Do you think of the terms “technical professionals” and “business developers” as mutually exclusive? Or can technical professionals also be effective business developers? I think the perception shared by many is that technical professionals are not natural marketers. However, I recently attended an event held by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Marketing Professional Services, and, after hearing insights presented by business development gurus (half of whom came from the technical side), I’m certain that an A/E/C firm’s technical employees can also be natural business developers or marketers! Some advantages of being a business developer with a technical background (or a technical staff member who is doing some business development):
- You already speak the language that many of the decision makers speak, and, in most cases, you can answer questions on the spot without having to go back to the office to consult with someone else.
- You’ve likely already worked with decision makers on past projects and built some familiarity, personal connections, and good will.
- If you have not worked with prospects on a past project, it’s probable that you’ve worked on similar projects and, as a result, can bond over “war stories.” You can also better understand prospects’ pain points.
Whether they were technical or non-technical, all of the panel members at the event were well-respected business developers. Here are some of my favorite tips they had to share for developing business within the A/E/C industry:
- Leverage Your Network and Referral Sources. Never make a cold call! If there’s a prospect you want to meet, ask a mutual contact to make an introduction. If possible, setting up a short conference call can be more effective and warmer than an email intro. Be sure to offer referral sources or something in return. Use your research skills and other contacts to offer them information on projects they may be interested in as well.
- Research. Before you reach out to a prospect at all, research their firm, their projects, and how they work. Be sure it’s a good fit for your firm. Once you have a meeting set, use LinkedIn to research people you might know in common or personal things they enjoy. People generally give work to those they like and trust, so try to build a personal connection first and foremost.
- Embrace Curiosity, Ask Questions. If you are working in the A/E/C industry as a business developer without a technical background, remember to be curious. Ask questions of the technical staff in your firm, and absorb as much knowledge of projects, familiarity with terminology, and project experience as possible.
- Maintain Relationships Throughout the Project. Once you’ve nailed a new project, your job has just begun! In order to maintain long-term relationships, a business developer must continue communication even after the proposal is accepted. Be sure to maintain the relationship by checking in over the course of the project and serving as a trusted point-of-contact if any issues should need to be addressed.
- Know and Align with Your Firm’s Mission and Company Culture. In an era where design is increasingly price competitive and sometimes even commoditized, it’s more important than ever to know what makes your company different. What are its strengths? What do your clients and prospects most want/need from an architecture, engineering, or construction firm? How are your competitors positioning themselves? Know who you are as a firm, and decide how you want to be known. Be sure all staff members are conveying a consistent message.
- Make Introductions. Being a connector of people places you in a power position. Glance through your list of clients and prospects and consider which might benefit from an introduction. Or, if a client has staff visiting from out of town, offer to guide them. This move puts you in charge of each situation, and it’s a win for the client/prospect as well.
- Make Continuous Soft-Touches. Have you ever had someone send you a newspaper article in the mail, just to let you know the article made them think of you? I have, and I know I definitely appreciate that touch. The problem is, after glancing at the article, I’m likely to lose it in a pile of papers or throw it out! Why not move this practice online? With the ease of finding information on the web, it’s simple to post news stories on LinkedIn or to send a quick email linking to a relevant news story. This type of soft touch helps to keep you top-of-mind to your clients and prospects.
- Set Aside the Time to Market/Sell. Even if you’re not a full-time business developer, it’s always important to keep your firm’s pipeline in mind. How does a busy professional find the time? Set aside a certain amount of time per day or per week during which you ignore email (imagine that!) and focus on marketing and business development: reach out to a few prospects, increase industry or competitive knowledge, attend an event, or write a blog post! It’s important that you take the time to keep contacts fresh and constantly be using your network.
While these tips can apply to most industries, I think it’s especially important for technical professionals in the A/E/C industry who may be transitioning to a business development role. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding these tactics, please let me know by commenting below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!