Construction and design firms often fail to recognize the many differences between AEC marketing and business development. The result is inadequate investment in creating new business, the creation of “hybrid” positions that require a single staff member to combine two different skill sets, and overall lackluster results. This exclusive Q&A session with AEC business development veteran Ann Stacey brings understanding and offers tangible solutions to the dilemma at hand.
Ann M. Stacey, founder and chief connection officer of Pennsylvania-based Stacey & Associates, LLC, has 25 years of experience in community, economic, and business development. Known for decisive and strategic thinking, AEC clients benefit by forecasting and opening new lines of business through aggressive market penetration and service expansion. Institutional owners rely on Ann to navigate the design and construction community for facility planning and design, as well as with visioning, fundraising, and advocacy. A valuable resource for public and private sector leaders, she understands the political and economic environments in which significant capital investments are made. Click here to learn more about Ann.
AEC Marketing and Business Development are Different
FRALEY. Why do AEC firms sometimes confuse marketing and business development? Is it apathy, misunderstanding, or some other factor?
STACEY. There are as many definitions of marketing and business development as there are for “construction management” in the industry. The definition is often a perception in the eye of the beholder and not based on an industry standard. As with construction management and many other services in our industry, you really have to ensure you’re speaking the same language. Given they are overhead expenses and not billable, they tend to get lumped together as the same thing when, in fact, they are very different.
FRALEY. Our readers can launch a Google search to find out about the differences between business development and marketing and get dozens of results in moments, but we both know that things are different in the construction and design industry. Fill us in on what you’ve learned during your 20-plus year career about the contrast between AEC marketing and business development.
STACEY. I’ve learned that marketing and business development are distinctly different; with different processes, products, and tracks of development for practitioners. While they intersect and complement one another, they support the ultimate goal of bringing in new work in different ways. Too often it’s viewed as a continuum or hierarchy with marketing perceived lower than business development. I believe it’s a parallel system that yields the most success. I have yet to see anyone in the profession who is excellent at both marketing and business development, and hybrid roles are always frustrating for both the employee and the employer.
FRALEY. Some operations folks may suspect that this talk about separating marketing and business development is about consultants looking to create more business or in-house marketing and business development staff seeking additional compensation, less work, or support. What say you?
STACEY. If you embrace the idea that not everyone can be expected to excel at both marketing and business development skills, you’ll accept the need to supplement the shortfall. That’s how I have been successful. As a consultant, I can enhance, replace, supplement or guide marketing and business development needs for a firm without them having to create a permanent position. It can be short-term or long-term, broad-based or narrow in scope, and I can go away with no questions asked and no feelings hurt when the job is done. No one has to make an accommodation for their employee or principal who just can’t get something done or who is not the right person to get it done. It’s like a concierge service.
FRALEY. AEC marketing and business development professionals are always trying to convince the folks in operations that confusing these two roles is a problem, yet many remain unconvinced. How exactly does this problem hit the bottom line? Can you cite any specific examples?
STACEY. I doubt the owner of an engineering firm would ask their structural engineer to design the electrical system for a $25-million data center because too much is on the line if there is a mistake. Their training, experience and knowledge of the project is totally different. The same is true of marketing and business development professionals. And let’s face it, there’s a lot riding on the business development/marketing system working well because neither of those engineers will have anything to design if somebody doesn’t sell something first.
FRALEY: Smaller and mid-sized firms often have a single person handling marketing and business development. To what extent do you think that contributes to the confusion about marketing versus business development? Is it a cause or an effect?
STACEY. The awful hybrid business development/marketing role is a waste of money. By hybrid, I mean when one person is expected to attend events, develop client relationships, find opportunities, create proposals, update marketing materials, and anticipate market trends. No one person is good at all that! It creates an incredible stress on the professional who knows they are missing out on valuable leads by sitting in the office for two days doing a proposal. But when they’re “out,” they have no control over the proposal sent out the door by the project manager who has cut and pasted the wrong resumes and project sheets from the last six proposals. And the owner of the AEC firm wonders why the proposal hit rate is so low and why he hasn’t attended a prospective client meeting in six months. It would be far better to assess the skill set of existing personnel involved in the business development/marketing process (principals included) and define who is best suited to do what. In many cases, the help that’s needed is some focus and concentration on a few key areas to allow people to do what they are best at or enjoy.
FRALEY. Now that we’ve unpacked this issue and explained some of the differences between AEC marketing and business development, what can proactive firms do to take corrective action today?
STACEY. Do the Google search and learn the difference between marketing and business development. Then, define the tasks that you need to achieve your business goals and be honest about what current resources you have to get them done. Just as with any design or construction project, either self-perform or hire a subcontractor to get the job done.
FRALEY. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with The AEC Straight Talker, Ann. It’s an honor to have you.