We all know how critical marketing activities are to promoting the firm's capabilities and how carefully chosen activities support the image we want conveyed to the marketplace through the appropriate channels and materials. Marketing and business development provide the opportunity for a firm to prove its claims via design and project management. However, project nuances can produce a very different reality than the rosy picture the marketing material attempts to showcase. So what happens when those two worlds collide?
Client-oriented branding – To say that a firm is "client oriented" is somewhat silly to begin with because if you're not client oriented, what other orientation is there? Many firms make this statement or some other variation meant to imply that the firm goes the extra mile on any occasion. That sounds great to any potential buyer but how does that translate mid-project when the budget is analyzed? Suddenly, going the extra mile means spending extra hours that eat up the fee. When you're client oriented, it's fairly uncomfortable asking to be paid for your zealous efforts. Nickeling and diming your client contradicts that marketing message in an expensive way.
Fast-track and agile branding – In other words, your firm meets challenging deadlines. Firms brag about this amply because, admittedly, it is a strong selling point to a client who wants the project done quickly. How often, though, does the industry lament that timelines are becoming shorter and shorter? How many of you have been puzzled that clients suddenly got the weird notion that projects can and should be designed in a fraction of the time it used to take?
I recently sat in a mock interview where the principals emphasized this fast-track ability. Later in the day when we were discussing their project management issues, they acknowledged that the external forces of the industry (such as clients with nearly impossible-to-meet deadlines) were making it more and more difficult to provide the design and quality they practiced in "the old days."
Innovative solutions branding – To avoid falling into the commoditization trap, many firms claim to offer solutions that are not off the shelf or similar to what's available down the street. I am not questioning the validity of whether or not these solutions are really more innovative than the next; the true issue is that innovation generally comes with a higher price tag. Designing and engineering a solution that is different than the industry standard simply requires more time – especially more expensive, senior people. "We're perceived as a more expensive firm," is a complaint I hear from firms that plaster "innovative" all over their marketing material while they lose out to others on price.
Trusted advisor branding – It is true that some clients need more guidance than others when planning and executing their projects. That's where you come in as the expert. It is also true, however, that while you have the distinct honor of leading the process ethically and protectively, you also bear the burden of what that costs in terms of time – more meetings, more phone calls, more of everything. Again, when looking at project reporting and actual hours versus planned, this is where the marketing promise gobbles up the project revenues.
The marketing message is certainly critical, and firms spend a lot of time finessing those words so they have the influence to sell. What is often forgotten is that clients purchase those words and then happily expect them to be delivered. We live every day under the pressure of providing what we've promised – often to the detriment of our own sanity, profitability, and professional ability.
Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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