Generating Work in Uncertain Times

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The term “uncertainty” has permeated our businesses and personal lives over the past several months, but that doesn’t mean they have to equal doom and gloom. In fact, disruption can produce amazing opportunities for firms willing to reimagine the way they do business. In this guest blog by industry thought leader Scott Butcher, we learn just how critically important these moments of disruption can be and how firms can leverage change to accelerate success. – Kristi Weierbach. Ph.d.

“All good things must come to an end.”

I’ve been familiar with this saying for as long as I can remember. I can hear my mom saying it at the end of summer vacation or after a fun trip in my youth. I can recall it being stated around the office in response to the end of a streak of yearly bonuses. 

Unless you’ve been living in a remote cave for most of 2020, you’ve probably had that exact thought when it comes to the economy. The longest economic expansion in United States history, which began in June 2009, came to an end in February 2020.

Just how long it will last is anyone’s guess. The latest economic statistics show a staggering-yet-improved unemployment rate of 10.2%, while the second quarter GDP in the United States dropped a mind-numbing 32.9%. The global pandemic has proven especially stubborn in the US, taking the path of least resistance on its march around the country. 

And yet the stock market just lifted itself out of the shortest bear market in history. 

With the onset of the pandemic, companies adjusted to remote working – quite effectively, in many cases. Some construction projects were put on hold, but many continued forward. However, as the pandemic has dragged on, some industry indicators are portending rough waters ahead. The American Institute of Architect’s Architectural Billings Index hit record lows this spring and are still in the doldrums. The organization’s mid-year Consensus Construction Forecast, which incorporates forecasts from Dodge Data & Analytics, FMI, Moody’s, and other sources, projects a drop of 8.1% in non-residential construction in 2020 and a further drop of 4.8% in 2021.

Although these numbers are scary, it is important to dive beneath the surface. Yes, numbers are projected to decline, but they are coming off of a very positive 2019 and aren’t projected to drop to levels anywhere close to those of The Great Recession. The good news is that there’s still a lot of work to be had, but it will vary greatly depending upon the vertical industry and geographic region.

Reframing Strategy

It has never been more important for professional services firms to revisit their strategies to generate business and maintain profitability.

The first challenge here is that far too many firms don’t actually have an articulated strategy in place! And for many others that do, the strategies and corresponding tactics do not reflect the current market conditions.

Fortunately, there’s a proven process to help firms understand the disruptions taking place in their markets and reframe their strategies to incorporate the most relevant tactics to take advantage of the projected trends and economic conditions.

Certainly, firms must be agile and react to the upheaval that has taken place in 2020. But companies need to evolve beyond simply being agile, and instead become anticipatory. The overused Wayne Gretzky quote that he succeeded by skating to where the puck would be – as opposed to where it had been – is the essence of being anticipatory.

But how can you do this? And, can you navigate your corporate ship over unsteady and even turbulent waters?

A Proven Process

For starters, you need to gain a full understanding of what is happening – right now. In your firm. In the economy. In the markets you serve. This is critical business intelligence that is necessary for any planning exercise. Firms should always be scanning their environments and conducting this market research, and yet too few firms regularly do this.

Next, it is critical to analyze the data you’ve collected and interpret to your unique situation. Part of this forces you to look internally at things like success metrics, brand, and client experience. How effective has your business development and marketing actually been? What made your strategies succeed or fail?

The balance is more externally focused, drilling down to your target markets – geographic markets and the individual sectors in which you operate. What is happening in these markets right now? Are they in expansion or retraction? Are you even in the right markets based upon the data you’ve collected?

From this business intelligence, the next step in the process is to generate action plans highly focused on your target markets. This includes everything from business development tactics to specific value messages and most effective marketing approaches, like thought leadership. Which existing clients will offer the highest probability of work for your firm over the coming months or years? Which prospective clients should be prioritized for relationship development?

It is not just enough to make a list – you have to drill down to the specific tactics to maintain and grow your existing accounts as well as land new ones. This also involves looking at the tools you already have – or desperately need – like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) processes and software.

How much will this cost? Your budget is a critical component of this planning process – and during these uncertain times, cutting your business development and marketing budget is not conducive to navigating the challenges which lie ahead.

Finally, it is important to determine if your staff have the skills they need to make your planning efforts a success. Research from the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) found that although more than two-thirds of AEC firms utilize seller-doers, less than one-third of firms actually provide any business development training to them. Beyond specific sales-related skills, does your team have relevant training in your brand messaging? What about communication, emotional intelligence, and other soft skills? 

Once you have worked through this process, you’ll be focused on doing the right things for the current economic environment. And this process is also necessary and highly impactful during calmer times as well.

Want to learn more about this process? Join me and Kristi Weierbach of Stambaugh Ness, for our upcoming webinar, Generating AEC Work in Uncertain Times. Click here for more information and to register.

Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM