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

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|

Tough lessons from an economic meltdown

For several months, I’ve struggled with how I can offer a valuable, meaningful message during what seems to be an increasingly difficult time. The anecdotes I’ve recently gathered from clients, other A/E/C firms, and fellow management consultants are, by and large, neither pretty nor encouraging.

In this issue of The Friedman File, I want to avoid trite pieces of business development (BD) advice focusing on targeting low-hanging fruit, leveraging your strengths, blah, blah, blah. Instead, I’ve decided that it makes more sense to focus on some less obvious, more complicated lessons learned that focus on human behavior so as to hopefully give you some future food for thought. It may be too late for this downturn, but since marketing and BD are best conducted on a daily basis rather than as if cramming for a test, your firm can begin to change its behavior […]

By |December 2008|Business Strategy, Leadership|

When is the best time to conduct business development training?

(Before you realize your firm needs it!)

There’s an interesting paradox in the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries when it comes to business development (BD) training: there never seems to be a good time to conduct it. When times are good and firms are flush with work, PMs and others are “too busy” to take time out of their schedule. However, when the inevitable slowdown occurs, firm leadership is hesitant to commit funds for this overhead expense.

I’ve recently been told by more than one firm that’s been impacted by softness in their target markets that Principals, PMs, and others are being asked to call and meet with past clients and prospective clients to drum up new work. But a funny thing happened on the way to the sales call: many of these folks realized that they possess neither the skills nor the comfort level […]

By |August 2008|Business Development|

The personal touch: let’s not lose it!

A User’s Guide to the Handwritten Note

I am sometimes frustrated that a professional services industry such as ours does not leverage more opportunities to lend a personal touch to its business development, project delivery, and hiring processes. Not only is this perplexing to me, but it’s ironic given that the essence of what we do is provide personalized service.

While examples of missed opportunities to lend the personal touch abound in this age of technology, the one I’d like to focus on is the handwritten note — an endangered species in our culture of efficiency and instant gratification.

At the top of the list of predators jeopardizing the existence of this species, whose numbers have dramatically dwindled, is e-mail. While e-mail is truly an essential tool in today’s business, there are times when sending an e-mail message is either inappropriate or represents a missed opportunity […]

By |May 2008|Business Development|

The death of the cold call: may it rest in peace

If I had my druthers, I’d permanently remove the term “cold call” from any and all discussions about business development (BD). With more sophisticated buyers, a more progressive, advanced approach to marketing and BD by industry firms, and almost unlimited access to information via technology, one would think that cold calls are already on their deathbed. However, in the training workshops I conduct across the country, I continue to hear A/E/P and environmental industry professionals use “BD” and “cold call” in the same breath. It’s time to put the final nail in the coffin: cold calls are “old school” and those who engage in this rather tortuous activity are missing the BD boat.

Here are five reasons why those engaged in BD should avoid cold calls:

They have a very low ROI. Anyone who has ever placed a cold call can tell you that they’re […]

By |January 2008|Business Development|

The business development process: a proxy for project delivery

Right or wrong, many clients perceive architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firms as equally technically competent. Although you may disagree with this perception, it can drive a prospective client’s reality when deciding which firm to work with. Given this challenge, how can a firm differentiate itself from its competitors (beyond the promises of a facility/solution/end product that will meet the client’s needs)?

A firm’s project delivery process — what it’s like to work with your firm — can be a huge differentiator. The project delivery process encompasses a number of vital skills and attributes:

  • Responsiveness
  • Attention to detail
  • How well your firm keeps its word
  • The quality of your firm’s deliverable
  • The ability to demonstrate that your firm has the client’s overall best interests at heart (versus completing the defined scope on time and within the budget — there’s a big difference!)

But short of […]

By |October 2007|Business Development, Business Strategy|

Involving your staff in the business development process

Exposing your technical staff to effective business development (BD) strategies and tactics is a sure-fire way to maximize your business development ROI (return-on-investment) — and get ideas about who might be part of the “next generation.” As a business developer, your careful thought, planning, and in many cases, training is critical to inculcating client relationship skills to all of your staff.

What is your firm’s view on how your technical staff can contribute to the BD process? Too often, the model business developer that is held out for everyone to see is the sales person who has just landed the “large carcass” after a round of golf — on which the firm feeds for the next six months. If your firm does this, you are missing the important contributions of PMs and project staff who continue to please clients and have demonstrated the ability […]

By |July 2007|Business Development, Leadership|


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