Step 3 | Identify Market Sectors
you ask an architect what his or her firm does, the person will likely
recite a list of markets served, “We design health care, government,
higher education, and office buildings.”
So typically I find that the plans architects make for growth list broad market categories like those mentioned.
If you ever hope to get in front of the RFP process, drilling down into each market segment to define a deeper focus is critical. Let’s take on example from above: higher education.
The higher education market can be broken down in any numbers of ways. The most common break down I see is by type:
- 2 year Community Colleges
- 4 year Colleges
- Private Universities
- Public Universities
- State Colleges
- Speciality Schools
- Technical or Trade Schools
- Virtual Schools (like Phoenix)
Anyone marketing to higher education knows that it isn’t enough to have general campus experience. Firms are developing deep expertise in specific campus facility types such as, residence halls, laboratory and research facilities, libraries, performance spaces. As an example of how to define the segment more deeply, let’s work with the scenario that your firm has specialized experience in sports and recreation facilities. The segmentation might be:
- Division I, II, II, IV
- Outdoor Facilities
- Indoor Facilities
- Community-Shared Facilities
Let’s think a little bit differently. What if you’re interested in historic preservation on campuses? What if you worked with the premise that the campuses that have the richest stock of historic buildings tend to be the oldest liberal arts colleges across the country? If so, what metrics could you study to find that market segment? Could you consider:
- Enrollment size
- Rankings of liberal arts colleges
- Tuition fees (higher vs lower)
- Date of campus origination
- Number of registered historic buildings
The more specific you can be in defining the market segment you plan to approach, the more focused your efforts will be; the easier it will be to identify targets within the refined segment; and the more managable the plan will be to implement.
Step 4 | Identify Existing Clients within Each Specific Market Segment
you’ve decided on the deeper market segment, the next step is to
identify targets. Starting from existing clients, then dormant clients,
list the institutions with whom you’ve worked. These are mature client
relationships that can be cultivated to learn more about the market
segment and potential work.
There’s a way to leverage existing relationships without “selling.” Working with the higher education example again, let’s say you’ve provided historic renovation and restoration for UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. The process is to contact the people you’ve worked with to learn more about possible restorations or perhaps seismic retrofits.
Ask for a meeting to “catch up,” and have a comfortable, friendly conversation. Please don’t show up with a brochure or quals package and flip through the pages to show what work you’ve recently completed. No one like to be “sold” to; not to mention that this is why architects tend to dislike business development. If it feels like you’re selling something, you are, and that’s just plain uncomfortable.
When the talk shifts to business, rather than ask if there’s work–which is an uncomfortable question for both parties–it’s much better to ask if there are other people on campus whom you should get to know? Ask for referrals to them, or see if you can be introduced now (if it’s just a walk down the hall). If it’s suggested that you contact the person you’ve been referred to, ask if you can use the person’s name, or even better, ask if the person you’re meeting with will call the other individual to let them know you’ll be calling.
The other important question to ask is if there are others in the higher education community who might benefit from knowing about your firm’s services. This is a more comfortable question than, “Who else is hiring architects?” Again, ask for an introduction, or a call to the person to set up your call.
If your strategic business develoment plan is solid, it’s also feasible to ask this client if he or she knows someone at one of the other targets on your list. For example, you’d like to begin doing work at UC Sacramento, does the person know anyone there that they recommend you get to know?
A wonderful way to close a meeting of this nature is with a simple question. “Before we conclude, I just wanted to ask if there’s any way I can be of help to you?”
The key is to continue to build the relationship with the contented client, to ask for referrals, and to grow your network by leveraging the relationships you’ve already built.
Step 5 | Identify New Target Clients in Each Specific Market Sector
kinds of conversations you would have with a new target client are
similar. It’s important to know what the goal of the meeting is. It’s
simply to get to know the person, learn about his or her career,
interests, family. Understand the person’s role and responsibilities at
work. The meeting should be a mix of you making casual inquiries and
asking smart business questions.
Casual inquiries begin by noticing the surroundings, “Oh, you’re a Corn Huskers fan.” Seeing a framed photo, “Are those your children?” Sharing personal information from your own life, “My kids are into soccer,” helps to break down barriers and make the meeting more comfortable. I encourage my clients to go into meetings thinking about helping to set the other person at ease.
It’s interesting to learn how a person got to his or her current position, and where else the person may have worked. You might share your work history, as well, if it feels appropriate to do so.
And then it’s to the smart business questions.
Architects are more than happy to meet with clients when there’s a project on the table. As long as there’s a pen and paper, they are great at having sketch talks. But when I suggest to clients to meet with no project to discuss they often ask, “Then what do we talk about?” You ask business questions that indicate you understand the business the person is in and what issues might drive projects in their area of expertise.
Let’s use college residence halls as an example. A client of mine was heading to a university in Virginia to meet with a new contact at this targeted university. My client wanted to pitch Greek Housing, something the firm has a lot of experience designing. Here’s how I helped them to frame the “smart business questions” to get at the business issue the potential client might be facing.
“With high school enrollments projected to drop every year for the next decade, we were wondering what the University was doing in terms of facilities to attract more students?”
After some discussion generally around this, the follow up question was, “Is the University considering residence hall or Greek Housing improvements to remain competitive?”
Because my client arrived “empty handed,” (no quals, brochures, etc.), the discussion piqued the person’s interest. Indicating that the firm had a great presentation on Greek Housing, the potential client invited the two architects back to present to the facilities staff.
Knowing how to skillfully meet new clients and prepare the right kinds of questions to ask is the best way to establish your expertise without pushing information, but being asked for information.