Use these tips to achieve long-term results in a short-term world.
Zweig Group’s latest data continues to reinforce a troubling trend – firms are spending less on longer-term investments while becoming increasingly mired in short-term demands. Our research team annually collects more than 2.2 million data points studying nearly every aspect of AEC firms you can imagine. This information provides a great opportunity to understand how the industry is trending and for firms to benchmark themselves against their peers while enabling them to elevate their practices.
The industry is now in its third year of a notable shift in a number of key statistics that reflect the challenges of managing today’s AEC firm. The collective conclusion is that the industry is busy and the challenges of managing growth and profitability are increasing.
Here are some things you can do today to stay focused on the long-term health of your firm and maximize your competitive advantage:
- Focus on client experience. According to our data, while the industry is becoming increasingly aware that client experience is a critical business strategy, many are doing worse than ever. Your client’s experience directly affects your bottom line and must be a priority. Zweig Group regularly conducts third-party, client-satisfaction surveys where we see declining satisfaction scores, especially in the areas of accessibility and responsiveness. The response we commonly hear from firms when confronted with these client frustrations is, “We are just too busy.”
- High workloads are shifting focus to putting out fires rather than proactively servicing clients. Commit to a regular client-satisfaction survey process and address every issue that comes from the data. Asking your clients to provide feedback and not doing anything with the information is worse than never asking at all. You have a huge opportunity to shine and differentiate your services. With proper attention to the client experience, you can position your firm to be very strong in any economic condition. To learn more about how to build a client-experience program, or to discuss your firm’s challenges, feel free to contact me directly. And, one last tip. Be careful that your flexible work practices do not erode the client experience. Accessibility and responsiveness can be greatly affected by these policies. Firms must design programs that balance employee perks while maintaining strong client service.
- Spend more on marketing and business development activities. Over the last three years, we’ve seen a declining investment in marketing and BD activity. The continual decrease in proportion of marketing staff to total firm headcount is one of the best indicators we are losing long-term focus. In a highly competitive market, now is the time to invest more in marketing and business development resources to build backlog and brand preference. Train your technical team as doer-sellers and empower and incentivize them to build relationships to fill a pipeline for the future. Employ the best creative marketing staff you can to elevate your website, social media programs, thought leadership, pursuit-strategy process, and other awareness activities to build your brand and position your firm as the preferred choice in your markets. It is critical to act now, when the economy is good. There will come a day when your clients have fewer dollars to spend. Position yourself now so they spend those dollars with you. For more information on how to position your firm and build a doer-seller team, contact Doug Parker, FSMPS, CPSM, Zweig Group’s managing principal and CMO, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jen Newman, CPSM, Zweig Group’s managing director of business development strategy, at email@example.com.
- Commit to continuous learning firm wide. The number one challenge firms face is recruiting and retention. The number one benefit identified and highly valued by employees of AEC firms for the past two years is training and development. But, we continually hear that firms aren’t providing training and development. In fact, Zweig Group has seen firsthand this unfortunate trend over the last year in declining attendance at training seminars and decreased commitment to internal formalized training programs.
Compare that to the overwhelming data in our Best Firms To Work For survey, which indicates that firms with active training programs have employees who believe they work for a great firm. There is a disconnect here. Firm’s struggling to recruit and retain need to start with a progressive training program to meet the needs of their employees. Zweig Group is here to help. This year, we made a significant investment in learning with the addition of Marci Thompson, Zweig Group’s chief learning officer. We have greatly expanded our ability to provide in-house training programs. If you would like to learn more about options for your firm, contact Marci at firstname.lastname@example.org to design a custom solution.
- Make strategic planning a yearly activity. With more than 70 percent of strategic plans not fully executed, the opportunity for you to make your firm strong now when times are good will greatly improve your resilience in future turbulent economic times. Make sure your long-term strategic plan is up to date and your C-suite is able to commit the time and resources necessary for continuous execution of initiatives. Make business planning and annual activity where every market sector of the firm has specific, measurable goals to ensure advancement of the overall plan. Firms with strategic plans are 12 percent more profitable and enjoy stronger recruiting abilities. We recommend that firms get a third-party facilitator with AEC-specific expertise to design a plan that advances the firm. For more information on strategic planning, contact Phil Keil, Zweig Group’s director of strategy, at email@example.com.
I recognize the challenge of committing resources to even the few things listed above. However, you must find a way to make it happen. Many of the recommendations I’ve made require concurrent or consecutive execution to realize the full benefits possible, making the challenge even greater. The value of maintaining long-term focus in this short-term environment cannot be understated. Your firm can increase your competitive advantage at a time when the industry is lowering the bar. You can become bigger, better, and stronger today, enabling you to be resilient in any conditions of tomorrow. Despite short-term issues eroding long-term focus, you can beat the metrics and be the contrary example. If you have questions, are have similar issues, or want to share your own story, reach out to me anytime.
Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.