I recently had lunch with a newly hired AEC marketer, an emerging professional. Our conversation was like a trip down memory lane for me. He asked me what he could do to become a valued and respected member of the small civil engineering firm where he has taken on the role of their first-ever marketing professional. This made me think about my initial years in the AEC industry, and I remembered how hard it was to be a marketing professional thrust into a very technical world. I thought a lot about this over several days after our discussion and realized that many emerging professionals might be in a similar situation.
Would you like to know how to train yourself to become an invaluable marketing professional? Below are ten essential training areas on which to focus as a new, emerging professional in the AEC industry.
Gain Trust and Respect from Your Firm’s Technical Professionals
As a new AEC marketer, your biggest hurdle is understanding the “product” you are selling. The best way to do this is to learn the language of your technical peers. Doing so will eventually build a bridge of respect and solidify the value you provide to the firm.
First, you must realize that your job is to support the people in your firm. Become a true member of the team. Seek opportunities to learn about the technical side of your services.
Put yourself in the shoes of the technical staff member and learn everything you can about what they do. When I first graduated from college, I served as the marketer for a small architectural firm. They had never had a marketing professional in their office, so I was genuinely starting from ground zero. I asked to “tag along” to project sites and client meetings. I got to know the clients by visiting their offices or attending in-house meetings whenever possible. I learned about tilt-up concrete for K12 projects that became a differentiator for this firm. I attended school board meetings. I asked to sit in on contractor interviews for one of the firm’s projects. I would involve myself as much as possible. By doing so, I found that it was easy to learn what they were doing, meet their clients, and earn a little bit of their trust.
For me, it even got to the point where clients would call me if they couldn’t get in touch with someone from their project. The architects slowly saw that the clients found value in my participation and respected me when I could provide some knowledge and understanding to a project approach section of the proposal. I became known to clients and internal staff as an advocate, which helped me gain respect.
Remember YOU Have Clients Also
As a marketing professional, remember that you have clients in addition to the firm’s clients. Your clients are the internal staff members that you work with daily. Formulate your goals around the goals of others at your office. Your job is to make others look good, and in turn, they will know that you have their best interest at heart. That’s when they become YOUR advocate. Once they see that you are genuinely looking out for them, they will start taking your advice and looking to you if they have a problem. Don’t approach potential clients or coworkers looking for something from them. Focus your attention on asking, “How can I help you?” Go out of your way for people and always be 100% upfront and honest.
Know Your Stuff
Take the time to educate yourself whenever possible. Some of you may have a mentor at your office; others may not. Regardless, you should become familiar with resources such as MARKENDIUM, also known as the SMPS Body of Knowledge (BOK). This resource is a comprehensive educational tool for successful marketing and business development in the AEC industry. MARKENDIUM also further defines the six Domains of Practice for the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). These six individual books include case studies, theory-into-practice tips, reflections, and a glossary of key terms. These books can be a tremendous resource for you. Even more importantly, they can provide endorsement when presenting your ideas and strategies. The books cover the basics of AEC marketing. By reading it several times, you will gain enough knowledge to become a marketing expert for your firm.
Phone a Friend
Be patient. It takes a long time to learn about this industry. It takes many years before you get a chance to try everything. I worked in the industry for 15 years before I could conduct my first client perception survey. Your time will come. Use this learning time to develop a network of industry mentors. It’s important to know what you know and even more important to know what you don’t know. Developing relationships with others in this industry will ensure resources when you don’t know the answer. Contacts are influential, especially in the AEC industry.
Dress for Success
One of my mentors taught me a good rule of thumb for earning respect. She told me always to portray a professional image. She said to dress slightly better than the boss. Dress like the person you want to be seen as, not the person you are.
I highly suggest you learn about managing your time. One of the biggest challenges is realizing that your time is not your own. Depending on the size of your firm, you could potentially be assisting multiple project managers, firm principals, your marketing team, and many others all at once. I had a book recommended to me to assist in developing this skill. “Getting Things Done” by David Allen explains how to manage all the requests on your time. Your time is limited, but the demands put on every marketing professional is infinite. You will need to know how to become as productive as possible. Not many professionals take the time or even learn the skills of productivity. Make time management a priority and practice it daily. You will become a value-added team member who can keep tasks on track.
Never Burn Bridges
I know you feel that you work for the best company out there, but you never know what direction your career path could take. The AEC industry is often changing and is very intertwined. Technical and marketing professionals move from job to job, firm to firm. Clients move from entity to entity. In addition, the AEC industry has its ups and downs, and recessions come and go. Always think about your professional development and how your relationships can help you further your career and develop your network, no matter what opportunities for employment or client connections come your way.
Just Do It
You were hired because you bring value to your firm. You are a creative and innovative individual. You will have many ideas that may help your firm’s initiatives. If you have an idea, run with it and record the results. Just do it. Always use common sense while being proactive and solving problems. If you can show it was successful and prove the return on investment, you will learn so much. Don’t be afraid to take some risks.
The Name of the Game
Concentrate your marketing actions with the mindset that no matter what activity you are assigned, you contribute to the company’s bottom line. The best way to prove your value and earn respect is to help bring business in the door. Become a rainmaker. While you may bring a business development opportunity to the team, many of your tasks may not lead directly to a potential project. However, keep track of your efforts and document the results of assignments. You will be surprised. Maintaining a list of accomplishments will assist you when you have employee reviews or interview for a different position.
No matter how many years you are in the industry, you will find that it is sometimes hard to remember to be thankful. Take notice of those that help you. Realize that even when you are burning the midnight oil, you are participating in something that sustains the company’s goals. Be thankful for your role in that opportunity. There will be more times than you can count when you are frustrated because a project engineer doesn’t get you her proposal edits by the deadline. Be thankful that she is busy on her project that provides billable hours so that you have a job. Be grateful for this unique industry with the most remarkable marketing professionals available, and you get to know them personally.
Looking back on the 30+ years I’ve been in this industry, I wish I had known some of these tips so that I could have been more self-reliant with training opportunities. Take your future into your own hands and blaze a trail that suits your career ambitions.