Seven lessons learned while working with professional service firms

Ben Garfinkel – No Comments

We’ve learned a lot working with AEC and professional service firms.  Throughout our work, we’ve noticed seven things that come up repeatedly that organizations should address to improve their businesses.

1. Marketing should not be ignored.
Although not typically well-versed in branding and marketing, AEC has historically viewed marketing as a dirty word at worst, a low priority at best—or mistaken marketing as procurement response and brand building as something that does not require marketing.

2. Employees want more than money.
Recruiting and retaining skilled AEC or professional service staff is becoming as much as, or more of, a challenge than business development and sales. This makes commitment to ethics, sustainability, culture, community, design, mentorship and training/advancement more important than ever.

3. It’s fine to say no.
In the future, the most successful firms with the greatest levels of business stability and growth will be the ones not afraid to specialize in a meaningful way. Those fearful of saying no to projects and losing out on opportunities, even if not a core expertise, will keep things running, but will lose out on the benefits of a strong position and distinctive reputation. Prospective clients searching for a project partner frequently do so by seeking out experts in specific sectors. Those firms able to demonstrate thought leadership, knowledge, and expertise will be best positioned to take advantage of these opportunities.

4. Your online reputation matters.
More traditional firms have a fear of using social media. This is often manifest as not having the time or resources to do it, or retreating to more conventional sales tactics. As long as these firms remain busy, moving resources to new, future-forward marketing models will be held back. Once the work slows down, if they even can, catching up to rivals will be a challenge.

5. What you say is less important than what you believe.
Characterized as skeptical, altruistic, diverse, frugal, green, candid and successful multi-taskers, Millennials are not opposed to connecting with brands, but do so only when there is an exchange of value and when it is on their terms. What this means for firms is that an authentic brand is crucial. Professional development and advancement needs to be at the forefront of the corporate culture to attract and retain emerging talent.

6. You can always count on technology to be a game changer.
Increasingly advanced, affordable, and accessible digital tools are democratizing firm capabilities and furthering the brand and marketing divide. On the receiving end of this, the primary target audiences for professional service firms (clients, talent, and staff) are increasingly tech savvy, and rely on mobile devices more than ever. For greater numbers of clients, and certainly prospective talent, decision on who to award work to or what firm to work for, is influenced online first.

7. Baby Boomers are retiring and the younger professionals will be making some changes.
An increasingly greater portion of the Baby Boomer generation currently in leadership positions in AEC and some professional service sectors will be retiring in the next 8–10 years. Typically, these firms have not been proactive in addressing succession planning, nor have they been bringing the next generation (Gen X) of associates into the boardroom soon enough. The tradition of naming a firm after it’s partners is becoming less relevant to audiences—especially after they’ve left!