Do you remember the comedy movie, “What Women Want,” starring Mel Gibson. For those that haven’t seen it, the premise is that Mel gets an electric shock and acquires the ability to hear the inner thoughts of all women. There was one scene, in particular, that stayed with me where Mel is out in public and nearly has a meltdown because he’s overwhelmed by the concerns, desires, complaints, and insecurities of every woman in the mall. If you’re a parent of more than two kids, this scene will resonate with you as well. So what does this have to do with how to differentiate your AEC firm?
Are you overwhelmed by all of the voices and opinions in today’s world? As an Architecture, Engineering, or Construction (AEC) firm, the biggest issue you face today is how to stand out in a crowded market. There are a lot opinions on how you can achieve that, but it’s still not clear. This blog is called the AEC Straight Talker for a reason. Let’s get to the heart of this issue.
1. Build (and Maintain) a Strong Brand
A strong, well-defined brand is number one. What value do you bring to your clients? What niche do you dominate? What makes you different? A brand is not just a logo. It’s the way your firm is perceived. It’s reinforced or compromised based on every client interaction before, during, and after the project.
2. Dominate a Niche
Think about the term “general contractor.” It suggests that the work performed is commonplace. It also allows anyone with a truck and a hammer to adopt the title. There is power in specializing. Consider plumbers, traffic engineers, and manufacturers and suppliers of milling machines, for example. They’re a lot harder to commoditize because their playing field isn’t crowded. What niche can you carve out? If you already occupy a niche, is your target audience aware of it?
3. Perception is Everything
The way you present your firm is critical. It’s part of how your brand is perceived. And perception is everything. Are your proposals professional? If your fleet clean and well maintained? Do the folks that you send to trade shows, networking events, and interviews have a professional demeanor? One of my favorite examples of how this is done right is a highway/heavy contractor I know that insists that all machines are cleaned before they hit the road. This firm realizes that perception is everything.
4. Adopt and Own a Technology
Looking to stand out from the competition and dazzle your clients? Acquiring and building expertise in technology is powerful. Consider Building Information Modeling (BIM), High-Definition 3D Laser Scanning, or 3D Printing. Be an early adopter. Don’t make the mistake of acquiring the technology and letting it flounder because you no longer want to invest in software upgrades or training. If you’re not all in, don’t go in at all. Are you watching for the next big trend? When you get glimpse of it, pounce.
5. Focus on Where Your People are the Best
Every firm seems to have the best people. Ever notice that? This is especially true of A/E firms submitting proposals and statements of qualifications. Believing in your team is critical as a leader, but don’t be delusional. First, embrace brutal honesty and accept that you may not have the best people. Stop focusing on why your employees are the best, and focus instead on why they’re the best for a specific project or client. Choose projects where one or more members of your team have a distinct advantage over the competition and make your advantage known.
6. Prioritize Communication
This is an area in which many AEC firms falter. Technical folks, especially engineers, don’t always emphasize communication. Consider the project where scope creep sets in and the project manager neglects to notify the owner. Consider the employee with no tact that argues with your client and compromises the account. Consider the salesperson that failed to respond to a contractor in need of a rental machine for an emergency project. These are all examples of failed opportunities caused by breakdown in communication. Prioritize communication at your firm and you’ll create differentiation.
Getting ahead of the competition is difficult in this crowded AEC marketplace. It requires you to put a mirror up to your firm and be ready to embrace some potentially harsh realities. Go in with an open mind. It will require persistence because differentiation isn’t achieved overnight. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, show them the door. Focus on these six areas consistently and you will eventually achieve true differentiation. It’s worth the effort.
Have you found any additional ways to effectively differentiate your firm?