If you provide or market A/E services, you’ve heard it many times: “When the RFP comes out, you’re too late”. Firms that position their team months in advance, win most of the time. So, how do they find out about coming projects before the RFPs are published?
The best way is for your client to call you up and tell you about the project she wants your firm to do. The A/E business, like most businesses, is about relationships. But if your client relationships aren’t at that level, what can you do?
Follow the money
Without funding, projects don’t get built. But funding doesn’t just happen. It leaves a trail. You need to understand where your clients get their money, and how they budget for their projects. Typical funding sources are tax revenues, enterprise funds (user fees), development fees, bonds or other loans, grants, and private donations. Each has a set of requirements for obtaining and accounting for the money.
Nearly all government agencies, major utilities, schools, transportation, health care, justice, and private industry have a process for budgeting capital improvements. It will likely be called a Capital Improvement Plan, Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, Major Investment Plan or the like. Often, this is public information and is can be obtained relatively easily:
- From their web sites or Purchasing Department
- if you have a good client relationship…just call them.
- If you have a great relationship, they call to tell you of upcoming projects that fit your firm.
Now that you have their CIP, what do you do with it? First, you take it with a very large grain of salt. Keep in mind it was created specifically to convince politicians, boards of directors and other decision-makers to approve a budget. Often, it is only a loose approximation of reality. But it’s better than nothing. Read through it and note projects that are at least 6 months in the future and seem to be a good fit with your firm’s capabilities.
Now set a meeting with your best client contact, preferably someone one or two levels below the top dog. You want someone high enough to know what’s really going on but low enough to REALLY know what’s going on. Review your short list of projects with them and identify those that are likely to go forward, have funding, a driver and a champion pushing them. Now you have a list of projects on which to focus your positioning activities.
Federal agencies ultimately get their projects funded through the federal budgeting process. Key steps include obtaining an Appropriation, Authorization, and final budget approval. The results are published in the Federal budget documents. Specific project may get special line-item appropriations called “Earmarks.” Earmarked projects have a higher probability of going forward, however, very often one of your competitors helped get it to that point.
So, how do you get this information? Again, this is public information which means:
- You can get the thousands of pages of documents from the Federal Budget office.
- If you have a relationship with a local congressional staffer, they can provide better information.
- Better yet, if you have a good relationship with a congressional staffer, they may call you up and tell you about a coming project.
- And best, if you have great relationship, you may have helped them obtain the project “Earmark.
Many projects get funding from various grant or loan programs. Every such program has an application process, criteria, and schedule. Each also has an administrator. Their job is to spend money. They solicit applications for projects that deserve and need their funding. So how do you get this information?
- Internet research on grant programs relevant to a specific industry.
- If you have a good relationship with the program administrators, go visit with them. Find out who has received grants. (Yes, one of your competitors likely helped them prepare the application.
- If you have a great relationship…well you get the message.
Yes Following the Money can take many paths. These are but a few of the most common. But just like every other aspect in professional services marketing, those who provide the most service for their client and create the strongest relationships follow them better, faster and more easily.