So you now have a lay of the land, your brand is crystal clear, and your target markets are well defined to avoid any confusion or duplication. You understand the marketplace, how you differentiate, and your areas of focus.
But now you have to tackle the tough challenges, beginning with the who. How is your business development and marketing program structured?
Just as it takes a number of specialized positions to design a new building – architects, interior designers, civil engineers, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, etc. – there are many specialized positions within the sales and marketing umbrella:
Dedicated Marketing Staff
- Chief Marketing Officer
- Marketing Director
- Marketing Manager
- Marketing/Proposal Coordinator
- Marketing Assistant
- Graphic Designer
- Video Editor
- Social Media Manager
- Public Relations/Communications Director/Manager
Dedicated Business Development Staff
- Business Development/Sales Director
- Business Development Manager
- Business Developer
- Business Development Coordinator
- Business Development Assistant
Technical Staff with Sales Responsibilities (Seller-Doers)
- Executive in Charge of Business Development
- Principals/Partners/Presidents/Vice Presidents
- Market Champions or Segment Managers
- Project Managers or Executives
- Lead Technical Staff
- Department Managers
These positions all require specialized skill sets and training (just become someone has a degree in marketing doesn’t mean they have a clue about graphic design), but marketing professionals are often viewed as generalists.
Obviously small firms may only have a few of these positions (or one – a sole proprietor who is the marketer, seller, doer and principal!. Larger firms may have multiple people in many of these positions (e.g., regional business developers or marketing managers).
However, the roles of these positions must be fulfilled, no matter how small or large a firm is. Someone has to set sales and marketing strategy. Someone has to create brochures, maintain the website, write content, post to social media, prepare news releases, develop proposals. Someone has to mine existing client accounts, develop new relationships, network, present.
Within your marketing plan, it is critical that you define these roles and responsibilities. Determine who is responsible for what, and make those people accountable. In most A/E/C firms everyone wears multiple hats. There are a lot of marketers tasked with sales – while also creating brochures, writing content, developing presentations, etc. The age-old seller-doer challenge is finding time for doers to sell – plus, it’s easy to hide behind billable work as an excuse to not sell.
This is why it is absolutely critical to address these issues during the marketing planning process. Make everything as clear and defined as possible. But be realistic. Don’t set an 85% chargeable ratio goal for a project manager, and then tell him/her that the must be developing business 10-15 hours a week on top of it. Don’t ask a business developer to handle umpteen marketing and branding tasks, and expect them to spend much time in the field. Be realistic – but also be fair.
You must also have complete clarity on the line of reporting. Who oversees the marketing staff? Who oversee the sales staff? That may sound easy, but who oversees the seller-doers? Often they are accountable to a department manager or principal – someone who may not have responsibility for the firm’s business development efforts. In this case, does the person in charge of sales have any authority over the seller-doers? How are you going to deal with the inherent workload conflicts? Don’t leave this to chance or to guess. Get full agreement right now, before you go any further.
If you are not sure which positions you should have on staff – much less the qualifications for those positions – check out the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Blueprint publication, which is free to members and available for purchase to nonmembers: https://www.smps.org/Career/Blueprints/ .
Once you’ve determined roles and responsibilities, and budgeted accordingly (or set aside dedicated hours for BD pursuits), now it is time to look at your sales objectives.
The first thing to understand is that bookings are different than revenues. Firms have varying thresholds for considering a project to be won. Sometimes it is receipt of a verbal notification. Other times it is when a purchase order from the client arrives. And yet some firms wait until they send their first invoice to mark a proposal as won. Anecdotally, I think that the receipt of a purchase order is perhaps the most common trigger for "booking" a project.
However, bookings aren’t guaranteed. Bookings may never be realized. You can’t pay bills with bookings! Rather, bookings are an indicator of revenue to come. If you “book” a $250,000 contract in January, you may not begin receiving revenues until February, March, or later. And that $250,000 will probably not come all at once; rather, it will be as invoices are sent and paid, perhaps over many months, or even years.
Bookings are a common currency in sales planning.
Your principals and accounting department work up annual budgets to determine how much revenue is required to meet the financial goals. They look at fun things like net multipliers and target overhead rates, as well as goals for increasing / decreasing staff, to arrive at budgeted revenue.
Let’s say the revenue goal is $5,000,000. This could translate directly to your bookings goal. Or, your bookings goal could stretch to a larger number to account for the fact that some bookings will never be realized (like a project that is awarded, but later cancelled or experiences a scope reduction), and others will span multiple years – most likely beyond the period of your marketing plan. So if you determine to add 10% of contingency, your new bookings goal would be $5.5 million.
Sales and marketing department cannot create a bookings goal by themselves. Most of this will come from your internal financial group, whether that is a president, CFO, accounting department, or others. Within the marketing plan, it becomes your responsibility to determine how this revenue is going to be generated.
This is where your target market comes in. Once you establish your bookings goal, you need to begin breaking it down by:
- market sector
- office or geographic region
- client relationship (new vs. repeat)
- any other way you feel is appropriate
If your firm primarily focuses on the institutional market, perhaps 40% of bookings should be targeted for education (higher, K-12, or both), with another 40% for health care (hospitals, health care systems, etc.).
These “buckets” of 40% may very well need to be further broken out – classroom buildings, laboratories, student housing for higher education; operating rooms, research facilities, outpatient clinics for health care.
So we’ve now accounted for 80% of our bookings goal, but what about that other 20%? Maybe it is a single bucket of “other” – the work that just comes in the door without a lot of proactive marketing, from a variety of market sectors. Or maybe you are looking to grow into a new segment. You’ve designed or built a lot of collegiate housing, and you want to leverage those credentials for the multi-family residential market. Likewise, there may very well be a sector that is in decline for your firm – you used to be really active in it, but for one reason or another you no longer are, and the prospects aren’t good. Perhaps your market champion / rainmaker left the firm, taking the experience with him or her. Perhaps it is just a building type that is in decline, or there are other economic or political reasons that make it less attractive.
The reason you should segment your booking goals by market sector is so you have an idea where to focus your sales and marketing efforts. In the example above, you’d want to hit education and health care hard. But perhaps that multi-family housing market is attractive, but you are trying to break in, so you determine to spend about 30% of your marketing and sales time and money into education, 30% into health care, and 25% into multi-family housing, with the balance going toward your other market sectors.
Few firms have the resources to effectively market and sell in all the segments they are targeting, so it is critical to concentrate your efforts. Focus on the market sectors where you have the greatest strengths and have a high potential for work. Then focus on the “markets of tomorrow” for your firm. Anyone who took a marketing class in the 1980s or 1990s probably remembers the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) matrix – four simple quadrants divided by market growth rate and relative market share, creating Stars, Cash Cows, Question Marks, and Dogs. Your bookings goals and corresponding sales and marketing effort should focus on the Stars – where you have a niche in a growing market. Cash Cows are important, but the market isn’t growing, so you are looking to maintain market share. The Question Marks could become Stars – or they could become Dogs. In our example above, multi-family housing would be a Question Mark for your firm. There’s a lot of work, but you don’t have much experience.
And those market sectors that are in decline for your firm are Dogs – don’t waste your efforts on them.
Bookings can also be broken out by office or geographic area, depending upon your size. A satellite office may have its own unique bookings goal, or be part of the larger corporate goal. You may target to have 60% of your work from State A, 30% from State B, and 10% from State C. Again, these goals help to focus your sales and marketing efforts. Perhaps you’re strong in education in one state, and strong in health care in another state. Do you want to keep it that way, or try to grow your primary markets in areas that you currently don’t have a lot of market share?
Breaking out bookings by new/repeat is also a useful exercise, although the industry average has hovered around the 20% new business, 80% repeat business for decades. In a lot of firms, the project executives or project managers are tasked with the bulk of the repeat bookings goal, mining existing accounts for more work. This could be by gaining additional work at the same location, providing new services to the same location, or expanding your work by designing or constructing projects at other locations (buildings, sites) owned by the same client.
Dedicated business developers or key seller-doers, in turn, are often responsible for that 20% of bookings that fall under the “new” category – clients with which you’ve never previously worked.
It’s critical that during the planning stage you connect the “what” (in this case, bookings) with the “who.”
Once you pull your bookings goals together – and assign responsibilities as appropriate – you aren’t yet finished with sales planning. While bookings (or revenues) are the primary driver, there are other areas of business development activity that should be planned.
The first up is contacts, and this can go a number of directions, depending upon how deep you want to get. I like pulling together action plans, dedicated to each market segment. Within these action plans, I’ll drill down to the primary existing clients and primary prospects, then work toward a strategy to stay in front of them – or get in front of them, if we’re not already. In this case, the “contacts” are nouns – they are customers or prospective customers.
However, in your marketing plan, “contacts” can also be a verb, as in how many contacts are your business developers (dedicated or seller-doers) going to make? Some firms target x repeat client contacts per week or y new client meetings per month.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) comes into play here. There’s a lot of definitions of CRM out there, but it basically refers to proactively managing the interactions that you and your firm have with existing clients and potential new clients. CRM can be technology-driven, and include sales and marketing automation systems. In the A/E/C industry, Deltek Vision CRM and Cosential are the most popular, although firms also use Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics for automating the process. Of course, Microsoft Excel or Outlook, or even a pencil and paper, can be used for CRM.
CRM allows you to record and analyze these interactions, track leads, forecast sales, and compile intelligence to become more effective. A lot of times, CRM includes contact plans. In the old days (pre-voice mail and e-mail), firms had specific formulas – like it takes calls to 25 prospects to get an appointment, and for every five appointments you’ll receive on average one RFP, and you’ll win one in every three proposals, meaning that it takes 375 calls to get a new client.
But those formulas never seemed to work in the real world, and then with the advent of “the great gatekeeper” – voice mail – it suddenly took ten calls just to have a live human being answer the phone. And then came email and social media and text messages… Well, the formulas are pretty worthless these days, not that they were ever that useful to begin with!
However, part of your CRM program may be that every project manager must contact their existing and past clients at least once per quarter – or even once a month. And conversations specific to a current project don’t count! The same PMs may be tasked with one or two face-to-face visits annually with each of their current or past clients. Dedicated business developers may be tasked with two face-to-face meeting per week with existing clients/prospects, and two new client meetings per month, or…whatever. It’s different for every firm, and a lot of firms don’t actually set goals for contacts, be they in person, networking, phone, or electronic. But it’s not a bad practice to establish a baseline expectation, both for your dedicated business developers as well as your seller-doers. It’s fair to all parties involved, so that everyone understands the responsibilities – and accountabilities – of your business development team.
Responsibilities could include attending professional society or client organization meetings, special events, regional or national conferences, trade shows, and other activities to put your sellers in front of the client buyers.
You don’t have to do a deep dive within your overall marketing plan (again, that’s why I like market segment action plans to go a bit deeper and action-oriented), but by establishing some goals for contact activity, you can at least plan to ensure that contacts are being made. This also helps with monitoring progress against goals.
However, if it is in your plan, make sure it becomes an accountability for anyone and everyone assigned. This includes your project managers! Never let workload be an excuse for not making contacts, because no contacts today equates directly to no workload tomorrow!
As you can see, sales planning is difficult to encapsulate within a single blog post, but it is a critical element of your marketing plan. In the next post, we’ll look at creating goals and strategies for PR, collateral materials, digital marketing, and more.