4 Common A/E/C Business Development Missteps Marketing Can Remedy

◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆

Business development activities performed by A/E/C firm leaders, project managers and dedicated staff play a vital role in building relationships and filling a firm’s pipeline. But in spite of good intentions, some common mistakes abound and need fixing.

Through the development of proposals, interview materials, SOQs and tradeshow support, the marketing department spends a lot of its time responding to the requests of firm leaders and business development (BD) staff. And while there are many other activities that marketing can execute to pre-position their firms for success in BD, marketing is also well-positioned to help their firms correct some common BD mistakes.

Here are 4 common BD mistakes and how marketing can help remedy them.

1. Selling before the client is ready to be sold

There is a tendency for many tasked with business development to “always be closing” wherever and whenever they have a chance to interact with a potential client. But today’s buyer of professional services has become increasingly self-directed, is research-savvy, due diligence-oriented and are generally averse to sales (or what the A/E/C industry calls business development). They are performing due-diligence online, researching potential partners and seeking to better understand the solutions to their needs, as well as the overall competitive landscape.

In fact, research has found that in many cases 70-80% of the “buyer’s journey” has been completed before a phone call or meeting ever takes place.  In the A/E/C industry, that means that up until the time a client is ready to issue an RFP, ask for a bid, or discuss the scope of their project, they’re not all that interested in being sold.  So during this portion of the journey, selling (at least in the traditional sense) should mostly off the table.

How marketing can help:

  • Instill a “share don’t sell” mentality for all marketing and BD activities/communications
  • Develop an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy to reach high priority targets instead of resorting to cold calls and emails
  • Provide education-oriented print content for BD staff INSTEAD of typical company-centric brochures and boilerplate
  • Create webinars and seminars for prospects to attend to educate while building trust

2. Following-up to a prospect meeting with the wrong materials

This misstep is very much related to the previous one, but I wanted to call it out separately because it’s such a common occurrence across the industry. Anyone who has worked in A/E/C marketing has fielded the request of an assertive and excited BD representative who is convinced that following up to a “great” prospect meeting with a “tailored” SOQ (statement of qualifications) or a collection of relevant project profiles is the appropriate and most effective form of follow-up.

During the meeting, a good BD rep has asked more questions and done more listening than talking.  And more than likely, the rep has uncovered some unique pain points, unanswered questions or challenges that the prospect faces. The typical follow up materials WILL NOT provide the prospect the information they’re interested in at this point (unless the client has independently asked for qualifications). An SOQ routinely consists of company information, key staff resumes, an overview of the particular service or industry focus that relates to the prospect, and a dozen or so projects that are similar to the prospect’s upcoming project—not educational content that answers their questions or addresses their pain points.

How marketing can help:

  • Take a few minutes to debrief with a BD rep after a prospect meeting and find out what topics were discussed and what issues or questions were uncovered
  • Instead of creating an SOQ, leverage content marketingand gather a list of blog articles, white papers, recorded webinars, etc. that speak to the prospect’s interests
  • If no content exists on that particular topic, identify the appropriate subject-matter expert and fast-track a blog post or two on that topic
  • Even if the client has explicitly asked for qualifications, send over links to the educational content in addition to the SOQ

3. Failing to stay engaged with a prospect over a long sales cycle

The A/E/C sales cycle can be long, lasting months and even years in some cases. And along the way, there are only going to be so many opportunities for face-to-face interactions. While a good BD rep will set reminders to send out the occasional “touching base” email, and look for the prospects at industry conferences or networking events, there is only so much that business development can do to stay engaged throughout the buyer’s journey. That’s where the marketing team can help to engage clients and keep your firm top-of-mind.

How marketing can help:

  • Develop a targeted and personalized account-based marketing (ABM) campaign for staying engaged with your most promising prospects
  • Create blog posts and other content that addresses a prospect’s needs and interests at each stage of the buyer’s journey
  • Set up lead nurturing “drip” campaignsfor specific prospect types, leveraging the content created for the buyer’s journey
  • Monitor a prospect’s engagement with your email, website and blog and set up behavior scoring based on pre-determined “buying signals”

4. Not taking prospect intelligence into new business meetings

BD reps often walk into new business meetings with somewhat limited intelligence on a prospect’s needs and interests. In many cases, the rep is limited to what intelligence they can uncover on the prospect’s website, LinkedIn profile or what’s recorded in the firm’s CRM system.  While this information is certainly helpful to frame the conversation, it doesn’t always tell the whole story and there may be some key indicators missing that can turn a cold call into a warm (and productive) conversation.

Frequently, a prospect will visit your firm’s website in the day(s) leading up to a meeting.  And the pages they’re browsing, the blog posts they’re reading, the content they’re downloading and previous interactions they’ve had with your email can provide keen insights into their interests and needs without having to ask! But without the right marketing tools and processes in place, BD reps are unable to leverage this kind of prospect intelligence. 

How marketing can help:

  • Invest in marketing automation softwareto provide business development teams with real-time, actionable intelligence on what prospects and leads are up to online
  • Use real-time intelligence about a prospect’s interests and online behaviors to have a much more targeted and relevant conversation during new business meetings
  • Integrate your marketing automation with your CRM system to provide BD reps with the prospect intelligence inside their CRM console
  • Leverage the use of lead scoring to help BD reps identify which prospects are most engaged with your firm and better prioritize their outreach efforts

Marketing and BD alignment is key

As buyer behaviors have changed, the relationship between marketing and business development is changing as well, making the need for increased alignment and closed-loop communication absolutely critical. While relationship building is paramount to new business for A/E/C firms, marketing can and should play a vital role in the buyer’s journey—beyond proposals and interview preparation. These 4 tips provide a brief window to the opportunities that exist.

How Does Your A/E/C Firm's Website Stack Up?


Vice President & Director Of Digital Innovation

Tim is a syndicated blogger and sought-after national speaker, providing keen insights on modern marketing and an uncommon perspective gleaned from more than 15 years of B2B and A/E/C experience.