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Great Proposals Start with a Long-Term Strategy

I can’t believe it was almost 17 years ago when I started at Burns & McDonnell, a civil engineering branch office in St. Louis, Missouri as a Marketing Coordinator. Even then, it was so challenging trying to get project information for the first proposal I was working on. I wish I could say that times have changed. Unfortunately, those same struggles I faced then, seem to be prevalent in our industry now. But we all know, in order to create great proposals, we need great information. Winning proposals start with great data. In this post, I’m going to talk more about how to get great information for your proposals and also some other tips and tricks for taking your proposals to the next level!

Getting that Dang Project Description!

I wish I could tell you that it’s as easy as offering your project manager a beer in trade for that project description, usually it’s not that easy. Over the past 17 years, the best way I’ve found to get the marketing data I needed was the process that was in place at Lend Lease (or Bovis Lend Lease – 15 years ago). When I worked as a marketing coordinator at Bovis Lend Lease, whether or not a project team or the principal of an office got their entire bonus was tied to whether or not the marketing team had the key project information for that specific project or the projects for that office. Our marketing director tracked the information in a simple spreadsheet and the information that was required was: final project sheet created with final photography signed off on, project start and completion dates, project construction value, and project description. Because I was younger and new to my career, I didn’t realize what a gift having this process in place was! Now, as I’ve looked back over the years, I’ve realized how brilliant that process and bonus incentive was. Each quarter, I didn’t have to beg project managers for the information I needed. The principal asked me where we were at or what percent of the information did we have completed and then he would reach out to the assigned project managers for each job. The bonus incentive for project data still remains as one of the best ways to get this information to marketing teams. 

The Infographic Cover Letter

So many clients are used to our standard cover letters, “We are pleased to submit our response to the XYZ project. Enclosed you will find evidence of our ability to perform on similar projects on time and within budget.” Oy – hit the snooze button. There is nothing technically wrong with the words written above, they are just echoed by many marketers. Next time you write your cover letter and executive summary, use it as an opportunity to do more of a magazine-like design spread with a lot of high-impact graphics, and images to convey your story. 

Show Them Don’t Tell Them

Graphics increase reader retention, stick in long-term memory and will help communicate your messages faster. Not only that, but graphics also can help with writer’s block. If you’ve ever started working on a project approach and find yourself blocked, a great way to get unblocked is to find a great image of the project you’re writing about or some element of the project you’re writing about and it can really help get those juices flowing again. Not only that, but your reader will thank you for breaking up the text a little with an interesting image.

It’s About Progress Not Perfection

We can be really hard on ourselves when it comes to our work. After reading Dorrie Clark’s The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World I realized how long it takes to really perfect the proposal process for not only an individual but for any AEC firm as a whole. It can take years of refining the sales/marketing proposal process, messaging, and graphics to get to a result that resonates with a particular market. I think it’s harder for newer marketers and younger firms to realize that what they see the more established firms produce took years and not months or days to create. In order to excel in producing excellent proposal responses, it takes a team of people, each doing their part along each step of the process in order to craft a proposal that will win. 

Specialize – You Don’t Have to be an Expert at Everything

When I first started out in the industry, I didn’t know I was allowed to say “no” or “that isn’t really in my job description.” If someone decided that it was marketing-related, I just took it on. Not a bad way to get started in the industry, but I wish I would have let myself early on focus on what I was really good at and learn how to delegate the rest. 17 years ago, there weren’t such great digital tools out there and now there are so many it can be challenging to figure out which tools are right for you and your firm. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I found my writing skills to be very valuable at most AEC firms. However, engineers and contractors didn’t always care how “beautiful” something looked and it was quite different when I worked for architects. Looking back, I would say if you lean a particular way as a marketer in the AEC industry, whether that might be graphics or more towards a writing focus, stay true to that and find tools that support your weaker areas.

Summary

Taking your proposals to the next level requires a long-term approach but it doesn’t have to be a boring journey to get there. Next week, try pitching the idea to your executive team about making space in the bonus structure to capture marketing information or try making your cover letter and executive summary a little more visually captivating. Read Dorrie Clark’s book about becoming a Long-Term Thinker in a Short Term world, and maybe take a class on a topic that really interests you. No matter what you do, remember to drop me a comment or give me a shout on social media to let me know what worked for you! 

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Lessons Learned from Writing CRM or Die

After writing my first book, Sink or Swim Faster: Making a Splash in Professional Services, I did not think I would write another book so soon, but then Covid hit and it seemed like it might not be such a bad idea if I was going to be stuck inside for a while. After letting all the feelings go from the first book, I was ready to tackle the second. This time around, I had a few ideas on how I wanted to do it differently:

  • Write with a friend;
  • Find a good editor;
  • Ask more people to review the draft sooner; and
  • Don’t try and format the book yourself.

Write with a Friend

It really is no fun living inside your head for extended periods of time. While writing, that’s kind of what you do. After my first book, I realized during the editing process as I was giving out copies of my drafts for people to read, that it really helped me to discuss the ideas in the book with another person while writing it. I had so much fear while writing my first book, I didn’t want to share it with anyone until it was pretty close to done. I definitely wasn’t going to do this the second time around. I found a great partner: Courtney Kearney. Courtney and I had started working together while I was at Cosential (now Unanet) and we really had similar philosophies on working with CRMs: from implementation to management, and automation. Not only do we share similar ideas, but she is as passionate as I am when it comes to managing a firm’s data to enhance customer relationships. Since we had a lot in common, outlining the book, discussing what would go in and what we should leave out became much easier. So grateful she decided to take this journey with me – it was definitely worth it!

Find a Good Editor

As I mentioned above, when I was writing my first book, I basically hired a line or copy editor to review my draft prior to giving it to some of my colleagues. Fear kept me from reaching out to more people and finding the specialists I needed! Not the second time around. For CRM or Die, I reached out to Karen Rowe, who I met at a networking event. Courtney and I read her book, Behind the Cover to help us structure our book. After reading Karen’s book, we had a great first draft, which made the first round of edits with her team much easier (the first round is what most editors would call a developmental or structural edit). After that round of editing, Courtney and I took the feedback and made tweaks to our draft. Next, we did the copy or line edit. During this edit, Karen and her team did corrections for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and a review of the overall sentence structure to make sure the content was as good as it could be. Since Courtney and I worked together on the book, it was great to have her review my content and vice versa during the entire process coupled with Karen’s editing team. The process of editing and discussing the concepts in the book brought more clarity than I would have ever thought possible. When I write my next book, I’ll definitely utilize Karen’s team again (if they’re available – they’re really good).

Ask More People to Read Your Draft Sooner

Do not be afraid to let people read your book even before it’s done cooking yet! I can’t stress enough how important it was to have Courtney and other colleagues read our draft during the editing process. It’s okay if your draft isn’t perfect, but working with others and getting their ideas can help you do a much better job of making sure key components of the book are discussed in a way that is clear to both readers familiar with the subject and those that may be a little newer to it. All of the questions we received and feedback on the draft during its various states were so key to making it the best it could be.

Don’t Format Yourself

After the writing and editing process, trying to format the book yourself is a headache waiting to happen. Since I had spent a lot of time formatting proposals in my previous life, I thought formatting would be a breeze. Never again. Courtney was kind enough to take on the formatting of this book through with Ingram Sparks Book-Building Tool but I think that she would agree that formatting after writing is a huge pain and it’s better left to someone that hasn’t been slaving away on content for months.

In Closing

If you have dreams and aspirations of writing a book, don’t hesitate to get started! There is nothing better in this world to have someone read something you’ve written and tell you how it’s helped them with a challenge they are facing in their life. It’s an amazing feeling and I hope you get to experience it!

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I Just Published My Second Book!

I am so excited to announce that I have written my second book with my close friend Courtney Kearney! 

The book is called CRM or Die: Manage Your Client Relationships or Perish and it is available on Amazon. Here’s the link to purchase it.

CRM or Die is about implementing, maintaining, and automating any Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system at your firm. It focuses on our experience in implementing CRMs and helping clients manage the systems they currently have in place. After you read this book, you’ll have all of our tips and tricks for making sure you select, implement, and maintain your CRM in a way that will be beneficial for your firm. Click here for more.

Oh, and did I mention all the free resources that come with the book? Click here and scroll down once you have a copy and you’ll be able to access all the free resources!

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What Would Ted Lasso Say?

Every Friday, my husband and I look forward to getting our two-year-old son into bed so that we can watch Ted Lasso. I didn’t think I would be into this show, but after a few of our friends recommended it, we decided to give it a try. My husband is an avid Manchester United fan and is also pretty familiar with the Premier League, so it’s always interesting to have a discussion with him each week about how the episode reminds him of real players and real leadership situations. I have found myself really enjoying the additional context to Ted Lasso, but I’ve also found myself really enjoying Ted’s leadership style and a few of Ted’s more quotable moments. 

1. “Be a Goldfish.” Ted uses this line when he’s talking to one of his players after he makes a mistake. The reason he gives for the Goldfish being so happy is he has the shortest memory. We all mistakes and don’t we all wish we didn’t. I am definitely one of those people that can overanalyze a bit much sometimes when it comes to my decisions and actions, so keeping this phrase in mind makes me chuckle to myself just a bit when I start getting too wrapped up in the past. This humorous motto is a great reminder not to take our mistakes too seriously and to just let them go.

2. “It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” In season one, it’s amazing how much vitriol is slung at Ted from the stands, from the streets, from his team, and secretly from his manager. Despite the insults and negative attitudes, Ted pushes on while optimistically pursuing his dream of making the players versions of themselves. Although he’s a fictional character, I can’t help but imagine what it might be like to be a coach of a sports team and constantly having your decisions second-guessed and criticized in a very public way. Although it seems painful, Ted is never deterred by the public’s review of his performance, he remains focused on his purpose with the team: making them “the best versions of themselves.” 

3. It’s okay if people underestimate you. One of my favorite moments in season one is when the audience finds out that Ted has a hidden talent when it comes to darts. He uses this time to shine to the benefit of his boss. From time to time, I think all of us need to have our egos stroked, but I find it interesting that Ted only uses his talent to shine when it is for the purpose of serving another.

I know I can fall into the trap of taking myself too seriously sometimes and I’m glad that I have a weekly reminder from Ted Lasso that as I pursue some of my biggest goals, I don’t have to lose sight of having a little fun along the way. If you haven’t checked out Ted Lasso, I hope you might watch a few episodes and see if you can glean a few great insights as to how to have a little more fun as you play the game of life. I know I have.

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Building Powerful SaaS Professional Services Teams

Being a Tampa Bay resident, I can’t help but be amazed at the stroke of luck we’ve experienced with our professional sports teams last year and now this year with Tom Brady successfully leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win. With some of our recent successes, I’ve been thinking about what it takes to build winning teams.

In business, we don’t have to typically worry about just one competitor, but many at the same time. Our performance last year may not be enough to keep our customers happy this year, and one small slip-up may mean a competing firm can get the upper hand and run away with our client. So how can we continue to provide great service year after year and build great professional services teams? In this blog, we’ll discuss five ways to build and engage powerful professional services teams.

  1. Hire Passionate Professionals – Some of the most successful members of professional services teams I’ve worked with are truly passionate about the clients they serve and they really believe in the SaaS product they are delivering (warts and all). These high-level performers are committed to their clients success as if it were their own.
  2. Create Engaging Learning Opportunities – High-performing professional services teams demand opportunities to help them learn more and grow. Typically, these teams are already aware of knowledge gaps and the training or skills needed to fill these gaps. A leader of a high-performing professional services team needs to listen to the team and look for ways to satisfy learning and development needs.
  3. Eliminate Mundane Tasks – Are your talented team members spending a lot of time on expense reports or other mundane tasks? Why? Could these valuable team members be spending their time helping clients with more complex challenges instead? If yes, look for ways to eliminate the tasks that can be outsourced so that your team can focus on what is most important: solving your client’s most complex challenges. In Steve Glaveski’s article, The Professional Services Firm of the Future, Glaveski offers great ideas on how to make the best use of some of the most creative problem solvers at your firm and not burn them out in the process.
  4. Fire Abusive Clients – Nothing can be more demoralizing than working with clients that really don’t appreciate your team’s time. If you’re growing a powerful professional services team, catering to a client that doesn’t understand the value your team brings is a waste of time. Many times, the clients that are the most problematic are not your highest paying clients. Don’t let an abusive client bring your team down. It’s better to break away from that client before you lose a valuable team member.
  5. Always Celebrate Success – Anniversaries, birthdays, project wins, and personal victories are all worth celebration. Nothing can erode morale faster than getting too busy to celebrate the little things and the big things.

Building a top-performing professional service team is key to successfully onboarding clients and increasing adoption. In order to help your clients get the most value they can after signing their initial contract for your services, make sure you are focusing on building the team that will impact that value the most within the first 90-days: your professional services team. By hiring the right professionals, creating learning opportunities, eliminating mundane tasks, firing abusive clients, and celebrating success, you’ll ensure that this critical team continues to help set your firm or product apart from your competitors.