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This year, construction companies navigated an uncertain environment altered for good by social distancing guidelines, safety regulations and statewide lockdowns that fluctuated in the face of COVID-19. By the end of March, the buyer’s journey that AEC firms had known and operated on had vanished. 

As Hinge’s recent study, “Inside the Buyer’s Brain: Architecture, Engineering and Construction Edition” shows, the shifts in AEC buyer behavior had been unfolding for years. The pandemic simply accelerated—and cemented—such shifts. For any firm, business as usual is no longer an option. Faced with growing, often unfamiliar, pressures from all directions, AEC service providers have no choice but adapt to their buyers’ new search, evaluation and selection processes. Meanwhile, the war for talent has only slightly—if at all—eased.

Relevancy: The Key to Winning and Keeping Business

Firms must consider how relevant their services and expertise is to their buyers’ challenges. A mistake too many firms make is assume that they know what their buyers’ challenges are, that buyers know just what they need and that buyers know just how their providers can help. These assumptions fall wide off the mark, as the study shows. Despite a 3% improvement, AEC providers’ services fall to the bottom in relevancy. In short, AEC providers’ services have not kept pace with buyers’ changing needs and, even if they did, providers have not clearly joined the dots between their services and those needs.

To illustrate the point, buyers in the study ranked maintaining quality and efficiency their number one challenge; sellers ranked it number four. Where both agreed was the importance of finding and keeping good talent.

Why is relevancy important? Because it not only shows a business still matters to clients, but it impacts clients’ willingness to recommend a firm’s work. The study showed that high relevancy drives up client loyalty by as much as 50%. Furthermore, almost 70% of AEC buyers would recommend their service provider to a friend or colleague.

In addition, firms that are viewed as highly relevant to clients’ current challenges are 75% more likely to be highly recommended by their existing clients. It’s important to note that buyers are just as likely to search online for what they need as they are to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. In other words, if a buyer searches for answers on the web and a firm does not show up, it will either lose clients or miss out on new business.

Winning Business in a Digital World

AEC buyers have been migrating to digital communication channels for years. They have been looking for solutions online, and often do so as a first step to understanding unfamiliar issues before asking peers and colleagues for help. But with the new work-from-home economy forcing firms around the world to embrace and operate on digital platforms, searching online has taken on historic urgency.

The study found that while buyers of AEC services value the recommendations of peers and colleagues, conducting a web search has, over the last five years, surged passed other methods to assume a close second. Today, buyers often have no other choice but educate themselves on the web when new issues come up. Buyers’ growing reliance on the web underscores the crucial role of a high-performance website in validating recommendations and of SEO in showing up where buyers are looking for and comparing solutions.

Social media’s popularity among AEC buyers looking for help has also grown apace. Hence, it’s important to keep in mind that AEC firms should focus on posting valuable content that solves buyers’ key issues, and in so doing, showcases expertise. As businesses struggle to find their footing, relevant content with the right key words will help buyers find and choose a firm over those that share self-promotional content.

Remember, AEC is the lowest ranked industry for visibility. With many buyers and sellers working remotely, geographic location has ceased to be a factor. For AEC firms that have built up and monitor their online presence, business opportunities are there for the taking. However, for those who pursue a slow adoption of digital platforms, the risk of loss has never been higher.

Talent Tips the Scale

Good talent has become table stakes for winning and keeping business. Between 2018 and 2020, the importance of industry knowledge and subject matter expertise as buyers’ selection criteria soared by 58%. In fact, buyers and sellers indicated finding and retaining talent as one of their top challenges, so much so that talent acquisition has become a business development function common to all firms.

A closer look at the study will reveal that “cultural fit” has increased by 32% over the last two years as a top deciding factor for firms making their selection. The rise of firm culture to one of the top selection criteria is worthy of note, especially as clients and providers alike longingly await the return of face-to-face interactions.

The upshot? Researching buyers is key to keeping up with them, which in turn helps the business. In final pitches, focus on emphasizing the team’s chemistry, talent and subject matter expertise. If the firm has the top talent, it’s important to show it. And the better a firm knows its competition, the better it can determine how to feature each of these criteria in its proposal materials.

So what now? Stay relevant to clients’ issues, raise the firm’s visibility online and invest in top talent. The businesses that grow in today’s environment are those that have put these efforts front and center.


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