By Kelly Gillman, AICP, ASLA | Kelly Gillman is a Senior Principal at CRSA and leads the Landscape Architecture and Planning Studio. He also holds an MBA from Westminster College.
We often say that doing quality work is the best form of marketing. The idea is that our day-to-day performance speaks louder than any brochure or resume. But is this true? And if so, to what extent?
In business there is an ever-present need to serve existing clients, continually meeting or exceeding their expectations. After all, doing the work, not just marketing for it, is really our end goal. In some industries this may mean the client chooses to retain services month after month, such as continuing to purchase cell phone service. This makes it a little easier for the company to seek new clients or users since the same type of service is provided. In our industry, at least at CRSA, we are often offering customized design services to meet specific needs of our clients. This takes a lot of focus. This focus is required even if the client will not have repeat work; our reputation relies on it. How, then, do we find time to market replacement work while focusing so heavily on existing clients?
This is the Great Divide: Marketing versus Management.
The truth is, everything we do is related to maintaining or growing our business, and each individual has a role to play. Our reputation is closely linked to our brand, which is more than just our logo. Everything we do must be excellent, first and foremost. Otherwise those who are marketing must continually overcome reputation problems. So, our approach to managing the great divide is focusing first on our current clients. Every time we exceed their expectations it makes the next potential project easier to earn. This is true for that given client and for projects from similar clients in the same industry. Indeed, becoming an industry leader can often generate enough buzz that clients begin coming to you. In other words, good management is good marketing. The Divide is more akin to a Continuum.
This is not to say there is no place for “marketing from scratch”, but doing so must be placed in the proper light. Cold marketing should be confined to pursuing new markets or targeting strategic clients. Neither clients nor architects last forever and the pursuit of new markets is imperative. Nevertheless, it should be done only after deliberate corporate planning and should be limited in scope. This type of marketing is always less efficient than marketing to existing clients. Chasing new prospects can be tempting but is often deceiving—it offers the allure of a quick reward in lieu of the hard work of relationship building. Thus, this kind of marketing should be done with discipline.
The conclusion, of course is that marketing and management both have their place. This may seem obvious. But over the years, we have found it almost as obvious that the latter must take precedence. Both are required, but both are not equal. Of course we will also have folks out turning over rocks and offering the services of our excellent group of professionals. But, it is awfully hard to sell our services when whoever is under that rock already heard something negative crawling out from under a neighboring rock. Do not underestimate the widespread harm an unhappy client can cause, and do not underestimate the long-term stability a happy client can provide.
Case Study: CRSA & UTA
Good management (doing quality work for existing clients) does not guarantee repeat jobs, but it helps a lot. CRSA has worked with the Utah Transit Authority for over a decade. Our past performance has helped us know what the UTA expects, and has helped the UTA know what to expect from CRSA. Planning work has led to Preservation and Industrial work, and vice versa. Often, something as simple as a knowing about a job a few months in advance or being familiar with a given site or condition have been the edge required to win a job. The benefits for CRSA are stability and public exposure. The benefits for the UTA are efficiency and predictability. It is a relationship that helps both parties, even on the projects we do not work on together.