In late May, the SMPS Foundation released the 2016 Fellows Survey Report. A lot has changed since the first Fellows Survey Report was written in 2007—the recession, the adoption of social media and evolving methods of project delivery, to name a few. Tom Smith, AICP, FSMPS, CPSM, led the production of the 2007 report, and at the time was on the Society board of directors as fellows delegate and president of BonTerra Consulting. Tom went on to serve as Society president (2009-2010) and today, he serves as principal strategy advisor for Tescor, Inc. SMPS Foundation President Holly Bolton, FSMPS, CPSM, asked Tom to reflect on what has changed since the first report was written and what takeaways he felt were most relevant to firms in design and construction.
Bolton: Having led the production of the 2007 Fellows Survey Report, what’s your take on the insights SMPS Fellows shared then compared to how the industry has evolved?
Smith: Of course, the SMPS Fellows who were interviewed did not foresee the economic crash of 2008 and the reverberation of its effects for several years. Nonetheless, many of the trends that were foreseen by the SMPS Fellows not only occurred but transformed how professional services marketing and business development are conducted today in the A/E/C industry. The top five trends identified in the 2007 survey were (listed in order of frequency of citations in the surveys):
1. Increasing use of technology
2. Growing use of Building Information Management (BIM)
3. Globalization of the A/E/C/ business
4. Need for increased collaboration among A/E/C firms as well as clients
5. Demand for LEED and sustainable design
I think the SMPS Fellows were quite accurate in their overall assessments of the upcoming trends in the A/E/C industry. But the Great Recession was a game changer on so many fronts and profoundly influenced many of the trends identified in the 2016 report (for example, increased reliance on the Seller-Doer model, prominence of social media, commoditization pressures, etc.).
Bolton: What did you find most interesting about the 2016 report?
Smith: In a few words, the comprehensiveness of its findings. I’ve read the report three times already and each reading has illuminated a topic or a nuance that I had not understood before. It’s a meaty resource that needs to be read, re-read, and examined in light of the business realities and marketing and business development culture of each firm.I was very interested to see that the top five looking ahead challenges are topics that will require marketing and business development professionals to flex their intellects beyond their usual job descriptions. The top five challenges identified are:
1. Staffing/pending talent shortage/attracting talent
2. Intergenerational workforce/leadership transition
3. Squeeze on profitability/commoditization
4. Adapting to changes in technology
5. Funding/repairing aging infrastructure
In my more than 30 years of experience as an owner/leader/marketer in two A/E/C professional services firms, I witnessed firsthand that few of my technical or marketing colleagues were educated or experienced in these topics (myself included). Marketing and business development professionals will need to obtain additional training so they can assist their firms to successfully address these challenges.
Bolton: What takeaways from this report do you feel firm leaders should really pay attention to as they look toward the future?
Smith: Firm leaders—many of whom are seller-doers at some level—should expand the involvement of experienced professionals (technical and non-technical) within their firms when they are wrestling with the challenges of day-to-day operations and profitability. For example, marketing and business development professionals are accustomed to juggling multiple assignments, priorities and success strategies in their daily work. HR professionals know the firm’s culture and understand how to attract the professional talent the firm needs to remain competitive. Insights gained from this diverse experience are invaluable assets to firm leaders—assets that are often underutilized, in my experience.
A practical reminder for firm leaders would be to keep a hard copy of the 2016 Survey in a prominent place on their desk and to review its findings at least monthly with their leadership team, including the key marketing, business development and HR staff. Successfully addressing these challenges will require focus, commitment and teamwork to change old habits. All hands on deck may not be enough, but anything less runs the risk of maintaining the status quo (which is essentially a path of falling behind).
Tom Smith, AICP, FSMPS, CPSM, is principal strategy advisor for Tescor, Inc., where he provides strategic alliance and business development services to architecture, engineering and construction firms. His many years of SMPS service include serving as Society president in 2009-2010. He can be reached at 626.372.0150 or [email protected].
SMPS Foundation President Holly R. Bolton, FSMPS, CPSM, is director of marketing at CE Solutions, a structural engineering firm, and president of 3chord Marketing LLC, which provides marketing communications consulting. She can be reached at 317.818.1912, [email protected] or [email protected] and on Twitter as @hollybolton.