key talent you need may be right under your nose — waiting to be tapped. But now that the industry is rebounding, even those who’ve retained talent are soon likely to be looking outside for practice builders, seller-doers, a CMO, or technical experts to name a few.

Our executive search consulting practice specializes in high-level marketing and business development professionals and that holy grail of A/E/C professional — the rare individual who is both technically competent and possesses high emotional intelligence (often referred to as EQ, or Emotional Intelligence Quotient). Already added to the threatened species list, these folks have […]

By | August 2013|Recruiting & Retaining Talent|

Hiring the right business developer for your firm

My last The Friedman File, “Full-Time Sales Professionals: Caveat Emptor,” generated lots of response from readers. In fact, it had the highest number of opens in the four-year history of this newsletter. Mission accomplished: I struck a nerve!

Many readers shared their own firm’s struggles with holding seller-doers accountable for selling (many would rather just keep “doing”) and the complexity of measuring the efficacy and value of full-time business developers given today’s complicated, inter-connected sales process.

And so I bring the second in this two-part series. This issue tackles some of the most important questions your firm should ask and attempt to answer regarding hiring and compensating full-time business developers, with helpful insights from some CEOs and BD professionals who’ve been successful.

What should you look for — and avoid — in the hiring process?

Identifying and hiring key sales talent is a real challenge for most […]

By | June 2013|Business Development|

Full-time sales professionals: caveat emptor!

Making the most of full-time business developers in A/E/C firms is a topic I’ve struggled with and debated for years, as have many of my clients. Like most marketing and business development (BD) topics, the answers aren’t black and white and one size does not fit all. This issue of The Friedman File is the first of a two-part series on sales professionals. It tackles some of the most important questions your firm should ask and attempt to answer — with helpful insights from a sampling of CEOs and BD professionals.

Why is this topic so sensitive and polarizing?

Let’s face it: sales people, regardless of their skills and the results they achieve, are often misunderstood by fellow staff and even the firm leaders who hire them. The reasons are sometimes complex:

  • Extroverted, glad-handing personalities working side-by-side with introverts
  • The occasional (or not) long lunches and day-long […]
By | April 2013|Business Development|

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 […]

By | December 2012|Marketing & Branding, Recruiting & Retaining Talent|

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 […]

By | October 2012|Business Strategy, Case Studies, Marketing & Branding|

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 […]

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 […]


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