As the AEC industry gets back into full swing, we are all asking ourselves, “what is the new normal?”  What long lasting changes has the pandemic created in the way we sell, and most importantly, the way our buyers buy our services? While we may go back to our familiar in-person get-togethers again, expect that there will be a fundamental shift in our buyers.

Over the course of the pandemic, sitting at home in front of their computers, consumers have become much more savvy about finding “the right” solutions via the internet. As they search for ways to educate themselves, they find a treasure trove of new options on the web. The competition is fierce.

As a business, you may find that you have competitors who are not as knowledgeable as you, but are much better at turning their knowledge into education. This, combined with a generational change in leadership—with possibly more willingness to shake things up—can be an opportunity or a looming crisis in our client loyalty.

So how do you combat this and take advantage of the opportunity? Work even harder than your 60-hour week? Hire more overhead? Maybe you already have the tools—or perhaps I should say, talent—right at your fingertips to help pick up the need for higher client interaction. For so long, business development has been a separate function within your business, with a few executives and partners having business development responsibility. But what if you were able to fine-tune and turn your entire organization into a business development machine?

After 20 years in the AEC business, I have heard many excuses as to why this won’t work (my personal favorite is “we don’t want everyone expensing lunches”), but with the new realities of our market, it is the time to make it work. Now is the time to pull your business development team out of the janitor’s closet (yes, once I did sit with a marketing team in an old janitor’s closet) and allow them to lead your organization in cross-functional business acquisition and retention efforts.

So, how to do this?

  1. Ask your staff who is interested in business development. A long-time assumption has been to have your most outgoing employee do business development, but this may be leaving your powerhouse untapped. Your Gen Xers and Millennials know the importance of learning how to network to build a business, and they want to help. And, professional development is one of the key drivers for these employees. Tap into this desire with a clearly defined path that includes a high level of organization, training, mentoring and clearly defined growth plans for all your staff—at every level.
  2. Stop using the black box method of business development. You know, where you throw some activities in and hope that something useful comes out. There are proven processes and techniques to assure that you move your team in the right direction with the right communication tools. Executing with the right tools, templates and processes will help your staff REALLY learn how to be accountable for client retention and acquisition in as little as an hour a week. They will thank you.
  3. Understand that business development is a real profession. A quick internet search shows there are over 440 million B2B sales, BD and marketing books available on the market. Now, I am not suggesting that you need to read all of them, but just acknowledge that BD and marketing are professions, and not just admin roles for highly outgoing individuals. Today, everyone is competing against Amazon, like it or not. The sophistication levels your clients expect require you to compete with their last, best client experience.

As we get back to “business as the new usual”, take a look around your hybrid office. Consider your staff. What untapped treasures are just sitting there, waiting to contribute? And how are you going to develop your next generation of BD leaders?