Project Profitability: Design firm project managers and marketing


    Web-exclusive by Howard Birnberg

    Project managers can and should have a major role in a design firm’s marketing effort. Unfortunately, many engineering and architectural firms fail to properly integrate their project managers into the marketing team. This failure can seriously affect the marketing success rate and future project profitability. Well-managed design organizations train their project managers to be important players in the marketing phase of projects. To be effective in the marketing effort, project managers should:

    Be assigned to a potential project at an early stage — Once it has been determined that a lead is materializing into a tangible project opportunity, a project manager should be assigned. He or she should participate in subsequent marketing activities and later manage the project if the effort is successful.

    Serve as a primary contact person for the future client — This role is shared with the senior marketer. The project manager must be the client’s point of contact on technical and scope issues while the senior marketer/principal is the liaison on other issues. Clearly, the project manager and marketers must meet regularly and maintain effective communications.

    Provide technical input (with the help of the technical staff, if necessary) to both the marketing staff and the future client — This role may include assistance in preparing a preliminary project program or suggesting alternatives that may have lower initial or life cycle cost, allow for easier expansion, etc. As a result of this effort, firm members may demonstrate their experience, knowledge, and strong concern for the future client’s needs and budget.

    Participate in the presentation process — Most experienced clients want to meet the individual who will be responsible for managing and performing the work. The presentation process is an ideal time to strengthen the relationship between the design firm project manager and the potential client. The presentation allows the project manager to provide specific information as to how the project will be managed. The project manager should have an active role in preparing materials and strategies for presentations.

    Develop a detailed project scope — Clearly, the project manager has far more experience than most other marketers in development of the project scope. With his or her early involvement in the marketing effort, he or she is very familiar with the future client’s stated and implied needs, budget and operational concerns, internal decision-making process, and staffing. Project managers are uniquely prepared to outline a proposed scope of services and to evaluate where adjustments in this scope can occur. In addition, it is vital that the individual who will eventually be responsible for delivering a scope of services to the client be involved in preparing that scope.

    Develop a detailed project budget — The project manager must, in development of the project scope, be aware of the costs required to complete the proposed scope of work. He or she must assemble a detailed project budget and outline areas where the budget can be altered by a change in scope, or by negotiation. Without this total understanding of the proposed project budget and scope, the negotiation process will be needlessly complicated. Only when the project manager has prepared the project budget can he or she be held accountable for it.

    Participate in the negotiation process — With his or her full understanding of the proposed scope and budget, the project manager is invaluable during final negotiations with the client. Any adjustments that need to be made should be based on his or her evaluation of the program and on the ability of the firm to make an adequate fee and profit for its work. No commitments should be made to the client without the project manager’s understanding and agreement.

    Provide input into future staffing and other resource requirements — A successful marketing effort commits the firm to supplying staff and other resources to the client’s project. The project manager must fully understand these needs and communicate with other managers to ensure resource availability. This is an extension of the marketing effort in that failure to plan for these needs impacts the service provided to the client.

    Provide the design firm with continued contact with the client — In all firms, upon completion of a project, personnel and resources focus on other projects. As a result, many past clients are inadvertently neglected and little follow-up is conducted on project and building performance. When the client is in need of future professional help, much, if not all, contact with the design firm may have been lost. To prevent this, the project manager must contact the client regularly. The project manager must also be aware of opportunities to suggest changes or improvements in the existing facility.

    In addition, project managers should be alert to opportunities to inform a client about the firm’s other services. Often, clients have a perception based on the services the design firm is currently providing to them. Clients may be unaware of a design firm’s additional capabilities and thus not consider the firm when awarding other projects.

    Every staff member has a responsibility to assist in the marketing effort. Project managers, however, are in a unique position to provide job leads, make new contacts, and become involved in community and professional organizations. It is through these efforts that the project manager can also contribute to improving the success of the firm’s marketing program.

    Howard Birnberg is executive director of the Association for Project Managers. He may be reached at 312-664-2300 or