How An AEC Website Can Be A Revenue Generating Machine

Mark Busse – No Comments

I recently attended the SMPS Heartland Regional Conference in Columbus, Ohio, where I met so many great marketing professionals from a variety of professional services firms. I enjoyed the various workshops and lectures about industry and economic changes, market challenges, and opportunities facing AEC firms these days. But the theme that really stood out in my mind was how the buying process was changing and how AEC firms’ websites were rapidly evolving to create more revenue opportunities.

Content. Content. Content. 
The trend toward content marketing continues like a freight train and with recent changes to Google’s search algorithm and the removal of keyword search information, content marketing has become the primary focus for marketing and web professionals. Creating relevant and shareable content is the key to driving traffic to your website and fostering a strong community. And the explosion in content will continue as AEC firms fight for their share of “voice” in the industry, and companies need to be prepared to plan for the resources required to it properly. Online and offline, experts have been providing tips on content. They haven’t changed much over the years, and they are often very useful.

Mobile isn’t enough anymore
You want to make it easy for your clients to find you, and with over 28% of web traffic coming from mobile devices (and increasing rapidly) your web needs to not only work on a mobile device, but work well on whatever mobile device your clients choose to use—whether a phone, tablet, or desktop PC. Called a “responsive” website, this provides users with easy reading and navigation while keeping resizing, panning, and scrolling to a minimum. In recent client surveys, we were surprised how many staff and clients alike mentioned how frequently they need to reference important information on their firm’s website from the worksite or car.

Buyers have changed
Marketing used to be promotional and lead generation use to be business development. Nowadays, the two are synonymous. Marketing IS business development. Studies done by business consultant like Corporate Executive Board, authors of The Challenger Sale, have determined that on average 57% of a buyer’s mind is made up before they even issue an RFP or pick up the phone. This means that with the easy access to information online they have decided what the problem is, how it should be solved, and who is qualified to do the work. All that’s left to work out is the price! Consider asking yourself: is your website the best representation of your corporate identity or brand identity? If the answer is anything but a resounding “yes,” consider taking a deeper look into why that might be. The AEC firms that are not only surviving the post 2008 economy, but thriving, understand the role their website plays in their business. And they no longer view it as a marketing expense, like some necessary evil, but as a business asset making direct positive contributions to the bottom line. How are they doing this?

Portfolios with meaning
The days of selling AEC professional services from a portfolio may be coming to an end. Everyone has sexy photos of beautiful buildings they can point to and claim credit for. What buyers increasingly seek these days is expertise and thought leadership. As a result, the best AEC firms use their websites to demonstrate their expertise, perspective,and experience through content-driven marketing. The best firms are finding ways to share the thoughts, opinions, and perspectives of their best talent and leaders. This more personal storytelling approach may seem unnatural to the old guard, but it allows potential clients and prospective employees to learn the true essence and brand story of a firm.

Personal content & storytelling
The trend away from portfolios as merely collections of beautiful photos has been happening for a while, but the best industry website are easily manageable, informative, and include more personal content about context, goals, challenges, approaches, and solutions behind projects. Architecture firms, for example, should consider thinking of the people who use their buildings—How do they use it? What is their story? What was discovered from the experience? And what can be applied to improve future projects?

Many AEC form owners and leaders have resisted adding social media to their online digital marketing efforts, either unwilling to invest the time or participate in creating content or unconvinced of the contribution to ROI. Well, the numbers are in, and not only has social proven itself as effective platform for sharing though leadership, building community, engaging staff, and attracting the attention of media and talent, but as many as 60% of business surveyed in 2013 said they have generated leads from social media. Savvy digital marketers know that using to social media channels to share insights and tips, running promotions and contests, announcing new projects or services, and even offering reward referrals can all be effective ways to attract new business.

Knowledge capture
A key challenge for AEC firms has long been information, knowledge, and asset management. The best AEC websites will be those that integrate communications and knowledge management—especially for firms with multiple locations where this tends to get lost between offices or on the company intranet. Firms that figure out ways to capture social and project communications and convert thinking into knowledge will benefit greatly, and this content can be expressed through the brand website.

Business development
A fundamental shift in the role of a website for AEC firms is its contribution to new business with lead generation and nurturing. As business development and CRM systems like Salesforce, Sugar CRM, MS Dynamics and others become more advanced, they can now be integrated into modern websites, allowing it to serve as a tool to locate potential clients and connect with them. Combined with emerging marketing automation software like Act-On, Marketo, Hubspot and others, a firm’s website can be converted to a broadcast platform that captures the attention of potential customers with greater efficiency and reduced cost. Combined with a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and others, a website can provide the marketing team with invaluable analytics about what is working, who is spending time on their site, and most importantly, who is nearing a critical buying decision.

Website = asset (not expense)
Good content will remain the core of the AEC website of the future, with smart firms combining traditional PR and marketing efforts such as speaking engagements, publishing thought leadership in industry magazines, and social media with their website as an an opportunity to engage a broader audience and start meaningful conversations with potential customers, drawing them closer and ultimately bringing them along the buying process more quickly and converting them to clients sooner. And that results in a website as a valuable business development asset, not merely a marketing expense and necessary evil.

Reality check
As much as the attention-getting title of this post is true, it should be understood that even a slick mobile responsive website filled great content isn’t a magic solution for architecture, engineering or construction business development professionals. Even with a compelling brand identity expressed across multiple social channels combined with lead generation and marketing automation, a website should be considered only one tool in a comprehensive sales and marketing toolkit. But as buyers use the web increasingly to research potential firms, to ignore a website’s potential is foolish.

So what should your firm do to prepare?

  • Make sure your firm’s brand positioning statement, perspective, and messaging is clear and compelling.
  • Challenge your business development and marketing staff to work together and consider employing or upgrading lead generation tools that can be integrated with a website in the near future.
  • Make damned sure your website is mobile-ready and optimized.
  • Make sure you really study and understand the needs, preferences, and priorities of those who use your website. Don’t assume!
  • Start evaluating how your marketing team manages its communications with your audience and consider how automation tools could save you time and money!
  • Make a communications plan and start gathering content according to a realistic schedule. The best quality content oftens comes from firm leaders, but they need topics and boundaries. Get them started now instead of just creating a blog and Twitter account and expecting them to publish.
  • Hire a qualified marketing communications and web design team who can help you bring it all together with a solid branding process!

Industrial Brand practices what we preach, and this website is created using the WordPress CMS integrated with Salesforce CRM, lead generation software, and Act-On marketing automation software all working in concert to help us develop business through content marketing—and it works! If you’d like to see a demo and talk about how you can convert your marketing website into a revenue generating engine, please drop me a line.