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What does the client need to know about you?

by Bernie Siben, CPSM, The Siben Consult, LLC

The April 2016 issue of Civil + Structural Engineer, one of my favorite A/E/C industry publications, includes an article entitled, "Cutting through the noise." In the article, author Brent Robertson makes the following point about engineering firm websites and brochures:

"Most organizations' stories are based on two distinct components: what they know and what they've done. The average engineering firm's website or brochure is just a listing of service areas and a library of projects they have been involved with... However, this tends to be the only story that firms tell, leaving only a few options for how to make it relevant...

Most firms don't include the part of their firm's story that is critical to differentiation: what the firm stands for and why you do what you do."

Over the last few years, I have given a lot of thought to why this MAJOR piece of the firm's story seems to be missing in so many instances. Robertson cites two possibilities:

  • The firm doesn't know what it stands for, or
  • The firm has a sense of it, but hasn't found the language to be able to put it forward in any coherent form.

I believe it is much simpler than either of those two possibilities. I believe that most engineers are so focused on specifications, statistics, and the technical quality of the work that they haven't yet become convinced that stories are important, that every purchase has an emotional component, and that stories are much more compelling than specifications, statistics, and proofs of technical quality in the firm's portfolio of projects.

Marketers know all about the value of compelling stories, whether it is the story of why the firm exists, why the project was necessary, why the project's timing was critical, why the project methodology or construction process was important to the community, etc.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the relationship between marketers and engineers or other technical staff, it is often difficult for those technical staff to understand and agree that compelling stories sell the firm, win new clients, win new projects, win awards and recognition, and win good press.

Poll any group of engineers and the vast majority of them will tell you that the most important thing in the client's selection process is the technical quality of the engineer's work. Poll any group of clients and they will tell you that technical quality gets a firm to the short list, but compelling stories establish relevance and get a firm selected. Parts of the SOQ and/or proposal will demonstrate what your firm does and how well. But the interview is about "why do we want to work with you?"

Think of the old Miss America pageant, where after beauty, evening gown, and talent competitions, the scores or the five finalists went back to zero and the competition was based on how well each answered a question -- the information they chose to present and the manner of their presentation.

This is how A/E firms get selected as well. What information do you choose to present during your in-person session and does your presentation style show a firm and potential project staff with whom the client wants to work.

In other words, is your story compelling and will your presentation style satisfy the emotional component of the "buy?"

About Bernie Siben,
I've been in the A/E/C/Environmental arena since 1978 - that's almost long enough to know better! As an A/E/C Marketing professional, I've lived and worked in Texas and California, pursuing projects across the United States. I've been active in my professional organization (SMPS); taught workshops for SMPS, AIA, ACSM, AWWA, a New York University finance class, and other groups; and written extensively, including a book called "A Horse of a Different Color: Marketing in the Public Sector," recently published by PSMJ (

I've been a cabaret singer and professional actor since 1975 and have made five recordings. My audiences have ranged from 5 to 3,000 people. That experience also makes me a great presentation coach for people with less experience speaking and/or performing in front of an audience.

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