If you work in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, it’s likely that little voice in your head affirmed one or more of the following statements as it relates to the need for a marketing plan. Perhaps you’ve even uttered a similar statement in the past.
- You’ve been in business for ___ years and you’ve never had a marketing plan.
- You’re better than the competition
- Your business runs on a steady flow of referrals
- Your revenue stable and consistent year over year
- You employ the best people
- The plan is in your head
- It will end up collecting dust on your bookshelf
- It’s too hard to plan ahead in this rapidly changing industry
- This recession exacted such a toll that you’ve only been thinking about survival
- It’s a waste of overhead dollars
Ready for the revelation? Every one of those reasons is invalid regardless of your perceived position of strength in the marketplace.
Why You Need a Marketing Plan
Please stay with me here as I revert back to original form and try to summarize why you need a marketing plan and the basics of what that entails. Simply put, you’re business is in jeopardy without a measurable plan. Doing business without a plan is like being the clown spinning 30 plates on various body parts while standing on one leg. Something will eventually drop and that could trigger a full-blown collapse.
You wouldn’t approach a design or construction project without a plan, so how can you gamble with the future of your entire operation by not having a marketing plan? Without a plan, your offense doesn’t know where it’s going and your defense is vulnerable. I’ve seen companies flushing thousands of dollars down the toilet on useless advertising because they lacked a plan. In one case, a firm was spending thousands of dollars to create and place an ad on a municipal map that was given to local residents. Engineers are, of course, Business to Business (B2B) firm. This advertising was geared strictly toward a Business to Consumer (B2C) crowd. In other words, this firm was paying to promote its services to the wrong audience.
When you decide to take action, a few of the many questions your plan must address include…
- Who is beating us and why?
- Which products or services are the most profitable?
- What is our proposal hit rate by client?
- How many billable hours (budgeted and actual) are being spent on proposals?
- How can we effectively allocate overhead dollars?
- Where and to whom are we selling most of our product?
- How will we differentiate to increase sales?
- Will we pursue expansion via merger or acquisition, or a new service or product?
Strategic Planning as a Basis
Start off with strategic planning, which will include a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis to get your team’s perspective. This will serve as the keystone of your marketing plan. The strategic planning process forces you to look in the mirror to see the hard realities that often go unnoticed in the daily grind. I had a client suggest recently that a formal strategic plan didn’t feel right because they had an informal culture so we discussed a more personal alternative that better suited their needs. Regardless of what a textbook might say about the proper format, strategic planning should be done to match your culture.
Establish Measurable Goals
The marketing plan itself should establish measurable goals such as profitability and revenue targets. You can customize the plan by drilling down to a level of detail such as profitability by discipline or client if you so choose. Remember that this plan is a living, breathing document and a work in progress. Force yourself to use it to measure your goals upon completion. Don’t let it sit on a bookshelf or in folder on your computer. Print out a copy, keep it close, and mark it up as needed.
If you don’t have a marketing plan, challenge your assumptions as to why that is the case. Complacency is the usual suspect, but I think it’s deeper than that this time. Many folks in the AEC industry are still in the fetal position after the recent recession. The industry experienced some dark days starting in 2007 as our workload literally dried up overnight. We cut costs. We reluctantly bid farewell to many good people and were haunted by thoughts of the well-being of their families. And quite frankly, many of us avoided thinking about the future because we were fighting to keep the doors open.
The storm cloud is beginning to pass and the future looks bright. Your competition is creating or updating the marketing plan to capitalize on future growth. The only way to win is to trade in the reasons for action.