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Story Time

Tell a More Connected Story

It’s a common practice for A/E/C firms — no matter the size — to describe the services you deliver instead of the what comes out of the services. Firms fall into the habit of rattling off a list of services they offer and then miss the important point of how those services really solve problems, or how those specific services impact the client. It’s a crutch. You’re unsure of the real reason you do what you do, so you resort to lists. And lists are not stories.

That’s a shame, because the body of work you are building could tell a phenomenal story if you look for it and plan it. There is true value hidden in the tangible results of the technical services you provide, and that value carries more meaning than a bullet list of services.

Don’t tell me how you build it. Tell me the story about why you want to build it.

The problem shows up most often in the project portfolio. There’s little continuity, and no expectation of expertise from your clients because your firm cannot demonstrate it. The project portfolio is all over the place — save the work from the one repeat client who keeps selecting you for similar work.

Worse yet, your team knows it’s chaotic and they are frustrated because they don’t have a cohesive story to tell clients. I hear this complaint most often in my work with subject matter experts. One engineer in particular revealed his frustration with the diversity of work the team had been asked to complete. Sure, there were some high-profile projects in the firm’s portfolio, but they lost their patina when shown next to more rudimentary projects. In a moment of clarity, he said, “All our projects feel like chapters in different books.” The plot line kept changing and the technical team gets stuck trying to explain how they bring value to clients.

Find what connect the projects in your firm’s portfolio.

What connects your firm to the completed work? Think about it this way: if each project represents a chapter, do they read like they are all part of the same story? Are the projects related? How do they tie together? Is there a thread of commonality connects one project to another? If you can claim that connection, your firm can tell a more cohesive story that opens new opportunities.

One reason it may be hard to find that singular story is that you’re positioned as a “full-service” firm. It is difficult to communicate expertise when your firm is spread across multiple service and market lines. Saying you are a full-service firm holds no meaning and clients can easily dismiss you as unlikely to solve their problem. If you could have solved their problem, you would have mentioned it. It’s time to be brave and make your mark. Figure out what your firm delivers to clients and take a stand.

It’s your firm’s responsibility to make sure clients can understand that your team is not merely one of the experts that can solve their problem — but your firm is the only one. Instead of trying to be a “full-service” firm and deliver every service to everyone, figure out why clients ultimately pick your firm to solve their problems. And then tell that story so other potential clients pick you.

Here’s an example of where A/E/C firms need some courage connecting to your real story: the #WeAre hashtag. The only message you’re sharing is your firm’s name. Prospective clients can get that from your business card. Maybe the hashtag is supposed to be a mantra for your team members — a rallying cry when there’s a win. There is a time and a place for creating a team environment, but your outward, client-facing marketing is not the best, or most effective, place for it. Spend the energy in that space to tell a more connected story instead.

Plant a flag in the ground and claim why you do what you do. A carefully curated story defines how your firm impacts the lives of your clients and customers.

What You Lose:

There will be a few things that fall away once firm leadership takes the courageous step of connecting project work to the story you want to tell.

Chasing Pursuits

Firms that haven’t considered the story they really want to tell have no anchor and consequently chase any project that could fill the pipeline to generate revenue. That’s one way to build a very diverse body of work. However, the change is dramatic when project work is connected in a larger, more cohesive story. It becomes easier to “no-go” a project that doesn’t align to your expertise, cutting short the hamster-wheel of pursuits that may not be winnable. You’ll spend more time on pursuits that advance your story. No more plot twists.

Project Variety

Expertise by definition means you operate in a narrow field of practice where your firm performs best. The more diverse your projects, the more likely you do not possess expertise in any area and your firm works on a wide variety of projects. That diversity is exchanged for expertise and you lose continuity. If your firm is already known for designing elementary schools, think carefully before chasing an entertainment venue.

Commoditization

Without clarity on your expertise, or how your firm shares a potential connection to a client project, there’s not much of compelling reason to select your firm. Then you’re subjected to the lowest common denominator — price. That changes when clients can see affiliation in your body of work. There is now a value-add in choosing your firm and fees don’t determine selection as often.

WHAT YOU GAIN:

For all the things you lose when you choose to tell connected story about your firm, the gains are far more worthwhile — and profitable.

Delighted Clients

There is a new freedom in moving beyond the simple satisfaction of a client’s need (time, budget, reducing risk) into impacting how they feel about the solution. Clients can respond to your work on an emotional level because you’ve transformed a bullet-list into a story that resonates with them. What’s more, they want to share the story of what you created for them with others.

Expertise

Concentrating your work with connected projects offers your team the opportunity to become deeper experts within that specific market or project type. You solve increasingly more complex problems and uncover new, innovative methods of work in the process. Because you’ve seen it all, clients seek out your team to fix their problem.

Reputation

A body of work that demonstrates connection to your core tenets communicates your firm’s position with less effort to potential clients. Every new project adds another chapter and the story unfolds. You’re no longer providing everything to everyone. Clients can see and easily recognize how you can solve their problem, too. You’ve built a solid reputation that’s easier for seller-doers to promote and close new opportunities.

It’s time to dig in and plant your flag. Stop trying to be everything to every client, chasing pursuits that just confuse the story. Pour the foundation, claim your space, and then pursue the projects that connect to your firm’s reason for being in business.

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©Marketer, The Journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, October 2019, www.smps.org

Marketer is the award-winning, bimonthly member journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, reporting on current business development and marketing practices, issues, and trends within the A/E/C field. “My Turn: Be Courageous and Dig In: Tell a More Connected Story” was published in the October 2019 issue.

Elke Giba

Elke is our chief facilitator — helping A/E/C clients uncover insights about customers and services to define a unique marketing position. She is equally at home in Dallas or Nashville, but oddly enough cannot two-step to save her life. When she isn't researching, interviewing or facilitating, she is practicing the delicious art of baking.

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