Transcript- The AEC Revenue Driver, with Judy Sparks and Katie Cash

Katie Cash: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to season three of the AEC Marketing for Principles podcast. This is your host, Katie Cash.

And I am joined today by my partner in strategy, Judy Sparks. You all know her. We are so excited to kick off another season of the show. And I mean, dare I say, after living through the liminal space, that was 2020. I am so glad to be sitting here talking about some new things. As we reflect on last year, I mean so many firms adopted new sales and marketing strategies, AEC brands, as well as owners alike were forced into adopting and embracing technology. We saw large firms and small firms look at ways to pursue work smarter, more efficiently, and to execute things remotely. Even interviews. And so, with that in mind, we have dubbed this season, season three of the show with a central theme around the AEC revenue driver.

And Judy, as we sit here today, kind of kicking this off, why don’t you break down this theme and give us a little bit of insight behind the concept and maybe share some insight around this idea of having a metrics driven professional for our audience.

Judy Sparks: [00:01:13] Great. Katie, I’m excited to do so. I know when you and I were talking about, you know, how are we going to theme season three?

What is going on all around us? And as I was reflecting on everything that the pandemic brought to our world of design and construction, and then really thought hard about how that impacted marketers, I really feel like, and this is not going to make me popular, but I really feel like the pandemic may have been one of the best things to ever happen to marketers in our space.

And let me explain why I say that as you know, our industry has been built on a relationship based sales model. And it was very much based on the ability to build relationships face-to-face with people. And we did that in all of your traditional ways, whether it was traditional sales calls or going to trade shows and conferences, but with COVID, all of that came to a screeching halt.

I mean, I remember it was March 12th and I sent the email to our team. I mean, I think we were one of the first businesses to say, Hey, we can work from anywhere so let’s do that and not take any unnecessary risks. And, um, in that moment, if somebody had told me that we would still be working remotely today in May of 2021, I don’t know that I would have believed it, but what did it do for our industry, it rear-ended us into the future. And if you’re a marketer like me and like you, and we’ve been in this industry and justice industry for a really long time, you’ve had more than one conversation with your C-suite about doing things differently or taking some risks or changing your approach.

And everybody has sort of. Been struggling with, I understand social media, but I don’t understand its application to our world. So all of that sort of came to a critical point during COVID where finally, the billable team, the C-suite, the leadership teams running our companies, turn to their marketers and said, Hey, For the first time we can’t do that relationship face to face business. Marketing one-on-one is you have to go where your customers are and they’re online and they’re going to be online for a while now.

So what do we do? So we saw like this great pivot that happened where there was an openness to new ideas. There were, there was an audience. Listening to the voices of marketers in our industry saying, Hey, there are other industries that have been doing it this way for a long time. And now that we’re forced into the situation it’s making us really evaluate whether or not it has an application for professional services.

And I think what we learned over the last 12 to 15 months is that not only has an application, but it’s actually more effective than what we have been doing. So I think it’s sort of a Renaissance for our industry, for marketers, at least to be able to enter into this new era of thinking differently and understanding that power of technology.

And if you take the power of technology and you apply it to the business of relationships something really special can happen. And what we say happens is that those relationships can be grown through a digital platform. We say that you can elevate your reputation through this digital platform and then ultimately drive revenue.

And so, we’ve often called that the three RS: relationships, reputation, and revenue. And we have a lot of success stories to talk about the season and along the way, we met some really exceptional people. And these were the marketers in our industry that have been really trying to bring value every single day to the organizations that they work for, always trying to bring new ways to drive revenue, new ways and less expensive, more cost-effective ways to generate a lead. Really understanding what your cost of client acquisition is and how that can decrease in tenfold by using a different channel, like digital, to do that. So, I’m pretty excited about the guests we’re going to have on the season and the people that we’re interviewing and how they contribute driving revenue in their firms every day.

Katie Cash: [00:05:45] Well, and I think you kind of touched on it a little bit. In that is that you’re right. You and I have both been in design and construction our entire industry or our entire careers, rather, and we do kind of get comfortable in our ways. If I do say so, there’s this whole, I was about to say, I’m sitting here watching an active construction site and they’re probably like, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, keep moving.

But one thing that stands out to me as I reflect on the last year is, you’re right. The ability to build those relationships face to face through the traditional means did go away and then you saw marketing kind of step up. And we heard lots of stories where clients were getting phone calls from strangers for like true blue project opportunities based on their online reputation where they were being found through digital means either it was through social media, it was through their website, it was through search. And so, we start seeing these new tactics and these new ways of reaching your audience, reaching strangers, building that brand, building the reputation, enhancing relationships like you mentioned.

And it just caused me as I’m sitting here I’m like, when was another time when such a big event happened, whether it was, the economy in 2008 or, COVID that happened in 2020, it tends to take a real event to cause the design and construction industry to take pause and think about, Hey, maybe it’s time we catch up with how some of the other industries are running and scaling their business and doing things.

So Judy, as you reflect on that, I mean, what do you think was different between the adoption that happened largely in 2008, versus the adoption that we saw happen over the last 12 to 18 months?

Judy Sparks: [00:07:35] You know, the adoption in 2008, what I saw and it was our first year in business, Katie, so I remember it well, is that the crisis that was happening then was really about diversifying into new markets, if you were in markets that were no longer doing business. So, there was a big flurry of new companies coming into the public sector and a lot of companies not really understanding how to make that pivot.

And then the people that have, the companies and people that have been in the public sector going from what was relatively a small, competitive landscape to having to compete with, 20, 30, 40 firms for the smallest projects and those firms were coming from all over the U.S. 

Katie Cash: [00:08:28] Well, I was just going to say, I argue though that that’s kind of what we saw last year, when, mixed use retail and hospitality, and some of those industries dried up, you saw a big mad dash to try to help healthcare industries that were, had immediate demand.

You still see people trying to get into industrial and warehouse distribution as they try to keep up with Amazon and UPS demands of the world. So there is some similarities between those two events but keep going.

Judy Sparks: [00:08:53] Right. I agree. The biggest differences though, between 2008 and what we saw last year, is the role of technology and the fact that we said that humans couldn’t be together.

Katie Cash: Yeah. Okay.

Judy Sparks: So I think those two things, cause the drastic and quick adoption to online marketing and what was historically, if you recall one of our earliest episodes, I think we talked about, okay, let’s get back to the basics, what’s the difference between sales and marketing? And I used to say, sales are things you do one-to-one and marketing are things you do one to many. Well, as long as there is an opportunity to still do that one-to-one sales, that’s typically what our industry is most comfortable with in the past.

It was the first time in history that we had a crisis that caused us to take humans out of play, where we couldn’t do that one-to-one sales game anymore. And our industry, who uses sales and marketing pretty interchangeably tends to be more sales oriented, like our organizations were built on sales cultures.

For the first time I saw a huge focus on marketing. Up until just the last few years have most firms realize that marketing is not just the department down the hall that does proposals. In fact, I would argue that while that is an important part of doing business and being competitive, there’s so much more value that professional marketers bring to the business conversation. And we saw that during the pandemic, we saw marketers say, Hey, we have some new ideas and now, now that you can’t do all of those traditional things that you’re accustomed to doing and spending money on, will you consider some alternative means?

And those leaders who were open to new ideas and who could be convinced by data were able to say, yeah, I’m comfortable taking that risk. Let’s try it. There’s nothing else going on. Let’s try it. And what they’ve learned is, wow, we really should have listened earlier. Our marketers have been trying to tell us this for years, but we were too busy running our operations and kind of carrying on with the, if it’s not broke, let’s not fix it mentality that there wasn’t a sense of urgency to think about new ways of doing things. The pandemic really made everybody pause and take a look at what else is possible and I think that we’re all better for it now.

Katie Cash: [00:11:46] It sounds like if I were to summarize what you just said, that really, as we look at season three of the podcast, we’re going to be talking with guests from across the design and construction space, marketers, principals, some other consultants, and it’s really around the idea of how firms are embracing new business strategies and changing their marketing infrastructures for this post COVID world, where there are no longer pigeonholing marketing into a procurement support role.

And they’re starting to think about marketing a little bit more holistically, where activities happen before, Judy, that the activity that you call a sales initiated ask. So, some of our listeners might be sitting here, maybe you’re new to the show and we want to welcome you for sure. But Judy, for some of those listeners, what advice do you have for them to kind of get up to speed so that they know what to expect for the next few episodes as we talk about the revenue driver within AEC firms.

Judy Sparks: [00:12:47] Well, there’s a couple of resources, there’s going to be a lot of discussion this season around this business strategy of account-based marketing. It’s not new. So, I would tell everybody listening to Google it. It is the number one B2B marketing business strategy in the world today. It’s new to our industry. Still. There are some early adopters that we had on our show, season one. If you look back at episode 17, we had Katie Fisher from JLL on and I think that, JLL is a great example of a company that I  s ahead of its time and as always doing things first and they really adopted ABM several years ago.

And now as we look at these buying audiences on the client side, getting younger, I think a lot of other companies are starting to realize that, the youngest buyers of professional service now are millennials and they grew up with technology and they are a product of the data age. And, they build relationships online, whether they’re personal relationships or professional relationships, and that’s a very comfortable place for them to be.

And it’s absolutely appropriate to build a digital relationship with a potential customer or a stranger that could become a potential customer. So, I would tell them to go back and listen to episode 17 with Katie Fisher. And even before you do that, after you Google ABM, you might listen to the episode right before that one, episode 16, where we really give a broad overview of what account-based marketing is.

So, account based marketing is definitely the strategy. Digital is definitely the most prominent distribution channel to implement that strategy. And I also think that just listening back on some of our episodes, because I think that what we try to do at Smartegies is, provide our listeners with new ideas and a different point of view to the same problem.

So, it’s very repetitive, what we do as business developers and marketers in the built environment. I mean, it’s, it really comes down to winning work, right? Hence our company promise, strategies to win, because at the end of the day, if you’re trying to win your next project, or trying to win a greater percentage of an existing clients wallet, or you’re trying to win the top talent in the industry,digital plays a role in that. And if you’re not already thinking about digital in that way, then you’re probably already behind. I think a lot of companies in our industry are still using social media just to post what we call look at me content and you know that saying, you blinked and everything changed and I think after our listeners realize the magnitude of the changes occurred in just the last, 12 to 18 months, I think a lot of people will feel like maybe they blinked in the world changed.

So, I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got some really exciting guests coming up and I’m just excited to be back and talking about things, Katie.

 Katie Cash: [00:16:03] So I do think listening back to some of those early episodes on the podcast is a great way to kind of get up to speed for what we’re going to be diving into this season. Another resource I would love to offer our listeners is if you go to the Smartegies website, S M A R T E G I E, we have an on-demand webinar called SmartWin, and you can find it directly there on our homepage, we’ll make it really easy for you to find it, and SmartWin goes over the topic of account-based marketing, like Judy just mentioned. So, if you’re more of a visual learner and you want something to go along with some of the podcasts that Judy just recommended, you might check out that on-demand webinar.

But to sum up for today, we are super excited about our season three and working with everyone and the design and construction space to help supercharge your marketing in this post pandemic world. We will talk to you soon. Take care.

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