Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why Did We Win?

by David Whitemyer, AIA
As we begin 2014, take a moment to assess what your firm has done RIGHT.



It’s fairly common practice for A/E firms to request a debriefing from potential clients after submitting a losing proposal. This makes sense. The debriefing lets you know about the weaknesses and errors in your proposal and/or interview so that you don’t make the same mistakes in future efforts. But doesn’t it make even more sense, after winning a project, to find out what the strengths and highlights were in your proposal, so that you can repeat them?


Another reason to find out exactly why you won is to ensure that you manage the client’s expectations and keep them happy during the project. You’ll want to deliver on the promises in your proposal – especially if that’s what sold them! – and to enhance your strengths.


Most clients won’t turn down an opportunity to give you a debriefing – whether for a lose or win. In fact, with federal government clients, they’re required to give you a debriefing if you ask. FAR 15.506 states that if you make a request within three days of the win or lose notification, the client must provide formal feedback on your proposal.


There’s no trick to figuring out what to ask the client after you’ve won. The questions are almost the same as when getting feedback after a loss. “What were our strengths?” What were our weaknesses?” Here are a few suggestions for what to ask after you’ve won a project.


     What was the main thing about our proposal that made our firm stand out?


     Did we have the lowest price? If not, how did our price compare with other proposals?


     Did our proposal adequately respond to everything in the RFP?


     Was there anything about our project team that gave you comfort or concern?


     Did the proposal’s writing style or visual quality stand out in any way?


     Did our proposal include any fluff or boilerplate language that we should’ve left out?


     Even though we won, do you have any recommendations of things we could’ve done differently?


     Are the other upcoming opportunities for which we could submit another proposal?


After getting a debriefing from the client, it’s essential to share the feedback with your firm. Share it with those in the marketing and business development teams, of course, but also make sure that you share it with the team and project manager who will be the client’s primary face and contact with your firm throughout the project.


David Whitemyer, AIA, is a Contributing Editor at PSMJ Resources, Inc., a licensed architect, and project manager at a Boston-area design firm. He can be reached at dwhitemyer@psmj.com.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Does Your Firm Lack Social Media Smarts?

How big of a role do social media play in your firm?  If your answer is a frustrated “I don’t know!” or a tentative “Um, not very much,” don’t worry—you’re not alone.

In a new survey by A/E/C industry publisher Info link, it was discovered that, while firms in the building, architecture, and design trades believe the use of social media is more important to their success than a year ago, a large percentage of those same firms have a less secure grasp on just how to use social media to benefit themselves.

In addition to each of the trades—building, architecture, and design—recognizing the importance of social media, each had a higher profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+ than they had the previous year; yet, the befuddlement with how to best use the three top social media outlets remained. 

In building, the percentage of those saying they did not know how to use social media doubled to 36 percent over last year’s 18 percent. For architects, it nearly tripled—48 percent from 18 percent.  And for design firms, it more than tripled, to 36 percent from 11 percent.

What’s the cause for all this confusion?

According to Infolink sales manager Adrian Wilson, as reported by Michael Bleby, many businesses have given up on social media after being unable to measure a solid ROI. Says Wilson: “To generate regular content, creative content, and thought leadership—that takes time. Most people look at it and think—it’s too hard.”  

Yet, statistics don’t lie—we know that businesses that use social media (inbound marketing in particular) have higher lead generation and higher profits (according to Hubspot, 41% of marketers say inbound marketing produced measurable ROI in 2013. Clearly, we feel this is true: after all, the survey did acknowledge that our industry sees value in social media—we just don’t know how to use it!

So, what’s the answer?  What can you do as an A/E marketer to effectively weave social media into your firm’s marketing strategy?

• Start small. Stop looking at LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ like the behemoths they seem to be.  Stop Googling “Social Media Marketing Techniques” and becoming overwhelmed by the thousands of pages that pop up.  Start small.  Resist the temptation to allow yourself to get overwhelmed.

• No, really.  I mean it.  I wasn’t kidding.  Start really, really small.  I mean, 5-10 minutes a day small.  You know that really great blog that you read once a week?  Or that website you ran across?  Or that app your grandson just told you about?  Or that interesting e-mail forward from Flipboard someone sent you?  Post it on Facebook.  Post it on LinkedIn.  Make a comment about it.  That’s it.

• Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. You spend a lot of time in meetings.  You have a lot of ideas—some of them that go against the grain.  You know, the ones that you ramble to your spouse about.  Write them down:  I’m not talking prose, I’m talking bullet points.  The next day, put a few of those bullet points into sentences.  Then post it on your company’s blog site.  And most important—say at the end of the blog post that you’ll be posting another one next week.  Promises made to the world wide web are often ones we keep.

• Tweet us what you learned.  Next time you go to a conference, keep a running tab of points and tips you learned.  And tweet them!  Tweet the tips along with a few pics of the conference.  It’s a great way to keep people engaged, let people in the industry know you’re staying relevant, and reap some potential re-tweet love.

Most important, don’t let yourself become a statistic next year—set a goal to be a company that not just knows it needs social media, but knows how to use it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BMW Guggenheim Lab Challenges Industry’s View of the Future of Urban Life

In the holiday rush, don’t let this fall off your twice-checked list: a visit to the Guggenheim Museum to view the exhibition Participatory City: 100 Urban Trends from the BMW Guggenheim Lab

The two-year culmination of the “urban think tank”’s work and travel (as the Lab is known) across New York, Berlin, and Mumbai, the exhibition’s goals are to explore new design, experimentation, and thinking for city life.

As a result of tours, workshops, debates, and discussions, the Lab discovered 100 trends within each of the three studied cities.  Explanations and examples of the trends are showcased at the Guggenheim until the end of the exhibition’s run on January 5, 2014.

Here, based on the Lab’s findings, PSMJ presents what we see as the Top 10 Trends that will affect the U.S. cityscape, and have direct bearing on the A/E/C industry, within the next ten years:

1) Non-Iconic Architecture:   Non-iconic architecture strives to prioritize the human scale of a space over its merely sculptural value and defends the importance of simplicity and functionality in design.

2) Micro Architecture: Micro architecture is the practice of using design solutions to adapt small urban spaces, thereby changing the behavior of city dwellers and activating underutilized areas.

3) Green Space: Urban green spaces can include parks, greenways, nature paths, gardens, and waterfronts. Green spaces provide ecological functions for cities—carbon sequestration, water purification, and cooling—and also allow people to interact with nature. Plentiful public green spaces are a critical feature of good urban design.

4) Dumpster Design: Dumpster design is an approach that employs used or discarded objects as raw materials for new products. Dumpster design has emerged out of a growing trend toward sustainable consumption, which promotes alternative economic structures facilitated by sharing, recycling, and “freecycling.”

5) Emotional Cityness: Emotional cityness is the rejection of impersonal and cold relationships in large urban areas in favor of face-to-face, convivial, and empathic interaction. In a climate of rapid urbanization and uncertainty, with dynamics leading toward social fragmentation, there is an increasing need for new connectivity in urban environments that can be achieved through the strengthening of personal relationships. Social interaction within cities is a vehicle toward community cohesiveness.

6) Inclusive Design: “Inclusive design” refers to design based on a user-centered approach. The goal of inclusive design is to ensure that devices, products, environments, and experiences remain equally accessible to everyone, regardless of age, culture, or ability. In today’s world, we see an increasing need for this kind of approach, since a diverse population requires more accessible environments, consumer items, interfaces, and services.

7) Aging Population: Today, 20 percent of the population is older than sixty-five; by 2060, every third person will have reached that age. The effect of the aging population on the urban environment and on social services is one of the most significant global challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years. Urban design, community initiatives, and public services can help meet the needs of young and old citizens alike.

8) Design Barriers: Design barriers are construction choices that limit or control an individual’s access to urban spaces. From “No Loitering” signs to benches with armrests designed to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, our cities are full of devices meant to disperse and divide citizens along lines of race, class, and age.

9) Social Design: Social design reminds designers of their responsibility toward society. Since we live in a social world defined by interaction, it is natural that our actions have an impact on other people’s lives. Design can be seen, therefore, as a tool to promote social change. The development of projects engaged with communities, governments, and other organizations enables design to deal with social issues and commit to its important role in society.

10) Accessibility: “Accessibility” describes the ease with which something can be reached, obtained, used, or understood by as many people as possible. Though often used in reference to accessibility design—urban design that takes into account the full spectrum of other-abled (including elderly, disabled, and handicapped) individuals by creating a user-friendly urban and domestic environment.

For full definitions and more information about the BMW Guggenheim Lab and the Participatory City exhibition, visit: http://www.bmwguggenheimlab.org.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Open Mouth, Insert... Increased Employee Engagement?

In his article I Can’t Find Enough Good People … ! in the November issue of PSMJ, award-winning author, thought leader, and A/E/C industry expert Bob Kelleher wrote about the national crisis facing A/E/C firm leaders everywhere in training and developing their employee base.

The article corresponded with the release of Kelleher’s employee engagement video “Who’s Sinking Your Boat?”, which powerfully and startlingly illustrates the average level of engagement among American workers at a typical firm (hint: it’s abysmally low).
The question is, if we’re in such bad shape, what do we do about it?
The Aberdeen Group’s June 2013 Employee PerformanceManagement Research Brief provides some insights:

1)      Conversations between employees and managers that establish performance goals and agreed-upon development plans should be the number one priority. Managers who consistently keep their employees up-to-date on targets—and show how those targets align with the company’s overall goals—have employees exceed performance expectations by 20%.  Those same employees are also 10% more engaged.

2)      Managers should be enabled with technology to support performance management. Managers that are provided the appropriate tools—such as automated performance management resources—are better able to manage their employees.

3)      Conversations between managers and employees should be frequent and both formal and informal. The Research Brief showed that the more conversations managed had with employees, the better the employees performed.  Moreover, when the employees’ performance was tied directly to its effect on the company, the employees did better overall.
So, make a deal with yourself: make it your priority to talk to one of your employees today.  Remember, it’s okay if it’s an informal chat.  What’s important is to get the communication started.
For employee engagement and leadership workshops, check out Bob Kelleher’s The Employee Engagement Group.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Olin College Close-Up: Richard Miller Taking Engineering to Next Level


“Engineering is not a body of knowledge.  Engineering is a process,” declares RichardMiller, the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering’s spirited president, succinctly summarizing the college’s  raison d’être.

If this sounds different from the objective of your engineering school, that’s because it is.  Founded by a board of directors who felt that today’s engineering education needed to be electric-shocked into the 21st century, Olin recruited Richard Miller to kick-start a new teaching program—an experiment, really— based on the oldest of philosophies (Confucius himself gets the credit): “Tell me, and I’ll forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me, and I’ll understand.”  
And the experiment is working.  Students are turning down offers from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard for the privilege of being one of the 50 students accepted out of the roughly 500 students who apply each year.  Here, students pay a maximum of $38,000 in tuition for a full four years of education, develop a patent by the age of 19, have a business (with investors) set up by graduation,  as well as a job offer with a starting salary $25,000 above other engineering graduates.  What’s more, they have a gender neutral student body—nearly unheard of in today’s engineering classes—and all this is accomplished with a non-tenured faculty and zero academic departments.
How does Olin do it?  By using a design-based curriculum (which includes taking art, music, business, and humanitarian courses at nearby Babson and Wellesley Colleges), Olin leaves behind the “books-first-hardware-later” mindset of today’s most elite schools for a more hands-on approach. 
It began with an unlikely undertaking.  After meeting with his faculty to discuss what they remembered about their experiences in college, Miller found a common theme: most of them remembered nothing significant in their early freshman and sophomore science and mathematics classes, but all of them remembered—most in great detail—their senior projects, in which they actually had to create something.  This got Miller thinking:  why not have students complete projects first?
So the first assignment for the just-out-high-school students at Olin?  Create a working pulse oximeter in five weeks.  Resources?  Only the library and a patent drawing.
The faculty, expecting the students to come complaining that they didn’t understand the physics behind the making of the machine, were shocked to find an ugly, grey wire thing show up in their classroom five weeks later:  it was a pulse oximeter (sort of)—but, more important, it worked!  They retrieved a pulse oximeter from a hospital, and the readings between the two machines were in sync.  The students had done it—all without one math or science or physics prerequisite.
The epiphany that accompanied this accomplishment was game-changing: “Uniformly, across education, we underestimate what students can do,” says Miller.  And Miller was determined that his school would not repeat the mistakes of others.
Now, Olin is on the forefront of engineering education, creating some of the most in-demand graduates in the nation.  With its design-centered curriculum, students are expected to complete 20 projects in four years.  “They don’t just learn about engineering,” Miller states. “They learn to be an engineer.”
Ultimately, Miller wants a new kind of engineer that focuses on people—meeting their needs and solving their problems. “Our hope is that Olin students will be a force for innovation and change no matter where they go or what they do.”  So far, it looks like Olin is doing just that.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Architecture and Engineering Industry Outlook Remains Positive on All Major Indicators

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Architecture and Engineering Industry Outlook Remains Positive on All Major Indicators

PSMJ’s latest data shows some construction markets recovering more quickly than others

October 31, 2013 (Newton, Mass.) — While still below pre-recession levels, all of the key indicators in the latest Quarterly Market Forecast (QMF) report from PSMJ Resources, Inc. (PSMJ) remain in positive territory.   This is a clear signal of continued optimism by architecture and engineering (A/E) firm leaders as we approach the finish line for 2013 and begin contemplating what is in store for 2014.

Unlike any other A/E industry outlook, PSMJ’s QMF survey examines market activity on proposal and backlog activity as well as current quarterly and projected quarterly revenues.  This format allows for a comprehensive understanding of how proposal activity is translating into backlog and how backlog is translating into revenue.

All four of the key indicators (proposal activity, backlog activity, current quarter revenues, and projected quarter revenues) remain positive in PSMJ’s Net Plus/Minus Index.  A major change from the depths of 2007 through 2009, this important data tells us that more A/E firm leaders are optimistic about what the future holds.

Drilling into the specific client markets, the QMF shows some of the biggest gains in sentiment in the housing market.  “Housing is posting continued good results compared to the past three years,” stated PSMJ’s Director of Research William Fanning.  “We have seen gains in multifamily and senior and assisted living for several quarters, but now we are beginning to see respectable gains as well in the single-family subdivision market – a market that has been in a deep depression for the past few years.”     

Since 2003, PSMJ’s QMF has surveyed A/E firm leaders on a quarterly basis regarding what they are seeing in 12 major client markets as well as more than 50 specific submarkets. 

To learn more about PSMJ’s QMF or to participate in the next survey, visit www.psmj.com or click here to be taken directly to the QMF information page.  Subscribers to PSMJ’s monthly professional journals (Professional Services Management Journal, A/E Marketing Journal, and Project Management) receive the full QMF report each quarter.  Non-subscribers can also purchase the report on PSMJ’s website

About PSMJ:  Established more than 35 years ago, PSMJ Resources, Inc. has grown to become the world’s leading authority, publisher, and consultant on the effective management of architecture, engineering, and construction firms.  With offices in the United States as well as the United Kingdom and Australia, PSMJ offers over 150 titles in book, audio, and video format.  In addition, the company publishes several monthly periodicals and delivers dozens of seminars, roundtables, conferences, webinars, and in-house training sessions every year for A/E professionals around the world.  PSMJ’s sought-after consulting expertise covers a range of critical business areas such as strategic planning, project management, valuation, succession planning, and mergers & acquisitions.

Press Contact:

Gregory C. Hart
PSMJ Resources, Inc.
10 Midland Avenue
Newton, Mass 02458
(617) 965-0055


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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The 4Ps?! Time for the 4Es

When was the last time the guiding principles of the 4Ps molded your marketing strategy? Did you get to “Promotion” and then stop—leaving “Product,” “Place,” and “Price” by the wayside?  You’re not alone. 

The business of marketing is becoming almost exclusively associated with Promotions, marginalizing the other elements and therefore overlooking opportunities for tremendous client value-add.  And those companies that are applying 21st century methods to those 1960s staples—or are reinventing them entirely—are the ones that are realizing the most success.

Companies using “design thinking” (loosely defined as the process of combining empathy, creativity and rationality to find creative resolutions to problems to drive business success) to integrate the 4Ps recognize that invention and innovative brand marketing are the new strategic imperatives.

Take AdWeek.  Their newest enterprise, Project Isaac, celebrates the most inventive ideas in marketing, advertising, and media, recognizing that to stay relevant, invention must be at the core of production. After all, Nike and Apple don’t build products—they invent them.

Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy One, condenses this into a new framework: the 4Es instead of the 4Ps—

·         From Product to Experience
Understand the end-to-end customer experience. How do clients shop for your firm?  What influences their purchasing decisions? What happens after they buy?

·         From Place to Everyplace
Instead of “interrupt,” “intercept.” Make contact with people when they are most receptive. Find interesting ways to connect your brand with your consumers. How can you help your client?  How can you provide a benefit that no one else can?

·         From Price to Exchange
Make sure you understand exchange. Do you know the value of your clients—what they bring to you? What are you willing to offer in exchange for their attention, engagement, and permission?

·         From Promotion to Evangelism
Create a brand experience so inspiring that your clients engage with you—and others. This combines word-of-mouth marketing with social networking and Web 2.0.  Infuse your leadership with passion and energy.


So, what are you going to do today to start using the 4Es in your A/E marketing initiatives? 

METALCON International featured on designandbuildwithmetal.com !!

METALCON International is the one event where the who's who of the metal design and construction industry attend every year. Click here to check out the feature of the 2013 METALCON International Tradeshow on DesignandBuildWithMetal.com! 


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A New Face to Printing & Design

A 3-D face printed on paper from Mcor.
Image courtesy of OinkFROG 



3-D and 4-D multidimensional printing—they sound like something straight out of Mission Impossible.

But they couldn’t be more real.

According to Blaine Brownell, AIA, in Architect, this sort of additive manufacturing is “transforming architecture, design, and engineering, and motivating practitioners to rethink conventional methods of production.”

A singular advancement in the field of 3-D printing is the ability to print on—who would’ve guessed it?—paper (plastics and ceramics having been the most common materials in printing).

An Irish company called Mcor developed the paper-printing method using selection deposition lamination technology (SDL), which produces tactile, 3-D models from A4-sized sheets of paper outfitted with adhesive between each layer.

Brownell predicts that “it won’t be long before architecture students rush to their reviews with full-color, printed paper models.”

But, just as we’re wrapping our minds around the possibilities of 3-D printing, none other than the fourth dimension is on the rise.

Now, scientists can not only create static materials—but also dynamic ones.  With research spearheaded by Skylar Tibbits at the Self-Assembly Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, materials are being created that can modify their own structure at the macro level—in other words, “parts can transform from one shape to another shape directly on their own,” according to Tibbits’ recent TEDTalk.

What does this mean for real-life application?  The short answer?  A whole lot of things. First, it could solve infrastructure problems by allowing us to create undulating water pipes that expand and contract on their own as water flows through them.  Materials could be built in extreme conditions, such as space, on their own: we would simply have to “program” the materials to build themselves (all without motors, wires, or robotics, mind you).

Other applications include materials that “may be capable of responding autonomously to changing environmental conditions,” according toBrownell. Think military uniforms that change camouflage depending on surroundings and coatings on buildings that undergo alterations depending on weather conditions.

To see 4-D printing in action, check out this video.

Though we’re still not at a place where a 3-D printer is as ubiquitous in an office as a copy machine, the future in additive manufacturing nears ever closer. What will be in store for 3-D and 4-D printing in the next five years … even two?  It’s exciting to pretend we’re mission-bound and imagine.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is It Time to Use Gamification in Your A/E Marketing Strategy?

If you’re reading the title and saying “Gamma-what?”, then you need to catch up.  Gamification, the technique of applying game mechanics to win customer engagement and loyalty, is quickly becoming the newest and fastest-growing marketing strategy for many businesses and educational programs across the country.

How does it work?  Well, think about that game of Tetris or Super Mario Brothers you played as a child.  What was their allure?  You faced the challenge of stacking blocks, and you gained points.  You thwarted enemies and jumped up, on, and over objects and obtained gold pieces.  You advanced levels, and competed against others to see who could achieve a higher score.  Those games were addicting!  And now the methodology behind the addiction--winning challenges to get points, answering questions to get badges, playing against others to achieve advancement on a leader board—is being used to engender brand advocacy on a large scale.

Predicted to reach $2.8 billion in 2016, the gamification market is booming. The Huffington Post cautions, though, that marketers have to be careful in how they use this new trend:

“You'll need to determine from the start what it is exactly you're trying to accomplish [and], so, too, will your consumers need to understand why they should participate. There should be clear goals and rewards, like unlocking valuable content, prizes, experiences, discounts or recognition.”So, how can you use gamification to your advantage in the A/E industry?
  •        Use it to augment client engagement.  Provide trivia questions about your company on your Facebook page for points, or ask for feedback on your pictures on your Pinterest page. Provide instant polls so your users can get results immediately.
  •        Use it to on your blog to unlock content. Give valuable content away as a prize for “Liking” your Facebook page or tweeting a post from your blog.  Give badges to consumers who visit and tweet from your blog daily or weekly.
  •         Use it to promote your services.  Offer points to clients who post recommendations on your Facebook page, and eventually, discounts to “winners.”  Use Facebook to recognize your clients and prizes to promote your offerings.
If you don’t feel like using social media to integrate gamification, there are plenty of low-tech ways to amass its rewards as well.  Ford Motor Company added gamification to its learning portals for service teams to familiarize themselves with the latest car models, financing plans, and technologies, and achieved an astounding 417 percent  increase in their use.  Old-fashioned leadership boards—demonstrating who’s leading the firm in terms of sales, proposals, etc.—are also a great way to stimulate healthy competition and growth.

These days, it would seem as if the key to marketing is realizing it’s just a game.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Boston’s Plan to “Be Blue”

Photo courtesy of Inhabitat.com


Last year at a forum hosted by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, futurist Edie Weiner  predicted that green-to-blue spaces (spaces that give back more than they take) would gain traction in the years ahead.

Here in Boston, home of PSMJ’s headquarters, it’s looks as though she’s right. Urban farming, which is one example of “being blue”—along with genetically engineered architecture—is set to expand in almost every part of Boston under a new zoning law. 

The legislature, known as Article 89 —and scheduled to be finalized this coming December—creates draft urban architecture zoning to make easier the speedy proliferation of farms.  The plan allows for ground-level farms up to 10,000 square-feet and rooftop farms up to 5,000 square-feet in nearly every part of the city and encourages the creation of rooftop greenhouses as well.

According to Boston Magazine, Mayor Thomas Menino stated that:
“Urban agriculture is an innovative way to improve city life. Farmers make good neighbors and better our communities. Growing food in city limits means better access to healthy food, while growing a sense of neighborhood unity and greening our city.”

And Menino’s not the only one who sees a future in urban farming. From New York City to Chicago, Venezuela to Lima, rooftop gardens and urban vegetable patches are growing fresh food where people live.  National Geographic even counts urban farming as the best of few solutions to feed the planet’s seven billion (and counting!) mouths.


So, for now, it looks like the best way to stay green—is to be blue.

Backstage at the 2013 A/E/C Industry Summit

Interview with:
Linda Lannen
Chief Information Officer & Senior Vice President, Kleinfelder

Presentation: “Diversity Matters:  Why and How You Should Achieve Diversity in Your A/E/C Firm”

What are some of the points that you’ll be touching on in your presentation regarding the importance of diversity in the A/E/C workplace?

Competition for Talent goes beyond the AEC industry.  Current predictions are that folks coming out of college today will have 6-8 CAREERS, not jobs.  This means they are not limited to AEC even though they may have that type of degree.  As an industry, this is an issue we need to take seriously before we lose the best and brightest minds to other more diverse and interesting industries.. Talent resides in many places; if we place industry experience as a ‘screening criteria’ or absolute then we are excluding talent with a proven track record of success in the competencies and abilities that we are truly need. Those that can manage change, demonstrate managerial courage, communicate and influence at multiple levels within an organization will often be worth more in the long term to the diversity of thought and experience our firms need.

Why is this a topic that the A/E/C industry, in particular, should take to heart?

Our clients in municipal, state and Federal organizations "look" more diverse than we do; how do we really know that we truly understand their perspectives in solving our country's infrastructure challenges?  Having a more diverse workforce not only gives us more credibility on this point, but it helps us develop better solutions for our clients and communities we serve.

What is your firm doing differently from other firms to ensure diversity in the workplace and what have the results been?

What is Kleinfelder doing differently? We are looking past the old conversation that it's an industry problem that we can't solve by ourselves. Expanding the conversation to broader circles, involving executives with observations, correcting behavior, and a move to collect and analyze data are all underway here at Kleinfelder which is a broad leap from our recent past with more progress expected.

Linda Lannen serves as Chief Information Officer & Sr. Vice President of Kleinfelder, a full-service civil engineering firm headquartered in San Diego and with locations across the US, Australia and Canada.  In this capacity she is responsible for all information technology initiatives and services for Kleinfelder’s nearly 2,000 employee-owners and 55 technology professionals.  Ms. Lannen is also the Executive Sponsor for Kleinfelder’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, including Diversity, Sustainability, Volunteerism and Disaster Relief initiatives.  

Click here for more information on the 2013 A/E/C Industry Summit

What Your Clients Think Of You, The Consultant

by: PSMJ's Public Works Project Management Consultant, Michael Ellegood, P.E.

Whenever I work with consultants, I am often asked how do our clients, particularly public agency clients, think of us in the private sector consultant world. Now, in fact, the attitudes vary depending on the agency and the consultant but generally speaking they usually fall within four groups:

• Naïve: “It came from the consultant, it must be right, no need to check it on this end”. This is usually from an inexperienced client who basically does not know how or what to check in a consultant’s submittal. Surprisingly, I have seen this in some large and otherwise competent agencies.

• Skeptic: “Consultants are merely vendors. They provide a necessary commodity but they are way too expensive, all over paid and have fancy overheads. They are just in it for the money and I don’t trust the b’tards.”
This comes most often from older clients who have had a bad previous experience with the consultant community. Sometimes, agency employees who have had salaries frozen for years will be jealous of the compensation of consultant employees. Many also do not understand how overhead is computed because public sector overhead is usually calculated much differently and, consequently, it is much lower.

• Competitor: “My guys can do it better but we are real busy so, I guess we are stuck with hiring a consultant.” I have seen this in many agencies, particularly those with a strong design capability. Caltrans, for example, is very proud of their past work and often keeps much work in house.

• Partner: “ The consultants we hire are an extension of staff, we all must work together for the common good”. This, of course, is ideal, it is often rare however, and consultants need to work to develop and maintain a “Trusted Advisor” status. Sometimes an agency and one or more consultants develop this relationship with the agency while other consultants working for the same agency never seem to get there. Sometimes agency engineers and consultant staff will form this relationship while the same agency’s accountants and procurement staffs remain in the skeptic category.

It is important but often difficult to remember that the world of the agency is much different and in many ways far more complex than the private sector arena. While the business model for the private sector can be summed up as: Find Work, Do Work, Get paid for the Work; the public sector business model defies definition. Basically it is “Follow the rules, even as they ever change; get ready for the auditors who are simply not motivated by you sense of urgency, avoid the press, they are not your friend; appease the politicians even as they push their favorite, but unneeded project; fight with other agencies especially the permitting people. Meanwhile and by the way, deliver the projects that you promised.

It is a complicated world that is not easy to understand until you have been in it for a while.

For more information on PSMJ's Public Works Project Management Bootcamp, click here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Backstage at the 2013 A/E/C Industry Summit

Interview with:
Jay Kuhn
EVP, Strategy & Business Development, Process Plus and EEC

Presentation: “Thriving in today's Middle Market - How Informal Partnerships Impact our Success”

What are some of the points that you’ll be touching on in your presentation regarding the importance of partnerships in the A/E/C industry?

We all hear about the “death” of the mid-size engineering firm.  As we battle with the larger firms for full-service work and with the small firms on rate, we have to look at different ways to compete.  Partnering provides ways for us to get work that we would not get alone.  This allows us to leverage our resources.  While the logic for partnering makes sense, culturally it goes against many of the things that we teach our employees:  sell all the work you can, maximize the margin, make sure you own the relationship.  Partnering requires us to look at the relationship and understand our role within it.  The cultural part is the biggest obstacle to a successful partnership.

Why is this a topic that the A/E/C industry, in particular, should take to heart?

The employees that work for our prospects/clients are strapped for resources.  They are looking for good value, full service engineering.  Partnering allows us to provide the full-service that our clients are requesting. Since we are smaller than our large competitors, we should be able to offer it with greater service and more personalization.

What is your firm doing differently from other firms achieve partnerships and what have the results been?

We have account managers for our partners just like we do for our clients.  They are responsible for being the voice of the partner and making sure we are looking out for the good of the partnership.  We have done joint marketing, joint sales calls, and other activities to ensure that the partnership grows just like any other account.  Because of this attention we are getting exposure to opportunities that we would not have gotten before.  It has allowed us offer a regional presence that would have required much more investment if we would have done it on our own.

Since leaving the consulting industry and joining Process in 2011, Jay has been working on Process Plus's strategic initiatives and business development.  During his tenure, Process Plus has expanded their footprint, added new services to augment their current service offerings in Process Industries, and focused on systems to improve the alignment between Process Plus and their customers.  With greater alignment between Process Plus and their customers, Process Plus has grown 40% over the past 2 years and is positioned for even greater growth going forward.  

Click here for more information on the 2013 A/E/C Industry Summit

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mergers & Acquisitions with Brad Wilson

PSMJ’s senior M&A consultant, Brad Wilson, stops by our Newton office to give us his expert advice on mergers & acquisitions, ownership transition, valuation, commoditization, strategy, and recruiting. Hear what he has to say in this exclusive video!



video

Backstage at the 2013 A/E/C Industry Summit

Interview with:
Linda Lannen
Chief Information Officer & Senior Vice President
Kleinfelder

Presentation:
“Diversity Matters:  Why and How You Should Achieve Diversity in Your A/E/C Firm”

What are some of the points that you’ll be touching on in your presentation regarding the importance of diversity in the A/E/C workplace?
Competition for Talent goes beyond the AEC industry.  Current predictions are that folks coming out of college today will have 6-8 CAREERS, not jobs.  This means they are not limited to AEC even though they may have that type of degree.  As an industry, this is an issue we need to take seriously before we lose the best and brightest minds to other more diverse and interesting industries.. Talent resides in many places; if we place industry experience as a ‘screening criteria’ or absolute then we are excluding talent with a proven track record of success in the competencies and abilities that we are truly need. Those that can manage change, demonstrate managerial courage, communicate and influence at multiple levels within an organization will often be worth more in the long term to the diversity of thought and experience our firms need.

Why is this a topic that the A/E/C industry, in particular, should take to heart?

Our clients in municipal, state and Federal organizations "look" more diverse than we do; how do we really know that we truly understand their perspectives in solving our country's infrastructure challenges?  Having a more diverse workforce not only gives us more credibility on this point, but it helps us develop better solutions for our clients and communities we serve.

What is your firm doing differently from other firms to ensure diversity in the workplace and what have the results been?

What is Kleinfelder doing differently? We are looking past the old conversation that it's an industry problem that we can't solve by ourselves. Expanding the conversation to broader circles, involving executives with observations, correcting behavior, and a move to collect and analyze data are all underway here at Kleinfelder which is a broad leap from our recent past with more progress expected.

Linda Lannen serves as Chief Information Officer & Sr. Vice President of Kleinfelder, a full-service civil engineering firm headquartered in San Diego and with locations across the US, Australia and Canada.  In this capacity she is responsible for all information technology initiatives and services for Kleinfelder’s nearly 2,000 employee-owners and 55 technology professionals.  Ms. Lannen is also the Executive Sponsor for Kleinfelder’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, including Diversity, Sustainability, Volunteerism and Disaster Relief initiatives.   

Click here for more information on the 2013 A/E/C Industry Summit 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Marketing: Your Best Strategic Weapon

With Debra Andrews, Founder and President of Marketri, LLC
Marketri, LLC (Philadelphia, PA) is a full-service provider of customized, results-driven marketing solutions for small to mid-sized B2B companies in the A/E/C sector. Marketri’s president, Debra Andrews, sat with A/E Marketing Journal to discuss how to best market your firm in today’s changing, increasingly mobile environment.

1)    You state that the A/E/C industry has been relatively slow to embrace marketing as a strategic weapon.  Why do you think this is so?

From my experience in working with A/E/C firms, they tend to be very sales and business development driven and not focused on marketing.  I believe they feel that personal relationships and having the lowest bid drives new business, and that marketing doesn't play a role in either.  This may have been the case before the era of modern marketing, but now potential purchasers can read authentically helpful content from your competition.  They can view their experience online, check out their recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn, view impressive photography on Pinterest and more.  What some firms don't realize is that their marketing savvy competitors have entered the "sales cycle" through effective marketing without having that personal relationship in place.


2)    Why is technical knowledge so necessary for effective communications in the A/E/C industry?

Within the B2B marketplace, in which A/E/C firms participate, sales of products and services are complex, meaning the price point and the consequences of bad purchases are higher.  The ability and willingness of A/E/C firms to share their technical knowledge through marketing communications is extremely important to gain the trust and confidence of a potential buyer.


3)    What are some of the most successful marketing campaigns you have run for A/E/C companies?

Marketri worked with a civil engineering firm to help it become the area's leading resource on sustainability ("GREEN").  Through inbound tactics (including blogging) and outbound programs, consisting of article placements, speaking opportunities and hosting a "Sustainability Summit," we were able to successfully brand the firm in this area.






Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Tips the Scale for AEC Buyers?

A Study from Hinge Marketing

All other things being equal, what do you think Architecture, Engineering, and Construction buyers consider the deciding factor in purchasing decisions? What is that crucial quality that tips the scales?

If you said “experience” or “customer service,” you’re not alone among AEC providers. But you’re also wrong.

My company, Hinge, recently conducted research on exactly this question and uncovered some surprising discrepancies between what sellers thought tipped the scales and what really contributes to AEC buying behavior. By examining AEC sellers alongside the buyers they serve, the study was able to isolate two very different views on the same story – including points where the perspectives aligned, and points where they dramatically diverged.

What sellers don’t see

Take customer service. It’s obviously important, but will it give you a leg up in the final selection? According to Hinge’s study, 38% of sellers called customer service the deciding factor – the most common answer among AEC sellers. But only 4% of their buyers agreed!

What about a firm’s experience? 33% of sellers believe it is the most important deciding factor, making it the second most-common answer from AEC providers. This time, 10% of buyers concurred.

If you have a strength like rock-solid customer service, that’s great. But it has to be something that your clients and prospects value in order for the quality to be a meaningful in closing new business. If a prospect doesn’t value the quality in question, then it isn’t a strength that will help your firm grow.

Now, we know AEC buyers want good customer service. We know experience matters. So what’s going on here?  What do buyers truly value, and what pushes an AEC firm over the top?

What really drives the choice

At Hinge, we learned that sellers tend to focus on factors that buyers come to value over time, qualities that are easier to claim than demonstrate. You can tell a buyer that your customer service is second to none, but everyone says that. So how do you make an impression on prospects?

The answer is reputation. In fact, 32% of buyers cite “a good reputation” as the deciding factor in a purchase – far and away the most common answer among buyers. Yet only 11% of sellers thought reputation was a winning factor for choosing a firm.

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. If you’ve got a problem and you need someone to solve it, you want someone you’ve heard great things about from people you trust. Your problem-solver might have a reputation for solving your particular problem or for fantastic customer service; in any case, it’s their reputation that lends them credibility. Weighed against a stranger who claims that they’re great to work with and can solve your problems, you’re probably going to go with the well-recommended option every time.

Of course, this has huge implications for the way that vendors communicate with buyers. The challenge for AEC sellers isn’t to somehow persuade prospects that their customer service is stellar, or that they’re the most experienced firm on the block. Instead, AEC services have to build up a reputation for their best qualities – and particularly for solving the problems they solve best.

What’s more, the firms who understand how to leverage their reputations will have a massive leg up over the competition.

To read the full results of Hinge’s study, check out the research on
How Buyers Buy AEC Services.

About the Author:
Sylvia Montgomery is a Senior Partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm that focuses on professional services. Sylvia is also a co-author of Online Marketing for Professional Services.   She can be reached at smontgomery@hingemarketing.com or 703-391-8870.





 
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