Transcript- Picking Up the Slack: Marketing as a Company-Wide Effort, with Scott Steiding
Transcript - Picking Up the Slack: Marketing as a Company-Wide Effort, with Scott Steiding
Welcome to AEC Marketing For Principles, brought to you by Smartegies, where we help design and construction firms navigate sales and leverage marketing to win more projects. Here are your hosts, Katie Cash and Judy Sparks.
Katie Cash: Hi there, and welcome to another episode of the AEC Marketing For Principles podcast. I'm your host, Katie Cash. As always, I am joined with my partner in strategy, also my boss, Judy Sparks. Today, we are really excited for today's guest. We have a longtime friend and a client of ours, Mr. Scott Steiding, who oversees Sales and Marketing for Morris and Hershfield. He currently serves as the Vice President for the firm, which happens to be one of North America's leading multi-discipline engineering firms. So we are super excited to have you today, Scott. Welcome to the show!
Scott Steiding: Thank you. Thanks for the offer.
Katie Cash: Perfect. So Scott, we've known you for a little while, and what we really want to talk to you about today and bring light to our listeners of is this whole idea of empowering sales and marketing professionals, and also business unit leaders, on the idea of leveraging data gathered through different tools and online activities to better be informed in how they go to market and how they approach sales and marketing. I feel all too often our industry, a lot of the leaders view and approach marketing as if it's this touchy-feely, kind of instinctive thing. You and I've talked about this at large. A lot of firms still aren't really measuring their sales and marketing efforts against true ROI, but that is not the case in your shop. So maybe you could just kind of share a little bit of light into that with our listeners today, kind of how you rose to your position, how you're leveraging data, and what that really looks like and Morris and Hershfield.
Scott Steiding: Sure. Thanks. I think my first comment would be on sort of approaching sales and marketing from a data-driven standpoint. To some extent, as marketers, we take a look at our audiences and we try to construct a dialogue with them or a message to them that's going to resonate with them. Maybe this isn't the same for your architectural and construction clients, but in the engineering world, my internal colleagues are highly analytical. I think they'd rather do technical-driven type of tasks over sales. I joke often that none of them went to school to do business development. They went to school to do engineering or some other type of technical work.
Early on in my time with Morris and Hershfield, I learned that if I showed up at a meeting and I had some ideas that, "Hey, I was thinking about this, or I was feeling this is the type of the thing that we should do", my colleagues were very receptive to those. But they may have a lot of questions, they may want to go away and think about it a little bit. Whereas, if I showed up at a meeting and I said, "I was crunching the data and I was looking at this new particular opportunity. Here's what I think the opportunity is, and here's why", and it was backed by numbers ... I think part of it is I'm communicating to them in a format that they're most comfortable receiving information on, and then evaluating things.
I think that's probably where it started, was just given this opportunity to kind of expand the sales and marketing platform in Morris and Hershfield as the organization grew. There's a lot of ideas, competition for where we're going to make investments. There's probably more things out there we could do than we have time or money to do, so just a little bit of it was trying to help me prioritize, and then also communicate with my colleagues in a way, "Hey, this is what we're looking at and this is what we're seeing. This is what the numbers are telling us. What's your opinion on it?" That's how it started.
Katie Cash: I think that's super smart. Being married to an engineer, you guys are very much analytical and data-driven. So I feel like that's part of the core essence of your entire employee body there at MH. So it plays well to know that you picked up on your audience there, and you knew how to effectively communicate to them through your love language, as well, which is data.
Scott Steiding: Yeah, I love to nerd out on the numbers. I love it.
Katie Cash: Well, I mean, we always argue that math is a universal truth. So when you have the numbers that back it up, and you have the data to prove that XYZ campaign worked or that we should follow for more companies that look like this because they're great partners for us, I think it just really helps the conversation move forward.
Scott Steiding: Yeah, I agree. I agree.
Katie Cash: One other thing that I know about you and your team, as compared to maybe some of your competition in the marketplace, is that you guys have really thrived on gaining outsider perspective. Outsider perspective on the overarching marketplace in which you participate in, also looking at your business profile, compared to maybe some of your competitors or others in the professional service space. I know we're not the only consultant you use, but I'd really like to understand how you guys approached that mindset and how you're leveraging that third party perspective as well, as you leverage that on top of the data you're collecting.
Scott Steiding: Interesting. I think the first thing is I'm very naturally curious about things. I think that's number one. I think number two, the more reading I do, or the sort of podcasts I listen to like yours and that sort of thing, I quickly realize that I don't have the market cornered on good ideas. There's a lot of great ideas that are out there. I think that fundamentally where we started is I had been doing a lot of business development. Then so probably naturally, I didn't jump to the top of the funnel in terms of the marketing things that we started to, the activities that we focused on and prioritized first. We first started at the bottom of the funnel and moved our way up, if you will.
So we started sort of on closing and sales things. Over the last few years, we've moved up the funnel towards some brand awareness things. So I think part of it was me seeking input from best practices and industry experts, just in terms of ideas. That's the first piece. Then the second piece is to go back to the analytics. As we sort of moved our way up to the top of the funnel, measuring whether you won or lost is easy in how many dollars came in as a result of that. But as you start to move higher up in the funnel, I wouldn't say it's more challenging to measure, but it takes a different approach to start to measure some of those things. So I think that I reach out in terms of market research, going through independent third parties and we use a few different services, partially because the diversity of the markets we're in and the diversity of the geographies we're in. I haven't found a single service as far as like a one-stop shop and does it all.
I think it's good to have conflicting views. We often talk about a little creative tension, where I don't want everyone in the room saying the exact same thing, yes, nodding their head. It's probably better that there is some dialogue back and forth, and kind of that tension between ideas, in a healthy productive way. Then I like the benchmarking that you mentioned. I'm glad you mentioned that because I have, at this point now, probably four years worth of really good data. I can go back over 10 years and have some information and data. I'm really into watching trends seasonally and over the years, and some of those sorts of things, and then tracking how we're doing based on what the market research might have said.
But it's really interesting to reach out to a couple of these third parties that have benchmarking information on how other engineering firms are performing in the same market. Not that you have to try to be at the top on any one of those, but it's really good to know, "Oh wow, we're a little ahead there. What are we doing that's different than the other folks?", to see that we're performing at a higher level than those. If you're a little behind on some of the other benchmarks, just identify that that's where we need some work.
Judy Sparks: So Scott, it's interesting that you are so progressive in your thinking, yet you're not an engineer. But you have incredible credibility within your firm. I think a lot of that is your approach to evidence-based marketing. Can you talk to our listeners that are in maybe a similar role as you, the art of managing up and being armed with good information? Can you give our listeners a glimpse of what that might look like?
Scott Steiding: Yeah, I'm happy to. I think that every situation is different. I think the first thing is that I'm very fortunate that I sit inside the senior management teams. Morris and Hershfield has recognized that Sales and Marketing gets a spot at the table with the rest of the C Suite. So I think number one, that's unique at Morris and Hershfield. Just talking to some other colleagues, that's not always the case. There's not necessarily a CMO or someone like that that's at the table. So I'd set the ground rules that I'm very fortunate to be in the environment that I'm in.
I think that the second piece, being that often at the senior level, a lot of the discussion that's happening is based on financial results. I can't say that this is my original idea, but a lot of the challenge with financial results is you're looking in the rear-view mirror. How did we do last year? How did we do last month? I wanted to construct an opportunity for the senior management team to look forward in the business. We certainly had forward-looking things before I assumed the role, but we couldn't necessarily forecast the likelihood that we were going to secure a project, and when that project was going to happen. It's assisted us in smoothing out the curves between the end of one big project and the start of another big project. That's always a big challenge in larger firms, hooking those together. Sort of understanding the challenges to the operational teams from a sales and marketing standpoint, and having the right resources in the right place to start at the right times might have been maybe the first problem that we tried to solve.
The operational teams saw the benefit of that, being able to sort of see forward. Not just backwards, but to see forward and then to start plan resources. Especially now, it's really tough to secure good people. Our employment rate is very low or the lowest it's been in decades. So there's a lot of competition for those individuals. So the individuals we have, you want to keep busy. You want to get the right flow of work coming in at the right time.
So I think solving that problem probably started first with them. Then that kind of began a dialogue where we were starting to create tools and we were getting feedback. Then simultaneously, we were looking at the strategy or maybe where we were focusing our business development activities, and looking at how our business results were doing, and then looking forward again. It's more been an iterative process that I've just been able to work very closely with our operational leads, to help them meet their business goals every year. So it's been a good collaboration from that respect.
Judy Sparks: It sounds like it's been more of a marathon than it has been a sprint. I think that one of the things we hear a lot from marketers in our industry is how long does it take to truly build that credibility and earn that seat at the table? I think that data is a great way to differentiate yourself as a marketer. Again, there's probably a large communication gap between the average marketer and the average engineer. So the universal language being numbers is great at closing that gap.
So what you've done there is absolutely incredible. I remember when we first started working together, you were in a different role. So you have actually been able to see the evolution of the culture around marketing within Morris and Hershfield, and it's not just external-facing, but one of the big observations I have of you and your team is a lot of what you do is also internal-facing. We all believe that the hardest part of a brand strategy is brand living. That's something you [crosstalk 00:12:32] really, really well. Can you talk a little bit about how you use data and how that drives really everything you do? It's not just on the sales side.
Scott Steiding: Great question. So I'm going to disclose something here that I'm not sure every Morris and Hershfield employee knows. But if we send an e-blast out, we're tracking our results and seeing how we're doing. A few years ago, my team, we were having some success externally with our messaging. We were asked if we would take on the corporate communications role internally. We were rolling out our biggest ever five year strategy, our 2020 vision, so we were, to some extent, doing a little bit of ... And I wouldn't say internal marketing with it, because we had so much input from staff on that strategy. But then once we started the strategy, we wanted to actually action this one, not just put in the drawer and come back to it. So we were constantly communicating internally with our teams in terms of updates. We were doing video updates and email updates. We have internal webpages and some of those sorts of things.
But the interesting thing that sort of happened for the marketing team is we've got this great audience of 1,000 people inside of our firms. Often, we have an opportunity to test a new theory or a new product, or maybe a new e-blast tool or something like that internally before we would do it externally. Not that we make many mistakes, but if something doesn't go as smoothly as we'd want, it's contained. But [inaudible 00:14:03], we're tracking our response rates on those things too, and we're not drilling into a specific employee or something like that [inaudible 00:14:10] see if it opened or not. But if we're not seeing the open rates on a email that we've sent out, including a newsletter or including some updates on how the company's doing or corporate social responsibility activities, we take the time to back up and look at that differently. "Hey, how are videos performing versus when it's just an email?", doing those sorts of things.
So I think that we've just applied the same type of approach to our external marketing to our internal communications, in some respects, with a goal of meeting our staff where they are. They're busy. Some of the youngest ... This shouldn't be a surprise. Often, the younger staff are really excited at watching the videos. I can see that some of our older staff read the reports more. That's a bit of a broad generalization, but those types of things do show up in the numbers.
Judy Sparks: That's really interesting. With you taking on your internal communications, really the company itself has become a client of your department. So one of the things that I've always admired about you and your team is you really treat your engineers and billable team like they are your internal clients and servicemen. I love what you just said about meeting them where they are. I think a lot of marketers in our space sit and wait for their billable team to come to them. But I think that recognizing that the only full-time job that ... Well, let me back up. The billable staff, their full-time job is not marketing, whereas the marketing staff, it is. So if you can meet people where they are, and make it easier for them, I think collaboration just becomes a whole lot stronger.
Scott Steiding: So I impress upon my team ... And my team is fantastic, so a quick shout-out to them. I've got the best team around me that I've ever had. I'm so fortunate with their skills and the ideas that they bring. But everybody's a little bit different. Everybody on the team has sort of a niche or a different specialty that they have something they shine at. But everybody is very client-centric and that's something that I try to impress upon them.
Anybody who's listening to us often knows that maybe it's the same thing in architectural practice, but engineering practice, staff often come in in the morning, and the first thing they want to do is their technical work because that's why they went to college. None of my internal colleagues went to school to do business development. So they're doing their technical work. Then often, the business development related task, if it's writing proposals, or maybe we're doing some final planning for a conference, or some of those types of things, happens towards the end of the day. So my team just needs to be aware that often the email stream starts flowing in at 3:00, and it may not start at 5:00, type of thing.
So I think part of it is just recognizing that oftentimes, the billable hours come first and don't feel bad about that. Don't let that impact you. It's just the nature of a lot of the individuals. It can be the nature of the priorities of a particular day or week. Take the information in when you can get it. So it's been successful for us.
Katie Cash: I think that's great, really mindful. I want to go back to something you said a little bit earlier. I really loved your analogy there that you are really trying to help your team not just look in the rear-view, but be forward facing with some tools and some insights, so that as they approach business planning, how they prioritize that non-billable time. I know our industry, sales and marketing, beyond that, we often fall victim to only being reactive, only preparing those proposals, only getting ready for interviews, and not really having time to be true forward-thinking and forward-facing when it comes to those efforts.
So I'm curious, Scott. With all the tools and things that you have, what have you found to be the most valuable at giving you and your team and your internal clients at Morris and Hershfield kind of that forward-facing insight?
Scott Steiding: That's a great question. I might have two answers on that one.
I think that when it comes to us meeting with our internal clients, my suggestion to the team is never show up with an empty blank piece of paper. So if we're meeting with the team, we should be doing some work in advance. So when we come to that meeting to discuss new activities or planning for next year, or doing those sorts of things, we've got some ideas.
Katie Cash: Your team never shows up with your technical staff saying, "Okay, what do you guys want to do?" I love that. It's such a thoughtful approach to being mindful of their time and then also letting your team kind of own that [inaudible 00:19:15].
Scott Steiding: Totally. And I think too, I think that the technical staff really know the material, and often how to position it, and then better than my team, the value that they're delivering. But maybe they're not as familiar with the process flow of how we would deliver that, through multiple channels or those sorts of things. They don't need to. So if we show up and kind of have that piece of the project, if you will, laid out, and they're bringing the content or the technical know-how to those things, I just find that it works real well.
So I think that's sort of forward-facing as I would look at developing our marketing plans or implementing a particular area of marketing plan. That's probably the best. If I were to say what tool that ... Maybe I'm going to kind of nerd out here.
Katie Cash: That's okay. You can nerd out.
Scott Steiding: I think Power BI, which is a new Microsoft reporting platform, which is ... I'm oversimplifying this, but it's like Microsoft Excel on steroids. You can kind of pull data out of your accounting system and pull data out of HubSpot, pull data out of your CRM system. We have a customer survey program, we should probably mention that, too. We've talked about a lot of the stuff on the marketing side, we haven't necessarily talked about the customer experience piece yet, which is part of the whole thing. If you're really trying to do a good job of marketing and branding and living the brand, as Judy said earlier, you've got to have that customer experience piece.
But being able to kind of have a few data points for each one of those particular pieces, either on sort of the beginning of the customer journey, or how customers experience thing, it really helps us looking at all these different data sets together. Power BI allows us to organize all these disparate things instead of using pivot tables and looking at four or five different spreadsheets at the same time. We've been able to push this data into one dashboard, or a smaller number of reports. I'm more graphical. A lot of our team likes seeing the numbers, the spreadsheet type of thing more than the other. But it makes the decision-making a whole lot easier and faster. You can start to see trends.
So I think that from a tool standpoint, Power BI has been great for us. A big reason of that is, we're talking about a relationship with our internal clients. I recognize they'd rather do the technical work than do a business development. We have 1,000 employees. I think we probably have about 300 people that sort of do business development, if you will. We're very much a seller/doer culture. A lot of our next project comes based on ... It's probably not different from a lot of firms, but from the works we do before. We're working really hard to try to minimize the amount of time that the operational teams have to spend on business development.
So we're helping them better develop our service offering, find the right client, find the client that's aligned with sort of the value that we can deliver. All of those types of things to cut down on writing proposals for someone, where we don't have a great chance of winning type of thing, or engaging with some of those other clients that maybe for whatever reason's just not a good fit. We haven't been able to build a good durable long-term relationship or those sorts of things. All these little data points help with-
Katie Cash: Well, and I think ... And we've shared this with you, but we've done a ton of research at Smartegies in terms of interviewing owners and other professional service providers within our space. I know you guys sell to architects, as well as directly to owners. We find, especially in the engineering field, a lot of those owners really do love having the business development conversations with a seller/doer. They do like to kind of dive into the weeds and get into the technicalities, and they like to have that collaboration with the individuals that are technically going to execute that idea. I do agree giving them power and the freedom and the tools that they need to really focus on honing their business development activities with those clients that are going to be repeat clients, that have the opportunity to bring the biggest value is really smart.
So I do have two quick follow-up questions for you, based on that quick little insight that you gave us. One is how often are you looking at your data? The other part of it that I'm curious about is who "owns" the data? Is it marketing? Is it accounting? Is it IT? Is it just the leadership team? How does that work within Morris and Hershfield? How did you all determine that one, that's the right frequency to look at our data, and two, that "Hey, this is who's going to own reporting on it and making sure the information is correct and cleaned up whenever it needs to be?
Scott Steiding: So first, that's a great question on clean data. [inaudible 00:24:04] Let's come back to that one, because your decision-making is only as good as the data. I think first monthly is the easy answer that we're looking at the data. I'll go back to Power BI again. We don't generate the reports anymore. The nice thing in Power BI is it's automated and the reports generate themselves every time you come in, so it pulls data from those vehicles. It refreshes things. So that's a big thing that we've done. We used to spend considerable amount time every month preparing reports for senior management team, all the way down to the department managers to take a look at. We don't do that anymore. Now they're available so we will click in and look at them.
So from a marketing standpoint, those people are on my team. I get to spend more ... My team gets to spend more time doing marketing and business development related activities instead of generating reports. So automation is key for anybody who's listening out there. But once a month, I would say we take a closer look at the sales data and take a look at where things are. Twice a year, we're probably having more in-depth conversations with each one of our business units in the groups inside of those, from the hierarchy standpoint with the groups looking in greater detail at the data.
Then annually ... And we're in that season right now, our fiscal year ends the last day of September. So we're in business planning season right now for next year. This is a big time for us. We've been able to work very closely with our friends in the accounting and finance team that have been willing to share access to the accounting data, plug that into Power BI. So we've been able to create kind of a suite of tools for our managers to look at past financial performance by client, market, asset type service, geography, those sorts of things.
We're taking a look at where the markets are going, what geographies and what areas of the economy are going to be growing next year, and kind of pool all that data together and then look at how successful we've been from a sales standpoint in some of those areas, how successful we've been on delivery. Maybe there's some benchmarking involved there as well. But it really starts to give us a good picture on where our business is at, how we're performing, where there's areas for improvement, and then also what are the areas where we've got a leadership position. So it's taking a while.
I think your second question was kind of who owns it, clean data. It's taken us a few years, but back to Judy's comment. It's been a marathon. It's not a sprint. You don't have to have all this stuff on day one. I think that working closely with the operational teams and helping develop data-driven tools that answer the questions they have probably helps you set the priorities first.
Who owns the data? I don't remember, it might have been our CFO's idea on this one, but several years ago, we agreed on a common language to sort of tag projects. So if you're thinking about a website, how you use metadata tags to sort of organize some of the content in your content management system, it's similar to that, where we've identified tags that are attached to specific clients like geography. Are they a real estate client? Is it an architectural client? Those sorts of things, all the way down to "what's the type of asset are we designing?" Are we working on a bridge or are we working on a cell site? Then let's say it's an environmental service, we can be doing environmental services in the early stages of bridge project. We might be doing environmental services on the early stage of a data center project.
We got buy-in early on. Maybe it's easier in an engineering firm, because we love to tag things, and count things, and measure things. But I think that that system sort of underpins. When you say who owns it is ... We sort of have like a master list of what all these tags are. It's collaboratively between sales and marketing, between our accounting and finance teams, and then the folks who sort of run our share point site, which helps organize sort of all project documents. So we just agreed on one language. So I'd say we kind of collaboratively, including of course operations, helped us identify those fields. But sort of established one language, if you will, inside the firm. That's where I say ... Maybe we started that eight years ago. Those waters are pretty muddy in terms of the data. We have some data, but I don't think it's as reliable as our newer data.
The thing that's really helped us clean up the new data is everybody's looking at the reports now and they see that if the data that goes in is clean and accurate, then the information that we're seeing on our reports is more accurate. So I don't think it was a big push to clean up the data. Of course, we annually sort of clean things up. But the data has gotten better because those that are working with me, my colleagues, see the value of it. So everybody sort of bought in. We're not just clicking buttons anymore. We're being thoughtful about all the information that's going into the systems. It's really benefiting us.
Katie Cash: So Scott, I know you guys are doing all kinds of different things over at Morris and Hershfield. You've got digital initiatives. You guys are very active in trade shows and conferences. You do your own seller/doer business development activities. I'm just curious, do you have a KPI or a measurement that you are tracking for all of your different sales and marketing strategies that you're currently using in the marketplace?
Scott Steiding: So the quick answer to that's no. The longer answer is I wish I did. But I think-
Katie Cash: Are you telling me an engineer is not tracking something? Oh my goodness!
Scott Steiding: I think part of it is the value of working with an outside agency. I think that the agencies are often sort of more on the cusp of the latest and greatest and the newest best practices, maybe, than a group that's executing on a day-to-day basis. Even though we've got a lot of great things going on, we're as guilty as anybody else at not always popping our heads up. But I think part of it is I may see a new strategy and honestly, I might be a little concerned about the investment there if we're the first group to do it. I think that there's value working with an agency like Smartegies where you've actioned this. You don't have to have all the KPIs, but we have a better understanding of how that's actioned and that it's working so I can at least wrap my head around it, and it makes me more confident to make some of those investments.
So no, we don't have a KPI for everything. We can't identify, for example, where every lead came from because sometimes somebody attends a show and then calls us six months later on the phone for a sole-source proposal. I can't necessarily directly put it back to a specific webinar we had or something like that. We can see things that are more effective and things that are less effective, and start to prioritize.
Katie Cash: So I'm curious. On the flip side of that, now that you do have data, are there some like legacy programs that you guys used to do that once you got data back on it and you start measuring against, you're like, "Guys, this makes no sense. We're getting no return on this." Or there's XYZ ways that we can reach this audience faster or less cost associated with it. Have you found any of those kind of golden opportunities through your data?
Scott Steiding: So the easy one is print media, because that's been the biggest challenge for us to hang an ROI, just because I don't have a real measurement for that. As a result, because I can see an ROI on so many of our other investments, that one ends up kind of falling to the bottom. There are a few things that we do. There's some exceptions that we do, and there's also some media groups that we have good relationships there with. So I think that we do that a little bit, but not very much.
It's helped us with conferences, for sure, in terms of level of engagement and our ability to track leads and opportunities that have come out of those. We haven't stopped going to any conferences, but we've certainly changed our approach and our investment in some of the things that we ... Where smaller conferences before, maybe we're investing more. Maybe some of the bigger conferences, we're backing off some. So yeah, we're making changes. We're changing dynamically on a regular basis.
I think the other thing I would comment is something that's working very well with our data center practice may not be as effective with our transit practice. That goes back to meeting your clients where they are. So if you can kind of measure those sorts of things, it helps you make better informed decisions.
Katie Cash: Yeah, it's certainly not a one-size-fits-all recipe when it comes to marketing tactics, especially when you're across different geographies like you guys are, and your markets are very different. Your services are very different in terms of how you communicate the value proposition there as well.
Scott Steiding: Yeah.
Judy Sparks: And the laws, in terms of privacy laws in Canada, are different than in the U.S., so you have to navigate the legalities of what you can and cannot do as well.
Scott Steiding: Yes, that's accurate in terms of who we're reaching out to via email versus what we're doing on social in some of those situations. That's accurate.
Judy Sparks: You know, Scott, hearing you talk about all of your systems and your reporting and the tools that you have to pool all of the data and get it into a consumable format, for it to be helpful to your marketing team, as well as your internal clients ... I'm sitting here thinking about your typical engineering firm, or really typical professional services firm, I should say. I don't know that it is an intuitive thing for the C Suite today in many firms to even consider data generation or capture to come out of the marketing department. I think historically, a lot of professional service firms associated marketers with the art of making the data appear better in terms of aesthetic presentation, certainly messaging and communications. But it's really since technology and marketing in the last 10 years have sort of departed from their designated lanes and come together in a shared lane, has that been a really strong partnership.
So can you talk a little bit about what does the ideal partnership look like, in terms of your IT department, your marketing department, and even your financial, your CFO and finance department?
Scott Steiding: So we've got a great relationship between those groups. I will actually even pull HR into that discussion, because we're starting to help that group with recruiting and sort of taking a marketing approach to that. It's very early days, but similarly, we're trying to look at the data to try to be more efficient in how we're recruiting. So I'm going to pull HR into that discussion.
I've got a great relationship with IT. So all the articles that talk about that the CMO and the head of IT or IM, Information Management ... I wouldn't just call it IT. It's not just the technology side, it's also the information side in our firm, is key. So we've been able to develop a good, healthy relationship that's very productive. I think that was part of it. I think that at our firm, we've had an accounting and finance team and sometimes being mindful that some of the data isn't necessarily shared out to everybody all the time, so I think that they helped us learn how to compartmentalize data so that you're not accidentally sharing what somebody earns or something like that, in terms of all that.
So I think that I'm naturally curious. So I think that learning each one of those areas of the business and very much respecting the things that they bring to the table was part of the foundation. I think that the other one was we had some challenges early on where I didn't necessarily know where we were going. I think my development style was more iterative time than knowing exactly what my outcome is going to be. I've got a good idea, but I necessarily haven't done it before. So I don't know all the steps to do that. We hired an IT person, for lack of a better term, and a reporting and a technology person, into the marketing team. That person is highly skilled and works very closely with our IM and IT team, and in some instances covers some IT sort of related service tickets type of thing.
That's really nice, because it gives us insight into ... It gives us access to people who work with technology all the time and know how a couple of these tools are going to be. So I think that marketing technology, or Martech, has gotten a lot easier to understand, and you can now buy it on a monthly basis. You don't have to make significant capital investments, has really moved all of these forward more rapidly. Especially in the last two or three years, it's really amazing what's happened that allows us to do some of the things that we're doing. But maybe I'd just go back to the same thing. It's collaboration and teamwork on that side, as well as having relationships with operations, that's allowed us to not try to do it in a year, but to build slowly.
They're starting to see benefits as well. Our IT/IM team uses a very similar client response survey system that we use with our external clients. The IT and IM team is constantly getting feedback on how they're doing, servicing their internal clients, and it's very similar, almost identical. I would be willing to bet at some time, we maybe adopt one or the other system that we use externally with our customers.
Judy Sparks: So Scott, Morris and Hershfield is a rather large company, compared to some of our listeners. What advice do you give to the marketing director, and the C Suite at say a 200 person firm, or a 50 person firm? I think a lot of your principles still apply at smaller companies, but you might not have as many resources. So if you found yourself in those environments, what are some tangible things that you would tell them to do, knowing that they're not going to have the same type of technology infrastructure, the same type of financial resources that Morris and Hershfield would have?
Scott Steiding: That's a challenging one. The goal of my team is to help the company secure the best projects with the best clients so that we can hire, grow and retain the best people. I think most of the folks in my team have that little slogan hanging up in their desk space. I would say the same thing to a director, maybe a director of marketing maybe at a smaller firm, and then go and say, "What metrics can you set up to identify what your best client is?" Because the best client's not necessarily the largest client. The best client isn't necessarily the most profitable client. The best client isn't our technical staff working on really hard technical projects.
So what are the things that we need to do to position our company to get at some of that really fun, hard work? Now it can't all be that. Some of it has to be large projects and small projects. Some of it has to be profitable. The larger projects usually are a little less profitable than the smaller projects, and all those types of things. I think my suggestion would be if you're just starting out, and you're not sure where to start, what's the company's best client look like? Start that dialogue with your operational counterparts on what "best" means.
At our firm, best doesn't mean the same thing in each one of our business units. We started building things around how to attract that, and then move on to what's a good project look like, and those sorts of things. That'd be my suggestion.
Judy Sparks: I think that's great advice. So we call that an ideal customer profile and ideal project file. I think that that applies across the board. I think a lot of times smaller businesses are really not differentiating one opportunity from the next. Especially during times where maybe cash flow is a higher priority. Right now, where a lot of firms are very, very busy, I constantly tell my clients that you really need to allocate your resources to those ideal customer profiles, because like you said, resources are hard to come by.
Scott Steiding: Very much agree, yeah.
Judy Sparks: Talent is really hard to come by.
Scott Steiding: Yeah, and I would say that probably the number one, invest in a CRM system. I think there used to be significant differences between them. I think that they're all very similar now. Everybody in the firm doesn't need a seat. I think that's a little bit of the benefit of the new software as a service model. If you're a firm of 200 people and you have two business units and you can identify one person in each business unit to start to gather the sales data and start tracking your opportunities ... So create your looking out the windshield, your forward-looking piece, but then just start to consistently gather data on your clients and on your sales efficiency. I think that'd probably the first place to start. If you don't have a CRM system ... And it doesn't have to be Sales Force. It doesn't have to be Dynamics CRM. There's a lot of CRMs out there that will work. It doesn't have to be the Cadillac.
Katie Cash: That's all great insight. This has been a really informative talk today. Scott, I want to thank you for your time. While I have you, I just wanted to commend you and your team, and what you guys have done, and also give some kudos to the leadership over at Morris and Hershfield for empowering you guys to really do what we call at Smartegies "move the marketing needle", and really employ marketing tactics that drive the business. I hope our listeners have learned something helpful today, something that can help them start thinking differently about sales and marketing, maybe start employing some of those tools that you mentioned, and being more forward thinking than just reactive.
So again, thank you for your time. Everybody out there listening, I hope you have a great week. We'll see you next time on the AEC Marketing For Principles podcast.
Scott Steiding: Thanks Katie, thanks Judy.
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