Stephanie Craft interviews Todd Elayer, SE, Principal/Executive Director of Business Development for Buehler, whose thorough insights and focus on improvement have influenced his firm for the better.
Stephanie: As a firm Principal/leader, what have you done to create a marketing mentality in your firm/office?
Todd: I think as a firm it’s been a matter of encouraging people to participate in the process. On the BD side, we really emphasize client relationships and encourage and empower people to get active and participate in events or to connect with clients. On the marketing side, we have a lot of smart people who have a good amount of awareness and understanding of the synergy between marketing and BD, and even in engineering how they need to provide marketing with the right information so we can pursue projects successfully.
Stephanie: In what ways is marketing in our industry important?
Todd: Some of it is informing the general public of what we do and highlighting our experience, capabilities and our people. For us, we really value our staff and believe we have the best people around, and not only in engineering, but on the marketing and business operations side too. We have people who are fun to work with and really make an effort to understand our clients’ challenges and ultimate goals.We try to take a very holistic approach to every project so we try to step outside just the structural component of the project and involve everyone as needed.
Stephanie: Is there someone who mentored you about marketing mentality?
Todd: For business development, certainly the biggest influence on me has been Ron Migliori.Anyone who knows Ron would understand that. His title isn’t business development but he still does a ton of BD because he has those deep relationships. I shadowed Ron earlier in my career and learned from his example and the way he engages with people.He’s such a people person.He would take me on client lunches or to conferences or we would work on projects together and I could see how he interacted in those environments. He is so well respected and well liked in the industry, and he’s a natural at it. I also remember multiple occasions where we had big proposals on significant projects, and Ron would spend a lot of time writing up new material or editing existing material to fit that proposal, so I learned from him how important that was too.
Pat Vujovich was the president when I first started at Buehler, and he was a more BD- and marketing-minded president. To this day, I remember him telling a group of us that everyone has to each lunch so why don’t you take some clients out to lunch! That helped me in my marketing and business development growth.
Stephanie: How do you get firm leaders on board for your marketing initiatives?
Todd: A huge component of it is trust, and thankfully, I feel like the rest of the leadership team genuinely trusts that I have good ideas and am moving us in a positive direction.Then a lot of it is getting in and pushing things forward and showing them what we can do.It helps to paint them a picture of how a suggestion could help improve things or if we didn’t incorporate something, how it could keep us stagnant.For example, we are implementing Cosential, so I showed them the resumes our Senior Marketing Coordinator is doing so they could see that if we continue to commit time to inputting this information into Cosential, this is how we can leverage it down the road and make us better.They are putting a lot of trust in me, and thankfully, I’m able to demonstrate some of the initial outcomes so they can see down the road how effective it will be when everything is fully implemented.
The other big part is establishing processes and how that improves our efficiencies and our results, so the more successful we are in doing that, including in supporting the BD group, people naturally buy into it. The hard part is before we have significant results to show. We are engineers and we like metrics and want to see that if I take the time to do this process it is meaningful and not a waste of my time. So far, I’ve been able to help them understand the wait is worth it.
Stephanie: What are three tips you give your marketing coordinators to help them progress and evolve in their role?
Todd: I have really tried to encourage and empower them to get involved in SMPS and other industry associations and events so they understand more about the industry and are networking with their peers and potential clients.
I also try to encourage their creativity and independence regarding doing things better or differently than we have in the past.We are evaluating our processes and since they are on the front lines, I need their input regarding how to streamline and improve what they do.I don’t want them putting in a lot of extra hours. I would rather have us improve our processes so they can work more efficiently and have a better work/life balance.
I also try to give them tips to more effectively interact with our technical staff so they can get their needs taken care of on a schedule that allows them to hit their deadlines.
Stephanie: What marketing-related training do you provide within your company?
Todd: Every year for the past five years, we have had a Training Day for our entire company. A lot of it is very technical, engineering or BIM heavy, but we do more general training for our Bus Ops staff where we’ll try to make it less technical so they understand what we do.There have also been some occasions where some of us have presented on BD and marketing, and the relationship between the two, for clarity amongst our technical staff.We also plan for all our staff to attend conferences and webinars as part of their professional development.
Stephanie: How does your marketing team interact with your business development team?
Todd: Historically, we have been seller/doers, but we just hired for the first time a full-time BD person in one of our regions. It’s worked out really well.We chose to do that for this specific region because it is a lot more common there, and our new BD Manager had a connection with our Regional Manager.Having her in place has freed up our Regional Manager to be able to do more project work and actually manage the office.She interacts with marketing for new client materials and on proposals for what needs to be included.
In our other offices, we continue with the doer/seller model. We have a conference call every other week with marketing and the engineers who are doing BD.This allows us to coordinate on leads and opportunities so marketing has an early heads up of what is coming down the pike.Both sides have found that really beneficial. We’ve also just recently streamlined how BD requests are made to the marketing team.That has helped everyone see what projects are currently on the team’s plate and how many hours are booked out a week or two for them.It’s been eye opening for technical staff to see the kind of time it takes to get materials done properlyit’s not just a 5-minute job!
Stephanie: What are the biggest hurdles your team/office/firm faces related to marketing?
Todd: We’re in the midst of a complete overhaul of our marketing processes and materials—Cosential being a big part of it. The biggest challenge is continuing to be responsive to our clients’ current needs while simultaneously changing the way we do things.
Stephanie: What are ways your marketing could improve or reach the next level?
Todd: As we’re in the midst of this overhauling of process and materials, the accessing of our project information is becoming more efficient so the feedback required from the technical staff is minimal.I think it’s only going to get better and better.We know our goals and we’re working toward them.