Generating new leads doesn't happen by accident. Even within the Architecture, Engineering and Construction firms, which is largely led by word-of-mouth and professional reputation, business development matters. The right business developer can make or break your firm, success is determined by their ability to consistently find the right leads and of course, close them.
Here are some specific behaviors and habits that prove successful in business development in the AEC industry.
1. They are Planners
It all starts with developing a strategic plan. A firm in the AEC industry may technically be able to handle most projects that come up, but there is a target customer out there, an ideal client. Savvy business developers spend time identifying that individual or company. They research what those clients would find valuable and which efforts may have little cost-benefit reward. They look at the reasons those people sign a contract and the markers that may push them away. Then, and perhaps most importantly, they develop a plan for meeting these people, including finding and researching the right material that will speak to those target clients most effectively.
2. They're Self-Motivated
The bidding process for most AEC firms is so long that it is easy for companies on both sides of the table to get distracted. The longer the process carries on, the easier it is to reduce the decision to simply a matter of price instead of value, convenience over quality. The most successful business developers solve this issue by being very proactive and self-motivated. They make calls, maintain connections and always stay on the lookout for new leads. Many will set daily targets for the number of interactions they expect in a day.
3. They Follow Up
The savviest developers offer advice or make introductions without any expectation of immediate reward - they appreciate the long game. They "use relationship visits to gather intelligence and really understand the drivers of potential design commissions so that when the RFP is released, the information to create a compelling sales strategy is already in hand," says the American Institute of Architects (AIA). They "make the BD process ongoing, deliberate and consistent during both busy and light workload periods."
4. They Stay Organized
The most effective salespeople are also organized. When they are chasing down so many leads at once, having structure is invaluable. They plan their encounters with prospective clients, mapping out the frequency of emails, calls and visits. Successful business developers plan follow ups and they make notes about what those clients need - and not just any interaction will do. They also prepare for those meetings. They consider what they will say, prepare materials and identify the selling points that will appeal to that individual client.
5. They Are Problem Solvers
The AEC industry is all about solving problems. A client needs a build or a remodel to fit their needs and specific specs. Smart business developers know this and they center their pitches on how the company can solve the needs of the client. They would never use the same pitch for different prospective customers. The best business developers do their research and develop strategies for solving their leads' pain points. They understand the industry as well as the local market and the unique needs of the client's industry. This knowledge sets them apart from the competition and helps them be perceived as an expert in the AEC industry.
6. They Build Relationships
The best business developers are also focused on building relationships. They start making inroads with potential clients well before there is a defined project on the table. They do their research and learn about firm needs. They schedule face-to-face meetings and keep prospects on email and mailing lists. "Too many first visits never result in second visits until an RFP comes out," writes the AIA, "and by then it's usually too late to acquire quality project intelligence to bolster your sales strategy." Savvy business developers know this.
7. They Are GREAT Storytellers
Then, once that RFP is posted, savvy business developers spring into action. They apply all that research on the prospective client's wants and needs (which could differ) and create a story. They explain how the company can solve the needs of the client and why that company is the best firm for the job. The most successful business developers walk clients through those elements that make the firm different - and this is not done in a vacuum. Savvy developers research competition firms as well as alternative options to identify those elements that differentiate their firm from all the others. Moreover, the stories that they weave explain these drivers as they relate to client issues and project requirements.
8. They Hold The Tribal Knowledge of Your Firm
(and Know Its Limitations)
Finally, the best business developers understand the company that employs them. They know what it does well and the sort of clients it is trying to reach. "The issue is rarely if a firm can do the work but whether a firm can win the work," explains the American Institute of Architects. "The go/no-go process helps to remove the rose-colored glasses and be brutally realistic about the investment and odds to capture desirable work. And don't submit proposals so that a client can get to know the firm, but redirect that time and money to something with a better chance of success." In other words, they don't chase every job or potential client that comes across their respective doors.