You know that you work that your engineering company is the best out there, but does the public know that? What makes your firm better than the competition? Do your prospective clients know that? What advantages and benefits do your clients have by using your firm? This is marketing; getting the word out about you and your company.
A major part of marketing is describing how your company is different from the competition, and how that benefits your clients. Most engineering firms do very little marketing outside of word of mouth and maintaining client relationships. Most of the time this may be all you need to do to stay busy, but if you want to grow your company you will need more clients and contracts. What happens when your clients starts to fade away or decides to use someone else? To stay busy you will need to employ several well planned marketing tactics.
One of the best ways to market is to inform the public of your difference from the competition by creating a Unique Selling Proposition or USP. A USP is what makes your firm different from your competition. If you want to immediately stand out in the engineering community, have a clearly defined USP. Ask the question "Why your potential clients would chose to do business with your firm versus the competition?" What separates your engineering firm from the competition? The answer is your USP. Your engineering company has better services, a guarantee, better selection of services, longer business hours, more flexible payment options, or a combination of all of these and more. You should be able to summarize your USP in one sentence. A great USP will have your potential clients thinking or saying, "I have to do business with these guys." Most companies inadvertently talk about creating a USP, but don't actually implement it.
Unfortunately, most USP's are not unique; because many firms will review other USP's and copy the best words. They will search the internet, review several business books, and might even ask other individuals and then combine the results into their own USP. If most USP the client reads are similar, then they have no meaning.
Again most of the marketing books available in the bookstore are not for professional service business like engineering. A personal service client is looking benefits more so than any other type of client. A customer of large chain store is probably looking for low price product. A client of designer is looking for quality name professional logo design and not necessarily lowest price. But a client of professional service company is looking for something quite different. What do you want from a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, or a designer? Are you looking for bonuses, sales, and discounts? Of course not!
A true USP answers the client needs. What is it that clients are looking for? Based on our experience most buyers want their professional service provider to have one or more of following characteristics:
1 - Reliability: Do what you say you are going to do, and be on time about it. This is listed first, because it's so important. How many times have you heard engineers not meet the deadlines they promised? Developers work with very tight schedules, and depend on the sub-consultants meeting their deadlines. Delays cost money, and often more than the engineering contract amounts. This is also were most of the litigation occurs.
2 - Accessibility: In today's age of the cell phone engineers are very accessible at any time and any day of the week. Clients expect you to answer your phone, and if they leave a message a return call is made as soon as possible. What the client wants is for the engineer to be there when they are needed.
3 - Impact: Due to the nature of the profession, every job is different, and no one solution can solve every problem. So the engineer must first understand the client's need and then provide the best services that solve the need. In addition, the proposed engineering services must be targeted at enabling the client to reach their ultimate goal.
4 - Fit: All clients are different, and you can not work with everyone. Depending on your business management style, you may be a better fit with a demanding client, a novice who needs to be walked through every step, or a hands free client. To keep your clients happier it might be better from time to time to suggest another engineer who may be a better fit. Sometime it is better to let them go then hold on and ruin your reputation.
5 - Importance: There is no better feeling for your client then to know that they are part of the design team. It is extremely important to let your client know that they are a part of your team, letting them know the design options and your recommendations.
6 - Service: Exceed your client's expectation by delivering a great service. This may mean personally meeting with client on a regular basis throughout the life of the project. Personally delivering correspondences and plans, and taking the time to talk with your client. Keeping them informed on the project status by constantly providing the best service possible.
7 - Prudence: There is more to a project then engineering design. Understanding the consequences of a design option or process and how it impacts the overall project is extremely important to the client. Although value engineering review determines that a design revision would save the client $50,000 to build, may not be a good decision if it adds two additional months to project's schedule to process the revision. These additional months may cost the client $200,000 on carrying the loan and construction delays. Be careful and do your homework before you suggest a course of action for your clients.
8 - Research: The basics of engineering never really changes, but the technology and products are constantly being improved upon. The newest trend in engineering is green technologies, and this is affecting every category of the profession. Staying on top of the technologies is a continuous study.
9 - Listening: Understanding what the client needs, is essential in providing a service that is tailor-made. Your client may only want to develop the front half of their property with a convenience store. It wouldn't be prudent to provide plans that develop the entire property. They may not want to develop the back area of the property at this time? Unless you are listening, you will not know. The client may have a multitude of reasons that do not include engineering.
10 - Teaching: Your client is coming to you for help to complete their project. They know they do not know everything, but expect you, the expert, to know exactly what to do. Teaching them the process makes them a better client. They will come back to you with their next project, because you took the time to explain the process and involved them in the design. The more they understand the more information they can provide to you, and will have the necessary documents ready for you as needed.
11 - Business Management: The client does not understand why the agency's reviewing the engineering plans need to make any comments. In their opinion a good set of plans should have no comments. In fact, they are mostly right. If the business has a good quality control and quality assurance program in place, then there should be very few if any comments on the plans. Especially, any comments that would require revising the plans due to a poorly designed concept or one that does not meet codes. Any comments received should be for an alternative that may not have been considered. No client wants to pay for training inexperience personnel or missing information that should have been included in the initial design.
12 - Relationship Management: There are two types of business relationships; good and bad. Everyone in your office needs to feel and say good things about all of the clients. If your staff is making bad or derogatory comments about your clients, it want be long before your clients will find out. Once your clients think that you think of them as an adversary, they will start to look elsewhere for a new engineer. Without clients you have no business.
Now, take these ideas and create your own unique selling proposition, by giving the client what they want. Even if your firm has one employee, being unique will make your firm stand out from the crowd.
Most engineers have excellent technical skills, but not necessarily the same level of expertise in business management and marketing. It is the responsibility of the engineer to develop these management skills through continuing education. This continuing education can be obtained through Community Colleges, Universities, Professional Training Programs, Professional Organizations, and online training courses. In most states these continuing education courses qualify for continuing education units (CEU) or Professional Development Hours (PDH).
In this article we discussed the Unique Selling Proposition as a marketing strategy. Managers are often called upon to improve market efforts of the firm, having a list of other strategies that can be easily implement maybe the difference between a good and a bad manager.