Sales and marketing teams at A/E/C companies trying to build client relationships must communicate with each other and send the same message to clients, otherwise their efforts can be marginalized. When the team and management communicate with one another, they support a cohesive brand and function as one company, said speakers at a Society for Marketing Professional Services Foundation conference, held on April 13 in New York City.

"It is easy to see how you can do better work for clients when you're working as a team," said Robert Packard, managing partner at ZGF Architects LLP, a conference panelist. ZGF has marketing directors at each of its nationwide offices; a principal at the firm acts as an "air traffic controller" to keep all parties on the same page.

Another challenge facing industry is how best to integrate next-gen staff and groom this younger generation for upper-level management roles, speakers said. As firms have grown, so too has this demographic in the workplace. "How they relate to marketing is different" from how the baby boomers see it, "but we are all part of one team," Packard said.

Executives should be mindful of the host of global "critical uncertainties" that can affect business, said Mark "Rusty" Sherwood, senior consultant at FMI—Center for Strategic Leadership, Raleigh, N.C. These include uncertain economies, aging infrastructure and, in the U.S., demographics showing movements to the South and West.

"What is the application and implication [of such trends on industry], and who is thinking about this in your organization in order to gain competitive advantage?" Sherwood asked. For example, if the elderly population of one area is growing more quickly than in another area, executives should consider whether existing assisted- living facilities will meet future needs. Many firms do not think strategically, which can hurt their growth prospects, Sherwood said.

He cites the now-defunct Blockbuster video retail chain, which, while it thrived at one time, ultimately was unable to position itself to follow consumer demand. Blockbuster "saw the cliff," he said, yet the company failed to take the necessary steps to avoid it.