Can you teach an old firm new tricks? One firm’s story…
Across the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries, firms that have been around a long time get lulled into doing things the way they’ve always done them. That’s not always the best path forward — even when it’s working well enough. In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m sharing the story of what happens when a firm that’s been around for 120 years starts thinking very differently about its future. (In the interest of full disclosure, the firm highlighted is a client of Friedman & Partners.)
Alden Research Laboratory (Holden, MA), a 100-person hydraulic modeling, flow testing, fisheries biology and engineering firm, has a clear market niche. Just 2 or 3 private firms in the U.S. do what they do and their workforce is comprised of highly specialized technical experts. For more than 100 […]
In this issue of The Friedman File, business partner Jerry Guerra of The JAGG Group shares his candid thoughts and advice on the much-debated topic of market research. Jerry is a skilled researcher, writer, and PR/communications specialist who has collaborated with me on many projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. —Rich Friedman.
In many A/E/C firms, market research is a wasted activity driven by ignorance, cursed by laziness and devoid of any understanding of where its true value lies. The inevitable result is a massive gap between the promise of an intelligent market research program that helps a firm succeed and grow, and the futility of the actual market research efforts that far too many firms pursue.
We pay for expensive online services, scour the business papers and trade journals for long-range leads, hire ex-government employees to identify and harvest opportunities, sit through economic […]
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 […]
It’s often been said that you can tell a lot about a person by how they handle adversity. In my experience, this is also true of A/E/C and environmental consulting firms. The strongest firms out there are those who are not only prepared to respond when things go wrong, but welcome and create the opportunity.
After years of seeing this play out, I know one the best things that you as a leader can do for your firm is to instill a culture of viewing problems as opportunities. In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m going to share two examples of how it’s done.
Perils of the CYA culture
Should a problem — such as a project going south — really be embraced?
In some firms, the mindset is that no news is good news, or what we don’t know won’t hurt us. Firms like this […]
In the last issue of The Friedman File, we posed a question that unleashed a firestorm of feedback: Is the way we work still working? Judging by the response — more than any topic we’ve covered in 10 years — the answer is no. It’s not working.
Why are so many leaders burned out — and so many emerging leaders rethinking which ladder they want to climb? How can A/E/C and environmental firms evolve and thrive as technology, generational expectations and definitions of leadership are changing?
Companies like 1,900-person architecture firm Perkins + Will (Chicago, IL) and HDR (Omaha, NE), which won a Nebraska Governor’s Award for its wellness program, are putting resources behind fostering a healthier staff. Yet, emerging leaders and those who manage them say physical wellness is just a start. Flexibility, life balance and more sustainable workloads loom equally large for those […]
In an ideal world, the marriage between a firm and its favored markets would last forever. However, in the real business world, sometimes large-scale changes are needed.
It might be that the phone has stopped ringing due to an economic downturn in that sector. It might be a new development that changes the competitive landscape. It might be that the market is the same, but it’s your firm that’s changing.
Jettisoning an entire market sector is not a light decision. It’s one that should be made only after a clear analysis, including external data gathering from clients and prospects. That said, sometimes, the soul searching required to change course is necessary. In this Friedman File, we look at two examples of when “goodbye” was the right move.
When transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard (San Francisco, CA) was getting started in the early 1990s, the rural public transit […]
Everywhere I go, it seems, I’m privy to what is becoming a never-ending debate: whether A/E/C and environmental consulting services are becoming commoditized. In this issue of the The Friedman File, I want to explore this topic in a different way.
First off, when we say the industry is becoming commoditized, what do we really mean by this? Is it a perception that clients see firms and services as identical except for the price? Is this true, and if so, is standardization always a negative thing? More important, is this ongoing debate on whether we are in a race to the bottom helping — or hurting — the industry?
Dan Rowe, president of 95-person Treanor Architects (Lawrence, KS) doesn’t think it’s helping. “I think our industry’s preoccupation with commoditization has turned into a crutch for some firms,” Rowe says. “It’s an excuse for losing and a […]
As you know, new business development (BD) is critical to success. First, I’ve never come across a firm that has a repeat work rate of 100% (I want to hear from you if you do!). Second, to provide advancement opportunities for emerging leaders, you must develop new client and project opportunities.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this is getting your foot in the door to begin the relationship-building process. Doing so can be challenging and frustrating for even the most seasoned BD professional. That’s why some firms employ outside lead generators to place the often-dreaded cold calls.
Does it work? Let’s explore.
The Business Case
Any regular reader of The Friedman File knows I’m not a fan of cold calls (see The Death of the Cold Call: May it Rest in Peace). In a nutshell, cold calls typically yield a low ROI and thus have a high […]
While LinkedIn has been around for years, many have only recently begun to effectively leverage this tool in networking, business development, market positioning, and recruiting. In the October 2013 issue of The Friedman File, I offered a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the ubiquitous use of LinkedIn and how many seem to be using this tool with little regard to how they may be perceived and whether they’re making the most of their precious networking time. I also offered tips for would-be networkers driven to boost their number of contacts, but who pay little regard to the quality of their communications or other more efficient ways that LinkedIn enables you to disseminate your name, credentials, and thought leadership. In this issue of The Friedman File, I want to delve into LinkedIn’s value as a recruiting tool.
LinkedIn has revolutionized how professionals enhance their own […]
I’ve seen a surge in interest for business development (BD) training in the past year or two since the economic rebound. I believe this surge results from two primary factors:
- The financial reality that while most firms are still watching their overhead dollars like a hawk, there is more discretionary money available to fund training initiatives that were put on hold during the recession.
- A reluctance by some firms to (re)hire full-time business developers. Many were let go during the downturn, and some firms have never filled this role. In their place, many firms have doubled down on building a firm-wide BD culture and bolstering their existing seller-doer culture.
In this issue of The Friedman File, I address the long-standing debate about the efficacy of BD training and provide advice on how firms can maximize their return-on-investment (ROI) from training initiatives.
Any discussion of BD training […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]