The Old Rules Still Apply

MarketerCoverThe following article written by Tim Klabunde was published in the October edition Marketer.

Successful businesses are built on foundational truths that do not change with market conditions or time. To be successful in 2010 you are going to need to focus on the same things that business leaders needed to focus on in the last century: the people inside your company, the clients outside of your company, and your network in your industry.

People are the ultimate reason that businesses succeed or fail. Regardless of your placement in your corporate structure, your success and that of your company will be defined primarily by your relationships with people. The key is to build mutually beneficial relationships where people want to help you succeed as you help them succeed.

Rules that build success

We all know that relationships can be complicated, but there is a fundamental truth that determines if you are building up or tearing down relationships: relationships grow if you selflessly help another person succeed; relationships dwindle when you focus on yourself and your own wants.

If you meet someone for the first time, and they subsequently help you, you will be appreciative of their efforts and probably remember them. If that same person were to help you three times over the following month, you would keep an eye out for ways to help them in return. If they helped you a dozen times, providing you new client introductions, referrals, and leads, you would develop a strong desire to help them in return. This desire to help is the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship where two people are constantly looking for ways to help each other. One important key to this happening is concentrated effort on a specific group of people that over time develops into multiple mutually beneficial relationships.

Rules for inside

Most everyone recognizes that they need IT support to succeed, yet many people approach their IT department with a focus on their own needs and then can’t understand why their requests are always at the bottom of the to-do list. In marketing we often seem to forget that the rules of building success with people outside our companies also apply to people inside our companies. We need people, both inside our companies and outside our companies, to succeed. People that focus solely on achieving their own success are rarely able to achieve it in the long-term because they lack the support of a team that wants to help them succeed. Consider what would happen if you started helping your IT department succeed by cleaning up your server space, purging or archiving old e-mails, and supporting their efforts in meetings. I can tell you from personal experience that the result with be that your requests will likely be given a high priority. The same applies to accounting, marketing, operations, human resources, other project managers, and even management. When you focus on helping others your build a team that wants to help you and make you succeed.

Rules for outside

We all know that when we market we need to focus on existing clients and prospective clients. What most people fail to realize is that, after marketing to your existing clients for additional work, the least expensive marketing approach is usually to market to others in your industry that can’t hire you! Networking is the art of building mutually beneficial relationships that provide a wealth of leads and referrals from others. Many people fail to build strong networks because in America we have improperly aligned “networking” with “sales,” and sales is something most professionals avoid at all cost. Sales should not drive the relationship; instead, the relationship should drive the sales. True networking is the development of relationships, and relationships are something that all of us have a God-given instinct and need to develop. What this means is that everyone in your company can help bring work in the door simply by being relational and developing an effective network.

The rules that still apply

So, there are some important old rules that still apply. A true network of relationships is not to be confused with the self-serving “good-old-boys” network.  Instead, success in business is derived from genuine relationships. If you are ready to build the foundation of your business this year, then it is time to refocus on people. After all, it is the people in your company that will make you profitable, and it is the people outside of your company that foster your growth.

Creating a Marketing Culture

creatingamarketingculture_coverThe following article by Tim Klabunde was published in the April edition of Marketer.

Building a corporate culture that embraces marketing can be one of the most effective ways to achieve your company’s growth objectives. Companies that are successful in developing a marketing culture reap the benefits of strong work capture collaboration, cross-selling among departments, and active participation in the marketing process. By contrast, firms that do not have this culture often find that marketing is compartmentalized among departments and are missing uniformity in their message in the local marketplace. The most effective way to succeed at changing a corporate culture towards that of marketing is to purposefully engage a cultural change process.

The Cultural Change Process

As simple as this philosophy sounds, the reality is that most firms are not successful at changing their corporate culture because they do not follow a structured process of cultural change. The result is that most corporate cultural changes do not happen by predetermined paths, but instead occur by accident.

It is important to remember that just as your culture was not built overnight, corporate culture doesn’t change overnight. It is not an easy process, but by looking at the thousands of firms that have gone before us we can identify a systematic process that yields successful cultural change. That systematic process can be broken down into four easy-to-understand steps that will allow you to take control of your cultural change. 

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Education and encouragement are the foundational step of any cultural change.  Without the knowledge of how to succeed in a new culture it will be impossible for employees to move towards that new culture.  In the case of changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces marketing the first thing people need to know is how marketing works and how they can participate in the marketing program.  This often requires training in areas such as basic business marketing, networking, and business development. During and after training it is important to encourage employees to try out their newly acquired skills.  Through this process you will begin an ongoing process of training and raising up a company that embraces the new culture. 

Step 2 – Define Expectations

The second step in changing a corporate culture is defining expectations. Employees need to have a clear understanding of company expectations for them as individuals as well as collectively. Changing corporate culture depends on changing one person at a time. Because each person is unique and has different responsibilities, this also means that what is expected of individuals should vary.  For example, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific business development goals whereas a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.  Expectations should also be tailored to the strengths of individuals so that their contributions can be maximized.

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Acknowledging and celebrating success is the single most important step in changing corporate culture.  Firms often begin the process of change by bringing in outside training and defining new expectations, but the culture change never takes root.  The reason is that culture change depends on acknowledging success at the highest level. In the case of building a marketing culture this can be accomplished by the CEO taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” to an employee for bringing work in the door.  That brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important and appreciated, not just by their manager, but also by upper management. 

In addition to acknowledging success you should strive to celebrate success. Ways to celebrate success include popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks. The key differentiator between acknowledging success and celebrating success is that a senior individual should acknowledge the success, but celebration of success should be inclusive of others that were directly or indirectly a part of the success.

Step 4 – Reward Success

The final step in changing a corporate culture is rewarding success.  Title changes, bonuses, parking spaces, raises, and office locations linked to culture change successes ensure the longevity of your cultural change.  This final stage should only be implemented after the other three steps because it can backfire without the proper foundation. Rewarding success is important because it aligns the objectives of the cultural change with long-term rewards that then become evident to others throughout the company. The goal is to build the cultural shift based on people that are working to build a better company for themselves and others.   

Individuals Are Your Culture

It is important to measure your success in changing your corporate culture one person at a time. Your culture did not instantly become what it is today, and it will not instantly become what you want it to be.  The first two steps should include everyone in the company, although recognizing that not everyone will immediately embrace the new culture. Instead, focus your attention on individuals that begin to implement and show the successes of your cultural change. By doing this you will see a wave of optimism unfold as these individuals begin to build your new corporate culture.

It’s Back to the BD Basics

itsbacktothebdbasicsRecessions have a tendency to remind us about business fundamentals. It is through the refinement of a recession that wasteful spending is eliminated and that we again focus on the core capabilities that make our companies successful. It is also recessions that remind us that marketing and business development are not the functions of just one or two departments. When company backlogs decrease we recapture the essence of our mutual corporate responsibility to bring new projects in the door. 

Focusing on existing clients and services
It is easy to want to expand into new markets during a recession. The problem is that during a recession work is much harder to come by, both in the markets you currently serve as well as in markets that you don’t serve. Expanding into a new market requires both time and money to enter the market – two things that are not readily available during a recession. As a result, a recession is not the time to expand into new markets, but rather it is the time to focus on your existing clients and services.

The goal during a recession is to focus on bringing work in the door immediately. Most marketers will tell you that the fastest, least expensive, and easiest way to bring in new work is to focus on your existing clientele. This includes people you have sold to previously and others in the industry that are familiar with your work. So what can you do? Here are several things that you can do during a recession that will position you to succeed: 

  1. Don’t Wait, step-up your current marketing: When faced with the possibility of a decline in your workload initiate action immediately. Often when the slowdown reaches your doorstep firms find themselves among a large group of competitors that are competing for work. The idea is to immediately step-up the everyday marketing efforts that you have found to be successful in an effort to build your backlog going into the recession. In our industry this usually includes follow-up on outstanding proposals, using qualifications to bolster the effectiveness of your fee proposals, and pre-marketing RFPs.
  2. Call your existing clients: Especially at service firms, the “last line of defense” when you are in need of work is to pick up the phone and call your best clients to ask for work. Firms often hesitate making these calls because they are afraid of what others will think. Simply put, get over it! Calling your existing clients and asking for work is the most effective way to get work in the door in a down market.
  3. Focus on being the best: Now is the time to set-aside change orders and additional work authorizations (within reason) and give all of your clients 1,000 reasons why they should never even consider another firm. Begin by asking yourself, “What can I do to help this person that is above and beyond what they hired me to do?” Remember that focusing on being the best isn’t something that just one person or a group of people can do, it is a company-wide focus that requires buy-in to be successful.
  4. Diversify within your current markets: Pursue relationships and work in market sectors in which you are currently working that are stable. Generally in a downturn these markets include the federal and healthcare markets. As discussed above, now is not the time to pursue new sectors, but it is a great time to place emphasis on some of your markets that will handle the downturn better. This does not mean that you should simply respond to more RFPs, rather initiate new relationships and build inroads that will position you to win.
  5. Be Patient: Markets change. Just when you think you will run out of work the markets will start moving again. Firms that survive this economic cycle will again experience an upswing as industry and opportunity prevail in the free market.

Building your Marketing Culture

In marketing and business, recessions provide us the opportunity to unite our companies for future growth. The proceeding actions are just a handful of things that can be done to empower everyone in your company to be a part of the sales process. In addition to these, think about how you can leverage today’s challenges to develop a culture that embraces marketing and business development. Firms that succeed in building this culture today will reap the rewards of growth in the future.


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It’s Back to the BD Basics by Tim Klabunde was published in the February 2009 edition of Marketer.

More Than “Just Marketing”

sara_gammillIn the December edition of SMPS Marketer Sara Gammill of EDI Architecture writes a great article about how to position your marketing department as a strategic partner inside your company. You would think that marketing would always be a strategic partner yet many companies, especially those in the service industry, struggle to understand the importance of marketing in a successful business. Here are a couple of my favorite recomendations from the article:

Educate others about what marketing is.
Most technical staff don’t realize what marketing is or how they benefit the company beyond proposal writing. Make it your mission to educate others about how everyone is involved in marketing and how your department benefits the bottom line.

Don’t be afraid to innovate.
You are never too junior or too senior to generate new proposal processes, to spearhead programs that will save your company money or raise morale, or to draw attention to your firm by shining in a professional organization. Don’t settle for, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Sara also identifies “act like a leader” as another of her ten keys. I couldn’t agree more, when you act like a leader most often it is followed by being viewed as a leader. Thanks for the great article Sara!

It’s Not ‘Just Business’

The phrase “It’s Just Business” has become an accepted way to dehumanize important decisions.  The reality is that, in our relatively small industry where relationships are everything, it is impossible to negate the importance of relationships when faced with difficult business decisions.  We cannot suddenly stop making important business decisions, but neither should we selectively disregard the importance of relationships when making those decisions.  To succeed in the long run we need to make people, not business, the primary focus of our decision-making process.

Making Sound Business Decisions
This past year our company celebrated its 30th anniversary with an open house to which we invited as many of our previous employees as we could track down.  We were surprised by what we found: most of our previous employees were still working locally; many were leaders of change affecting our business everyday; and dozens were now our clients. 

Looking at how these former employees have continued to impact our company has reinforced the importance of these long-term relationships.  Sound business decisions should consider not only immediate needs of the company, but also the company’s future, which is based largely on a culture of trusted relationships.  Business decisions made with the “It’s Just Business” philosophy embrace the faulty premise that the company is more important than people.  By making decisions that are best for people we strengthen our companies and build teams that believe in our decisions and leadership even after individual team members depart.

An Industry Built on Relationships
In his blog, Mark Buckshon, President of Construction News and Report Publishing, states that, “You will achieve the highest results if you think longer-term and in the context of giving.” His statement is especially true in our industry, which is a leader in recognizing the importance of relationships as the key to our successes and failures.  It is important to note this as we make business decisions, knowing that others in our company and industry will evaluate our motivations and, based on their observations, will develop trust in our leadership accordingly.

It’s Just People
Many companies have succeeded at making people the center of their decisions.  Some examples include: the company that tries to find new jobs for employees facing layoffs; the manager that mentors an underachiever instead of firing the employee; and the owner who respects seniority when promoting a young project manager over an experienced individual by changing a title or adapting team structure.  Undoubtedly, this people-centered approach to business decisions can be more difficult in the short-term, but most successes are built on long-term, not on short-term gains.

It’s Just Smart Business
Perhaps it is time to give up our “It’s Just Business” slogan and instead focus on the value of every relationship – current and past employees as well as clients.  Next time you are making an important decision think about the potential long-term benefits of maintaining strong relationships. 

This article, written by Tim Klabunde, was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Marketer, the leading marketing publication of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.

Survival Strategies – Marketer Article

In my recent posting Survival Strategies for 2008 (and Beyond) I provided a quick excerpt on Randy Pollock’s article in the April edition of Marketer on “Making the Most of an Economic Downturn.” Over the past week I have heard from many of you that wanted to read the article in its entirety.

I was able to connect with Randy this last week and received his permission to post a .pdf of the article on this website.  Thank you again Randy for a great article, and to the many marketing experts that also contributed to the article. 

Let me again share with you several more of my favorite quotes from the article from top some marketers on responding to changing market conditions:

“One word comes to mind when I think about how to address the impact of a potential slower economy on our industry: FOCUS on all of the marketing activities of the firm, on business development pursuits, and where marketing dollars would be best spent.”
J. Rossi, Burt Hill, Philadelphia, PA

“Keep your focus: It’s positioning for the change and being there for the client and his business.”
Harlan Hallquist, FSMPS 

Survival Strategies for 2008 (and Beyond)

Randy Pollock of Walter P Moore wrote a great article in the April edition of SMPS Marketer on “Making the Most of an Economic Downturn.”  Specifically, Randy identifies five strategies that you can take now to respond to the changing market conditions.  Here is a summary of those strategy recommendations:

  1. Client Care – A strategy that positions your clients – and the depth and quality of your relationship with them.
  2. Focus/Targeting – A strategy that positions your firm – with its singular focus on targeted clients, markets, and projects.
  3. Fundamentals – A strategy that positions your marketing operations, procedures, and processes and revisits your fundamentals.
  4. Internal Marketing – A strategy for growing a firm from the inside out, internal marketing focuses on the people inside a firm.
  5. Diversification – A strategy that intentionally broadens your services, markets, and/or geographical locations.

Randy also provides quotes on survival approaches from top marketers on how they are responding to the changing market conditions.  Here are some of my favorites:

“In my experience the only cure is to get out of the office and meet someone, every day if possible.  It starts with our existing customers.” – Harlan Hallquist – J.E. Dunn Construction

 “Now is a good time to meet with your best clients, one on one.  Discuss their problems and how they intend to weather the storm.  Discuss working together to solve problems.  Provide seminars with subjects and speakers that address the client’s problems as well as serve our business for insight into future opportunities.” – Dianne Schachner – LEO A. DALY

“Internal marketing is a strategy for growing a firm from the inside out, focusing on the people inside a firm.  A continuous, participative process, it fosters communication, training, and motivation of employees – principally those with client contact, but support employees as well.  It requires leadership, direction, planning, and constant focus.  Its sole focus is inside a firm, targeted to the people who perform the work – mobilizing their energies and motivation their pursuit of shared goals – and shared rewards.” – Randy Pollock, Walter P Moore

 “Become even closer to them (your clients) in lean times.  See if you can create a project that provides intensive value-added return to the client organization.”  Dennis Schrag – The Longview Group