Keri Hammond interviews Ron Paul, the founder and General Manager of FOCUS Engineering & Surveying. Ron founded FOCUS in 2007 with the idea to collect talented folks who had a desire to be part of something better, both as individuals and as a company. Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, this remains the company philosophy, from the products they produce to the service they provide. Ron oversees the development of the FOCUS company culture, the hiring and training of staff, and the goal setting of the firm.


Keri: As a firm leader and principal owner, what have you done to help create a marketing mentality in your firm or office?

Ron: We strive to provide opportunity for growth through marketing to our team. No matter their background, from an engineering degree or survey license, the opportunity is available for the taking. We tell them, "If you set your sights on what you feel like you want, or want to be your focus, we're going to support you in that." We describe our core ideology and it takes a lot of hard work, but each individual can make it a career if they decide.

We also make it a priority to educate. We talk a lot about what the active role of MARKETLINK is, and our marketing manager’s role, in educating and letting our people know what it takes to do what we expect in regard to marketing. And we make it clear that our clients don't just appear. There is a lot of work that goes into finding a client, maintaining a client and developing a really long term relationship with the client. Those are the things we talk about and that we reinforce and remind. We even need to remind ourselves sometimes that this is the process at an engineering and surveying firm like ours.


Keri: In what ways is marketing in our industry important? What are a couple of things that you think are really important ways to market in our industry and what makes a firm successful, or even a person successful?

Ron: In this niche of this industry, trying to get them to understand that the reality is that every interaction that we have with clients, no matter what it is, is marketing at FOCUS. And so, in that definition, it's extremely important. The way we define marketing is every interaction we have with our clients or potential clients. And what it comes down to is building a relationship with the client and not just a relationship for this one project, we never work just for the project. We work for the client, and we will work for their relationship because we know if we can develop that type of long term business relationship with our clients, there's no end to what FOCUS could potentially become. And so, identifying that importance of it, that it is about the client relationship, that’s the importance that it is to FOCUS.

Keri: Is there someone who mentored you about marketing mentality or someone that was like a mentor for you?

Ron: For sure. I've had a lot of them. One of them you know very well, Ken Watson. My impression of Ken is, his approach to marketing is very close to what mine is. That's how I was trained. From Ken and Bob Elder. They were my mentors at Eckhoff, Watson and Preator Engineering (EWP).

To me, they were never the guys going after the new, shiny penny that they saw out there. It was always about the clients that we have and building those relations and relationships and maintaining those relationships with the clients that we have. And they would do things. Ken did the golf tournaments and things like that. But I would say that was probably the most impactful to me was Ken and Bob's approach. In helping me to expand that vision now, You, Keri, have been a great mentor for me. Our Marketing Manager Bryce is doing a great job of helping me understand, “Okay, no, that was the old world. And now we have new world that is a lot different than when I started with 10 years ago.” But there's that still our core of all things considered. If the worst things happened today, we feel like we have really good relationships with key clients that we would weather the storm and we would be able to weather it through. So, and that comes a lot from Ken and Bob. I've had other marketing mentors, or the partnership at LEI, they were good. They kind of took it to a new level. They were very much about interacting with clients and doing gifts and showing that extra touch. And it's not that EWP or Stantec didn't do that. It's just LEI did it in a little bit different way. And they were more active in it.

Keri: How have you been able to get your firm leaders on board with your company's marketing initiatives? I know that you have a core that you've started with, but you've expanded that to your T9 group. What are some of the things that you've done for that to help with that?

Ron: It's just identifying those that are getting the marketing mentality, and that understand it and practice it. When we identify those individuals, I like to give them ownership of it. And, we have our strategic initiative goals that we do every year. It’s not rocket science. If you anticipate needing to build a certain amount of business, to operate and to grow at whatever growth is predetermined, you have to market. And then giving them the opportunity to take ownership, it's their goal. And then that accountability comes with it. They know if they're going to put this down in writing that this is their goal and they are accountable to that.

Keri: How have you been able to show return on your investment for the marketing program to your firm leaders, or even as you're evaluating things? What are some of the things that you've used as your metrics?

Ron: I think mostly growth is the way we look at that.

Keri: And how do you define growth?

Ron: Well, it's looking at our gross billings every year, just seeing that increase every year. As we do that, we know that we're capturing market share. We're working on trying to refine our data, and this is something that's on the marketing team’s plate to refine data such as, how many potential clients do we need to reach, to pursue in a year? This market that we've been blessed with the last several years, the downside is it comes too easy. I do worry about that. I worry that work is coming too easy. I've been through times where it isn't easy, and it takes a lot of hard work. We have been looking at the quality of clients that we have. We have been blessed with some very high-quality clients and gratefully, the majority of our clients are what we consider high-quality clients. There are some that we have come into contact with that are not good clients.

Identifying when they are not good for us, and when it is not a good fit and then walking away from that, can be tough. And it was tough for us for a lot of years after coming out of the recession. I said “No, we’re taking everything. I don’t care. We have to, we have to keep the lights on.” Getting away from that, the good thing for FOCUS right now is we've grown to a certain extent where we can start being a little bit pickier.

Keri: What are three tips you give your marketing team or your marketing leaders to help them progress and evolve in their role?

Ron: My biggest suggestion for the marketing staff is to get to know the people that are doing the work and know your department managers, know the people that you are trying to help support in their marketing efforts and get to understand what it is they do. We don't need them to know all of the bells and whistles of everything that they do. And in fact, that would be very bad if we got to that granular level, but we do want them to understand. What are their challenges? What are their fears? What are their concerns? What are the things that they're proud of? And just asking a lot of questions and getting to know them and developing a relationship with those individuals that they're trying to support in the marketing effort.

Our technical staff are the marketing team’s clients. What do they need if they're my client? And then you apply the core ideology to that relationship of between them and that defined client for me. It's the idea of who your client is and what is it that they need to be successful? Make sure that the marketing team does whatever it takes to make them successful.

Second is understanding the industry. What is it? How do we sell it? And what is it that we are trying to accomplish?

And finally, what is the culture of the company? What are the core values? Our marketing team needs to understand these and look for ways to apply them. One thing I have all of my non-production departments do is go through and define who their clients are. And it's funny when you have those types of conversations with them, the first thing they point out, is “well, I don't talk with the client.” So, one thing that we have done is defining clients for every one of us. Who are my clients? And for them, their clients are not just our paying clients, that when we split them up are external and internal clients. So, it’s identifying who they are and getting to understand them.

Keri: What marketing related training do you provide your company? You've got so many things that you do that I think are so helpful to your staff.

Ron: It starts with when they're first hired. The first meeting that I have with them is about the importance of what they're going to learn at Focus. It all comes down to that client relationship and building relationships with clients and long term relationships with clients. Because as I mentioned, if we can accomplish that with all of the clients that we come in contact with, there will never be an end to Focus. We will always be able to find and keep and maintain new clients and market share. So, it starts there.


Then it goes more to the departmental level of training and mentoring them. We hope that everybody that we hire at some point can become a project manager and they will definitely get the opportunity to become a project manager like we talked about at the very beginning. But will they be able to do it well? We hope so. And we're going to support them in that. And then at that point, there will be a lot of mentoring of this type of discussion of who are our clients and just applying that core ideology to everything that we're doing. And through that application and discussion and mentoring, we hope that we are helping to develop employees, identify the value of marketing and what marketing is with FOCUS.


We read a lot of books and a lot of the books are about this idea that we give to them at the very beginning, which is building relationships. We've talked many times about the books that we read, and those are the types of books that, it is about the client relationship. Those are our favorites. That's the FOCUS canon that we referred to.


Then our marketing department engages with each department on a departmental level about what they want to do, and we try and involve everyone as much as possible. And, there's some identification of, “these people are vital to having this meeting," these people we want to give an opportunity to,” and, “others are developing to get those opportunities.” Other things that we do, are when we give out gifts to clients, we try to engage everybody that's working with those clients. We give them an opportunity to go give the gift, get some face time with them, create an opportunity to talk to them, hopefully in person and things like that. We've got a golf tournament coming up. That's going to engage a lot of our company and we're going to be able to interact quite a bit. So that's how we do it. We try to try to give everyone opportunity.

Keri: What are the biggest hurdles your team, your office, your firm faced related to marketing overall? What are some of the struggles?

Ron: So, I've mentioned some of them, the first would be just the nature of engineers and surveyors, typically not strong on that end of things. I think that would be the first thing.

There's a little bit with identifying “what is marketing?” Because we get a lot of people that have their own ideas. They come in here with their own ideas of what marketing is and then it takes effort to help them understand “what does marketing look like at FOCUS?”

Another hurdle is how to handle a client when we have struggles with the client and when we're struggling with a relationship with the client. I think the biggest hurdle is having inexperienced people that we want to give opportunity, but who do not quite have the awareness of when things might be getting strained, and when they're doing well. And I think we can do a better job of that. First of all, are they prepared for this opportunity with the client? If we hand off this project to this less experienced employee, are they ready for it? And really it comes back to the manager, the department manager or whoever their direct manager is. Are they giving them enough support to help them with this? What we don't want to have happen is that a client gets get frustrated to the point where they say, “Okay, this just isn't going to work out.” Gratefully, we haven't had a lot of those, but we have definitely had more than I'm comfortable with. And I know that we can be better at that, helping support on the execution end so that we can be successful, and our paying clients can be successful and our internal clients can be successful and continuing to progress. And it's one of those things that when we mess up, it's not the end of the world. What it boils down to is, how do you respond to that mess up? And getting our people to understand that is where you can either make or break a relationship. It's how you respond.

Keri: What are a few ways marketing at FOCUS could improve or reach the next level?

Ron: We need to be able to track more data about our clients. I would love to be able to analyze metrics like, how many contacts are we making with each client and what does that yield for us? I would love to see more data there. This is one of the things I've asked our marketing team to investigate, so I know it's getting addressed.

Also, we need everybody to get to know our clients better and do a better job of understanding what the client's needs are. You’ve talked about this. You've trained us a lot about this, the importance of understanding, what is it that makes them successful and then us adopting and executing that: those ideas for our clients and finding ways to do that.

Keri: Well, Ron, thank you so, so much. I appreciate your help and going through these questions. I just learn from you all the time. I think you're such a good example of a firm leader that gets it. I am really proud of what your firm has done and how you’ve grown. I appreciate your time.


Read 370 times
Rate this item
(0 votes)

About The Author

Keri Hammond, FSMPS, CPSM

Keri is a long-standing trailblazer in the Utah AEC industry. Clients appreciate her ability to get things done – they know she does whatever it takes, with integrity, to help them build their business. Keri is known for her leadership and diplomacy; she motivates others with positivity, trust, and unwavering support.

Our Clients

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18