As the new year gets off to a fresh start, it’s time for architecture, engineering, & construction (A/E/C) firms to set their business development goals for 2016. One of the first milestones on the path to firm success this year is understanding how to identify your business development champions. 
Every firm has business development champions. Following is a list of questions to consider when, not only taking an inventory of, but also nurturing your firm’s best champions.
Question 1: The business development resource you depend on the most is:                         a. Our firm’s BD Plan, because without it, we don’t have direction
b. Our existing client base, because PSMJ survey data show that 80 percent of our work comes from these valued clients
c. Our BD director, because he helps us win the large multi-year contracts
d. None of the above
Answer: None of the above. Why? Your best resource is the group of people in your firm who “get it” when it comes to BD.
Question 2: Who are these people?                                                                                                       Answer: Look around and you’ll find them. They include your:

  • Staff members, who crave meetings and other interaction with clients
  • Your receptionist, who is often the first to interact with clients
  • Client-friendly project managers: i.e. your seller-doers.
  • A most senior principal, who maintains the most extensive client “Rolodex” in your office

Question 3: What do they do that makes them stand out?                                                 Answer: BD champions are not hard to identify. For example, they:

  • Plan to attend conferences frequently, but the technical knowledge they will gain is only a part of why they go.
  • Assess which clients (or targets) will be there, who will be presenting papers, who will be chairing a technical session, and who will be exhibiting—all before signing up.
  • Plan (and confirm!) dinners with clients and prospects before the conference.
  • Know that your business runs on profit. (And to make a profit, you have to have a constant stream of work, preferably from high-quality clients who value your services and your people.)
  • Maintain a “wish list” of future prospects, while working hard to maintain existing relationships and to take budding ones to the next level.

Question 4: How do you identify and nurture them?                                                                 Answer: There is, unfortunately, no simple answer. But you should consider these two steps:
1. Watch how staff members conduct business on a day-to-day basis. How they:

  • Plan conference attendance.
  • Interact with existing clients.
  • Select strategic targets and nurture the relationships.

Solve the problem a client is facing with the firm, and strengthen the relationship
2. Watch for success. Look for people who:

  • Consistently have clients who want to work with them.
  • Always seem to have more work than they (or their department) can perform.
  • Will delegate tasks but retain overall responsibility (because they do not want to disappoint a key client with a single deliverable that does not meet expectations!)
                                                                                                                                                                    Your turn to share: What are the characteristics of your firm’s best business development champions?

And finally, as you plan for 2016, you might also consider benchmarking your business development practices against those of your peers in the industry. In PSMJ’s complimentary ebook, A/E Business Development Study: How Today’s Most Successful A/E Firms Keep Their Clients Happy and Win New Work, we present the results of a study on A/E/C business development best practices. We have then overlaid that data against firms’ financial performance, proposal performance, and client satisfaction, i.e. their business development effectiveness.