How to Make a Business Development Position Work…

So, I’ve written a few posts previously that came out slightly on the negative side of hiring a business development person in an architecture firm.

I thought it would be a good idea to share a few thoughts on how to actually make it work. I’m in the midst of watching one such decision/hire go terribly awry and it has driven me to create the following brief “do’s and don’ts” list.

DO – Formally introduce the new person to the entire team, and explain their presence in the firm. It may seem elementary, but since many BD people are hired on part-time or on a commission basis, management can often think it’s unimportant to treat them like a real team member.

DO – Set up specific times with all key people in the firm to meet with them. Principals, Managers, Directors, Marketing Execs…anybody responsible for bringing in new contracts or being a first line of communication with prospective clients has valuable information for the new BD hire. Formalize the orientation so that every player knows their role and sees the value. (Remember – some of your senior team may feel threatened by the new position, so involving them in the process can help ease the worry of being replaced or outdone)

DON’T – Expect them to start making calls right away. Unless you really want a cold caller, this is a waste of time and can do more harm than good. In the first few weeks your new sales person should be learning all about your AEC firm, your culture, your projects…what makes you, YOU. Think, “If a prospective client answered the phone and actually engaged them, would they know enough about my design firm to answer any questions?”

DO – Give them a marketing plan and/or brand guidelines to follow. If you’re tagline is, “Breathtaking design” they shouldn’t have, “Design that takes your breath away” in their email signature. Even more so than most new hires, this person will have contact with the masses, so they should understand who to target and what to say.

DON’T – Isolate them from marketing and vice versa. A new business development person should have a great relationship with your marketing team and the two parties should develop goals and projects together. It’s also important to outline just how much weight they have with marketing. Extra conflict can arise when there is a big BD meeting and marketing can’t drop other priorities to accommodate a last minute presentation.

Selling architectural or engineering services is a tall order. Relationships and referrals usually dominate, and the typical sales cycle can be very long depending upon the project type. Hiring a successful business development person is possible, but it takes a clear plan and supportive team to make it happen.

My firm is all over social media…we just don’t do anything else.

Architecture firms, just like most other businesses, are either active in the social media landscape or wondering whether they should be. With floods of media attention in the past several months about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…(not to mention the massive amounts of Tweets about Twitter itself), it’s now widely accepted that social media marketing is an important element in your firm’s marketing/communications mix.

But it should be just that…an element in the mix.

Social media marketing has a small negative impact on your AEC firm’s bottom line. That low cost is especially attractive given the current economy. However, the firms that will survive and thrive will still include marketing efforts via more traditional channels. Why should you include more “expensive” marketing tactics in your budget this year?

Hit ’em where they ain’t!
If your competition is funneling all of their attention into the biggest and best social media campaign, a well executed outreach effort using other media is amongst less clutter. Please don’t confuse this point as saying “Don’t use social media.” Embrace the newest marketing channels, just don’t neglect the old ones.

They may actually be LESS expensive than they were.
Ad space, conference registrations, exhibitor fees…they all add up quickly. They are also all having to “sell harder” now than in the last few years. Early bird rates are being extended and print ad rates are being discounted. Just asking a few questions of your rep could save money but keep your firm’s name in front of your clients.

Different strokes for different folks.
The fact is that your entire target audience is definitely not covered by social media marketing methods. Regardless of the demographic you are pushing your message to, there are plenty of people that want (and need) to see it, but just don’t know it. That’s the place where more traditional marketing, advertising and sales kicks in.

A marketing mix is so-named because it is just that, a mix. Neglecting a well-rounded strategy in favor of trimming costs is likely equivalent to a short-term gain, long-term loss.

So, I just got back from the conference…now what?

It’s the first Monday after the AIA 2009 National Convention. If you’re anything like me after every conference/show, you came home with a few conference bags, a lanyard, some cute giveaways…and a stack of follow ups. Also, if you’re anything like me, the stack of follow up items will stay tucked away in your sketchbook or on papers balled up in the aforementioned conference bag (at least for a few weeks)! After you’re done playing “catch-up” on email, here are a few things that I WISH I would do right away after every show.

1. Make a list
While everything is still fresh in your mind, and you’re excited about the new connections you made and ideas you heard, write them all down. Nothing major, no “conference report”, just a quick list of the things you want to remember.

2. Check it twice
Once you’ve finished making a list, go back through and sort it by category.

  • Ideas (things to tell the rest of the office about, new technologies, project improvements)
  • Personal Development (good books you heard about, things to dig into on your own time)
  • Leads (may be job opps, may be partners/subs)
  • Networking (not leads, just people you met that you want to stay in touch with)

3. Find out who’s nau…just kidding; Prioritize
If you’ve really maximized your time at the show, you may have a lot on the list. Be realistic. Not every person you met is worth a follow up, not every book is going to get read this month. Take a look at your list and determine what you really can accomplish and what’s the most important.

Your schedule after the show isn’t any more flexible than it was before, and for the first few days back it’s probably less! Making a good follow up list ensures you won’t forget the things that matter most and it is a lot easier to keep referring to than that stack of papers.