Win More Projects Matching Your Firm’s Engineering Skills with our Marketing Process
Article 2 of 9
Now that you have identified your firm’s key strengths in Beyond the ‘Fluff’ Step 1: Pinpoint Your Firm’s Core Competencies, the next step is defining the types of projects that best utilize those competencies and also fit your firm’s needs in terms of profitability, risk, and other relevant factors.
Why Focus on Projects Requiring Your Core Competencies?
Because core competencies are almost impossible for competitors to duplicate, firms gain the greatest competitive advantage when bidding on projects which require their core competencies as an essential component for project success. For example if a project is extremely complicated and thus requires strong project management skills, an engineering firm with a core competence in project management will have a distinct advantage. In addition to the deeply ingrained skills and knowledge your firm has on projects related to your core competencies, your firm will yield better results on those projects because people perform best and most consistently when doing activities that leverage their strengths.
Excellent results produce satisfied clients and repeat business, and by proving your worth also make it easier to command your desired price. In this fashion, increasing the percentage of “ideal projects” your firm wins can have a substantial impact on your business volume and profitability.
Develop an Ideal Project Profile
The first step in increasing your firm’s “ideal project volume” is to develop an Ideal Project Profile as a common target. To create the profile, first use the exercises below to zero in on projects that best utilize your core competencies, and then refine the profile in the next section using the additional project and client characteristics.
From our fishing analogy in Beyond the ‘Fluff’ Getting Started – Marketing in a Nutshell: The goal of this step is to identify the types of fish that thrive on what you have to offer them (your firm’s core competencies). So you’ll list the types of projects that require one or more of your firm’s core competencies as essential elements. In other words, the things your firm does best are critical factors in ensuring these types of projects succeed.
Try some or all of the following techniques to facilitate ideas:
- Pick one of your core competencies and list the types of projects in which this skill is heavily used. Then move on to another competence, and so forth until you have done them all. Look at your list and circle the types of projects that use the highest number of core competencies. These types of projects are ideal because you can leverage strength in several areas, and your skills will be most highly valued for these projects.
- Think of projects that are the opposite of a good fit for your firm. This exercise can help you divide projects into groups and will generate ideas and discussion. The projects that are named in this group will typically be those that do not require your core competencies, although they will probably be brought up with comments like “the clients never want to pay us enough for those projects,” or “the clients on those projects never seem to be satisfied with our services.”
- On a whiteboard make a list of all of the types of project opportunities available to a firm like yours in the markets you serve. As you name them the projects should start to fall naturally into groups. Mark those that require one or more of your core skills as a necessary element for successful completion.
- Discuss projects that have not gone well for your firm. Did those projects require any of your core competencies as a key element? Would the opposite type of project have worked out better for your firm?
- Make a list of your last 15-20 projects and ask these questions:
- For which of these projects are our firm’s core competencies critical to the project’s success? (These will be the projects for which your skills are most highly valued).
- Would the project fail without our skills (i.e., if a competitor without our core competencies was awarded the project would it succeed or not?) Why?
When you have finished your list, prioritize it so that the project types requiring the highest number of your core competencies appear at the top.
Refine the Profile with Additional Project Characteristics
Next, review your list and consider including some or all of the following characteristics to further define your Ideal Projects:
- Optimal size (define the optimal size project for your firm). Consider:
- Minimum project length/size needed to cover typical sales overhead (time spent by sales and engineering to bid on and win a project) and other project-related overhead
- Average ramp time needed for engineering team to get up to speed as a percentage of project length (i.e., percentage acceptable to clients that will not result in clients pressuring you to cover the ramp time)
- Financials – define to meet your firm’s project targets
- Realistic requirements, schedule and budget – add any specifics for your firm
- Acceptable level of risk – add any specifics for your firm
- Other similar projects exist with client or in the market (experience can be fully leveraged)
- Your firm has experience with projects of this type
Incorporate Attributes of Your Ideal Clients
Since all clients are not created equal – some can transform your business, while others can drain the life out of it – it’s wise to include an ideal client profile as part of your Ideal Project Profile. You may identify projects that meet your ideal profile, but if the clients are not financially stable, are difficult to work with, or have a negative view of engineering these factors can outweigh the positives of the project.
Considering the following client characteristics:
- Financially secure
- Proactively pays invoices
- Sees engineering design as an investment and has a positive view of it
- Looking for a long-term engineering partner
- Experience outsourcing projects (experienced staff, understands cost, specific expectations)
- Outsources large number of projects, many of which fit your ideal profile
- Sufficient resources are allocated for design projects (budget, staff, equipment)
- Good partner company (easy to work with, good communication, internal project management)
- Strategic/forward thinker/open to new ideas
- Involves engineering team early in the project cycle
- Low employee churn
- Located near your main office
- Company size within your target range
- Years in business
Why does it Matter if Clients Have Experience Outsourcing?
Below are characteristics of clients with and without experience outsourcing.
Clients with experience:
- Know what they want to achieve with the project
- Can clearly specify the requirements (or will pay you to do so)
- Have experienced people acting as project managers
- Understand what is realistic and possible and what to expect
- Have standards they expect the engineering team to meet
Experienced clients can be demanding and have high expectations but since the requirements are well-defined it is more straightforward to have the client sign off that they have been met and you are more likely to have a satisfied client.
Clients with no experience:
- Typically have a vision and ideas but may not have specific goals for the project and may “wander” trying to figure it out
- May be surprised that they must pay for the “wandering” (i.e. requirements churn)
- Are unsure exactly what needs to be done
- Are not certain of the process to get it done
- May have unrealistic expectations of cost, schedule, or what is possible to accomplish with the project
- Tend to require more attention/reassurance when issues arise since they don’t know what is typical and what is true cause for concern
- Can experience “sticker shock” at project prices since they have no basis for comparison
Since these clients do not have a defined standard for what they expect and may be figuring it out through the course of the project, their interpretation of the project results is difficult to predict and influence. They may not even realize what they truly expect from the project until it is far too late to meet those expectations. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open to prospects new to outsourcing, but you do need to be aware that you will be training them so it’s wise to consider the amount and type of business associated with the prospect (i.e., if they have a “one of” project you will not be able to leverage your training investment on future projects).
Why Should We Go to All This Trouble?
Nailing down this profile will help your company focus on finding projects you are most likely to win and deliver successfully – with clients who are solid project partners. Also note that competitors will struggle to match your results on projects that require your core competencies.
Since doing these types of projects helps your team to deliver quality output on schedule, within budget, and better than competitors, it promotes repeat business and early involvement in the next project. Your early input helps clients set realistic expectations and project deadlines – increasing the odds of success and laying the foundation for ongoing business. Getting into this positive cycle – and staying there – can transform your business.
Now that you have clearly defined your ideal projects and clients, the next step in the marketing process is to locate groups of these projects in the market and validate that sufficient business exists in those areas so you can develop programs to attract the projects. Find out how to do this in Beyond the ‘Fluff’ Step 3: Identify Your Key Markets.