Image source: DSW & Kari Geha Photography

Digital-First Mindset: Winning Practices for AEC Firms

Unless you wish to be left behind your competitors, the time is NOW for your AEC firm to start off embracing digital trends. Let's adopt digital-first practices, in replace of otherwise-manual processes, to fast forward your success journey.
By Kaley Nguyen | EnvZone Staff
on January 01, 2020 | 10 min read
Image source: DSW & Kari Geha Photography

From artificial intelligence providing data-driven clinical decision support to physicians and hospital staff in the healthcare industry, to big data automation informing better investment decisions across financial service firms, digital transformation has dramatically revolutionized a myriad of industries. As the unrelenting wave of digital transformation washes over almost every single business, such movement has finally reached the notoriously traditional architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry and its clients, as well.

No matter how slow this industry has traditionally been in adopting technological trends, it’s high time for all AEC businesses – regardless of their scale – to hugely invest in a digital future. From streamlining daily grinds, reinventing personnel and equipment management to upping productivity, automating data and boosting sales, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are transforming spectacularly how construction firms are growing business as well as manage their resources!

Tapping into such technologies is, of course, not an easy endeavor. Yet, it is not impossible! In this article, we will focus on how you could adopt digital strategies and tactics, in place of otherwise manual processes, to ultimately transform your prospective clients’ journey.

Winning Digitalized Roadmap to Win More Clients for Your AEC Business

#Step 1: Hit the Ground Running with a Warm Introduction

In such an ever-evolving digital era, especially with the dominance of social media, it is statistically revealed that a personal referral still remains king when it comes to winning new business. To be more exact, whoppingly 84% of buyers claim that an inviting personal referral was what actually got their new firm through the door, and business development professionals also report they’re approximately 4.2 times more likely to score a meeting if they have a personal connection to a lead.

Nevertheless, not all recommendations are created “equal”. The best introduction remains a warm introduction: a referral from someone who is legitimately connected to you and your lead and can soften the way for your sales and marketing teams to kick off the relationship. No matter how “old” such idea seems to be, warm introductions can actually enable you to form a more powerful network and earn more business. But…it’s not as simple as merely asking contacts for a couple of referrals!

The fine art and science of a warm introduction require not only evaluating your current network, crafting thoughtful requests and strengthening relationships with your partners but also truly providing added value to your network. As a result, manually finding and developing these connections can take a lot of time and effort, further tempting AEC companies to invest in AI-powered customer relationship management (CRM) tools.

Conventionally, relationship mapping meant building out a physical chart of all key stakeholders arranged by relationship type, relationship strength, internal alliances, influencers, and conflicts. Whereas this type of relationship mapping is a worthwhile tool and exercise, the sheer complexity and time required makes it difficult to execute, causing companies to avoid mapping altogether.

These days, various technology-based aids such as relationship mapping software eliminate the need to create and manually update a physical key stakeholder map. These tools do provide insights that are kept up to date automatically and delivered via email and mobile devices. Being both data-driven and resource-efficient, these inventions are definitely what sales, marketing, and business development people, like you, can depend on and reference for your new business efforts.

#Step 2: “Wow” Your Prospective Clients to “Win” Over Them

 So, you’ve gotten in the door to meet with a potential client, right? Then, let’s start off demonstrating your smart and relevant expertise!

Always bear in mind that your would-be client not only wants to feel confident that you can get the job done, but they'd also like to have a real grasp on their own firms, their people and the broader market. Thus, should you wish to keep your AEC business outstanding from the competitors, it’s more than essential to show up for client meetings fully-educated and prepared, not only about the client’s specific needs but about who the client is as well.

To be more specific, before walking into the meeting, you should be thoroughly briefed and know the answers to all the typical questions such as:

  • Who is at the meeting?
  • What are their respective roles?
  • Who is the decision-maker?

When you know your audience, you can tailor your message and then better steer the meeting.

Furthermore, it’s of utmost significance to understand what is going on within your prospective client’s industry. This means being well-informed on the latest news surrounding the company in addition to having a deep understanding of what has been going on amongst their competitors as well as the broader industry landscape.

And again, educating yourself before each meeting can take a great a great deal of time researching. In lieu of manually pulling together comprehensive overviews of the company, the people in the room and the news of the day, there are, fortunately, intelligent technologies available that adopt algorithms to carry out the research for you, pulling in the relevant intel that’s publicly available in email signatures, social media profiles, company websites and also some outstanding industry news.

Last but obviously not the least, your target clients will probably find value in an educational blog on your website that outlines how a firm can solve a unique business challenge or even a client testimonial video of how you solved that problem for someone else in the industry. After all, whereas you do want to sell or promote yourself, your content also needs to also be educational and nonpromotional in nature.

Digital-First Mindset Winning Practices For AEC Firms - Fig 1
Courtesy: Building Soltions

So, at this stage, you will focus on building trust and establishing your firm as a thought leader in your space. If your stellar content manages to properly answer a burning question, your firm is that much more likely to make a prospect's shortlist. Plus, with around 84% of AEC buyers reviewing a firm’s website during the buying process, it’s imperative that you deliver a mobile-friendly experience as well. Nothing can derail trust or confidence in your company more than a poor experience with your website across different devices used by your buyers.

#Step 3: Retain Your Existing Client Base

It goes beyond any doubt that today’s AEC decision-makers, like all other customers, do expect a higher level of service than in the past. Would they prefer to wait, even just a few seconds? The answer is unfortunately “no”! In fact, modern customers are increasingly less tolerant of delays, cost overruns and permitting hassles – and shockingly, more than 75% of them say it’s never been easier to take their business elsewhere.

So, in such kind of environment, a focus on client satisfaction and trust is paramount for construction firms that would like to keep and grow their business. By this way, implementing digital steps, such as online client satisfaction surveys and automated client check-in reminders, will help achieve new levels of loyalty for your business.

“Synergizing” Your Digital Strength with Sales and Marketing Alignment

The fact is that if your sales and marketing teams have yet to be in sync, you’re not quite ready to embark on the journey to digital transformation. Undoubtedly, it’s millions of times better when you are able to incorporate the efforts of these critical teams than relying on each one separately.

So, how in the world could you manage to do this?

Digital-First Mindset Winning Practices For AEC Firms - Fig 2
Image source: DSW & Kari Geha Photography

Actually, there are three major questions your firm needs to ask and answer – in order to align your sales and marketing teams and start producing the attention- and business-grabbing campaigns that are likely to skyrocket your revenue.

1. Who Do You Want to Do Business With?

When it comes to zeroing in on your target customers, it’s essential that your management, sales and marketing teams are highly prescriptive in defining who you plan to sell to.

  • What is specifically your ideal company profile?
  • Who are the key personas and job roles that will influence the final purchasing decision?
  • What turns out the most effective channels for engaging these buyers? Events? Social media?
  • Do we have relationships internally with the key buyers at the account?

It’s worth noting that effective targeting goes beyond gathering demographic and behavioral data points: The best targeting is rooted in relationships.

When you combine marketing campaign data, behavioral data and a real-time relationship map of “who knows who” across your business, you are going to find a much faster way to drive new business at scale.

For example, you might realize your most ready-to-buy prospects know two people within your extended network and interacted with your firm at least six times a month. This type of granularity would, of course, take a bit of time for data analysts to crunch the numbers. But as previously mentioned, with relationship intelligence tools by your side, the data will be analyzed and shared with end-users automatically.

Plus, relationship analytics do offer you with a line of sight into the target relationships that are likely to move the needle. They highlight and visualize at a glance key prospecting factors such as company size, the typical number, and level of people involved in purchase decisions. More importantly, they can help you spot and keep track of activities that often predict success, like consistent engagement.

2. What’s Your Lead Generation Process?

Now that your teams have pinpointed your AEC firm’s ideal prospects, it’s time to develop the processes that will generate the best leads for your sales team. Marketing should also be required to generate qualified leads for sales - for instance, they need to fit a target set by the sales team.

Unfortunately, at least half of all initial prospects a sales team will pursue are bad fits for the company. But don’t panic! There are a few things you could do to ensure you’re attracting the right audience.

The very first phase is to build top of funnel awareness - where your marketing and sales can team up to build content for your AEC website that speaks to the different stages of a buyer journey. And again, these pieces of content should be timely and relevant, speaking to the common pain points your buyers' experience (which you have already outlined in the previous step).

For those who are unfamiliar with your offering, they may find value in an educational blog that outlines how a firm can solve a unique business challenge. In the meanwhile, other buyers that are further along in their journey may want to see customer testimonial videos of how you solved that problem for someone else in the industry.

Once your funnel starts to fill out with quality leads, it’s time that your marketing and sales teams worked together to define a channel-based, lead-generation strategy, which identifies critical milestones and lead hand-off parameters for when marketing should hand off a lead to sales.

In order to drive your desirable results, it’s a “must” that different behavioral activities of buyers are treated and nurtured differently. Lead scoring models and a focus on high-quality data can help keep this transfer smooth and effective. The sales team, meanwhile, will need expectations for lead follow-up time, lead-nurturing activities and supporting documentation to help them make their case.

3. How Should Your Team Collaborate? And When?

If your sales and marketing teams are – actively and closely - collaborating, you could probably consider your AEC firm a bit ahead of the game. Unfortunately, nearly 70 percent of respondents in a B2B Sales and Marketing Collaboration Study said sales teams aren’t rewarded for supporting marketing objectives, although most report marketing objectives align to the greater business goals. Additionally, more than half pointed out that sales team doesn't follow up on more than 15 percent of leads delivered marketing.

These figures may seem a little bit demotivating yet there’s always room for improvement—especially if you are determined to beat out competitive firms for construction projects.

For their part, your sales team can help promote the effectiveness of targeting and outcomes by providing ongoing feedback about the quality of leads as well as almost all possible marketing opportunities. Some concerns should be raised such as:

  • Are there certain job titles that speed up the sales process than others?  
  • Do certain types of marketing resources resonate well with prospects, like videos or infographics?
  • Where are the gaps in the firm’s sales and marketing materials that could increase market visibility and awareness?

What’s more, maybe they’ve noticed that a large number of prospects have similar questions about your sustainability measures. That is expected to be a great source of content for a blog post, email, eBook, or another content-driven campaign.

So for marketing teams, what should they do in parallel?

Actually, marketers can give their sales colleagues a heads-up on new initiatives and campaigns—and the thinking behind them. This will be of great value to cultivate buy-in, excitement and ultimately sales enthusiasm that leads to growth.

The Bottom Lines

2020 is approaching with expectedly some potential technological trends to shake up the AEC industry. Unless you wish to be left behind your competitors, the time is NOW for your construction firm to start off embracing these technologies. Adopting digital-first practices and tools (in replace of otherwise-manual processes), coupled with thoroughly aligning your marketing and sales team will not only get you in the door to win new business but also help to cement client relationships for your sustainable growth.

Within such an ever-evolving digital landscape, keeping your AEC business image visible online is undoubtedly crucial to ignite your profitability. Should you need any help with a dedicated team to get your firm exposed to the digital world, don’t hesitate to get an online presence manager.

This article is also credited to Jody Glidden and Dan Dowling.

You May Also Like: Skyrocket Your Business with an Online Presence Manager as a Service.

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