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Strategies for Emerging from the Recession as a Market Leader

Based on my experience in two previous recessions, you may be walking a tight rope right now. On one hand you’re grateful to have a job and on the other, you’d throw it away for the chance to thrash some sense into the project managers and principals who have come unglued with anxiety and are pursuing every project opportunity that exists, especially the BIG ones, in the hopes of capturing more revenue at any cost. You’ve embraced doing more with less and increased your caffeine consumption. You’re surrounded by presumptive geniuses who authoritatively spew “You have to be in it to win it” while you plan another long night churning out a proposal that doesn’t have a chance of winning “just so the client gets to know us.” Alternatively, you may be contemplating a gruesome but gratifying corporeal punishment for the sorry soul who brings the next long-shot, hail Mary opportunity to your department. I feel your pain, and I urge you to stop a moment and breathe. Skip the prison sentence and be the voice of reason. (If you do opt for thrashing, call me. I will crowdsource bail and you will be a hero of sorts amongst marketers.)

Here’s the deal. Market leaders emerge from downturn economies, not from the boon times. The marketers who lead with spines of steel and get their companies laser focused on client satisfaction, buyer psychology, brand awareness, knowledge sharing, and changing market dynamics will be the ones who transform their companies into market leaders. Here are some opportunities to do just that.

Laser Focus on Customer Loyalty and Satisfaction

Now more than ever is the time to make your clients feel like they are the only client you have. For those of you who are focusing on some sort of client grading or classification system, now is the time to create true, meaningful, and actionable steps to take your B clients to A clients. The path of least resistance to generating revenue in a downturn, is extremely satisfied and happy clients. And, it’s a lot cheaper than acquiring new ones, somewhere between 5-25 times cheaper. Start planning how and whom to grow to the next level of client. Don’t ignore your C clients. There may be changes in the market that make them move to an A or B, but have frank and honest discussions. Have you been taking your A clients’ loyalty for granted or are you really delivering the level of service they deserve?

One of the first mistakes companies make in a recession is unintentionally eroding customer loyalty. Operational cost cutting measures, reduced capacity because of staff reductions, and less time to provide great service can produce unintended outcomes that erode customer loyalty and satisfaction. As the marketer, instead of colluding with anxiety-filled go-strategies that leave you feeling exhausted and hopeless, be the voice for implementing a multi-touch, consistent, and meaningful client loyalty program that is right for your business. Argue for the importance of measuring client loyalty through something as simple as a Net Promoter Score. Increase the frequency of client communication programs. For the business developers out there, make sure you are asking how clients are doing professionally and personally.

Understand How the Recession is Shaping and Changing Buyer Behavior and Psychology

Once you have a loyalty program developed, put thought into how the recession has impacted buying decisions. Are there new services that your company can provide to help your clients weather the challenging tides of this pandemic or a recession? There is an opportunity to really help clients in new ways and it will breed a deeper loyalty and value when handled properly and not opportunistically. At the onset of this pandemic, the professional services division where I work came up with several clever solutions to building access management and collaborated with traditional competitors to deliver tools quickly, and often at no charge, simply because it was the right thing to do and it would help our clients. Freely sharing your knowledge when people are in need breeds loyalty.

Psychology can never be underestimated when it comes to B2B buying decisions, and your company will be well served by talking to your customers and uncovering which of these categories they fall into. Are their companies shifting into a necessities-only, long-term investment, pragmatic postponement, or living-for-today mindset? This information should inform your marketing and business development strategies as well.

A study by IT Services Marketing Association showed that since COVID 19 hit the US, 88 percent of B2B executives said they’ve been going online to keep up with evolving industry and technology trends. Technology providers, professional services firms, and systems integrators tied as their leading places to find trusted content, cited by 35 percent of executives, who look to them for general information (33 percent) or as part of the purchasing process (35 percent). There’s a wealth of opportunity for marketers to spend more time creating content that generates leads and is helpful to existing and prospective clients and also positions your firm to come out as the leader.

Snap. Crackle. Pop. Time to Bring Awareness

This is exactly why now is not the time to divest in awareness, which is precisely what most companies do to save money. During the Great Depression, Post entered as the market leader and Kellogg’s came out of it as the market leader. Why? In large part because Post reduced its advertising budget, while Kelloggs doubled its budget—and subsequently grew profits by 30%. Out of site, out of mind and it shows. Don’t believe me, check out what Forbes has to say.

Now is the best time to invest in awareness campaigns and efforts, so that new prospects can find you and remember you when they are in a position to buy. Research by Google indicates that today’s B2B buyer makes an average of 12 searches online before even interacting with a vendor’s website, and further research by Accenture indicates that 57% of a buying decision is made before engaging with the company website. Consider a focused effort on search engine optimization, personalized content, and thought leadership.

Why now? Because there is less competition to stand out from the crowd. Take full advantage of the fact that most companies will stop advertising and limit paid promotional efforts. There will be fewer voices trying to be heard in the congested channels of boon time marketing. And it is a buyer’s market right now. So, negotiating with publications, content channels, and agencies will generate favored pricing.  

If You Want Your Company to Be the Market Leader, Marketing Has to Lead the Transformation

Taking calculating risks will require a steel spine to say to a principal that a losing proposal as a first impression has less of a chance of generating business than a consistent and thoughtful content strategy or an eye-catching awareness campaign. Arm yourself with the facts, evidence, and a solid understanding of what is driving the buyer’s journey and decision-making today. Stay focused on the buying appetites and emotions influencing your most loyal customers and those who will become your most loyal as a result of understanding what they need, when and how. Now is the time for your brand to snap, crackle, and pop. Now is the time for transformational marketing leadership. You CAN do this. (Or you can choose prison. No judgement. Every marketer has at least thought about it.)

Alethea O’Dell, FSMPS, CPSM
Brand Strategist, Northland Controls
Alethea wishes she were Dolly Parton or Beyonce. Instead she is the Chief Marketing Officer for Northland Controls. Prior to her work there, she was the Creative Director and Brand Strategist for Brazen Brands where she helped clients like Skanska, HOK, and Skyline Construction unwrap their differentiators, create engaging client and employee experiences, and grow business through strategic marketing initiatives. Her 20-year career is marked by more than 30 marketing communication awards and a solid sense of humor. She is the 2016 Lifetime Achievement award recipient from the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) San Francisco Chapter, the 2012 SMPS national chapter president of the year award recipient, and was named an SMPS Fellow in 2018 – a distinction for those who represent the highest level of experience (endurance) and leadership in professional services marketing.

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Scenario Planning: The Sky is Falling, What do We Do?

Ever feel like you could be saying this in 2021? As much as we joke about the Dumpster Fire that is 2020, will 2021 really be that much better? Could it possibly get worse? Could this ‘new reality of constant unknowing’ be the reality for the foreseeable future?

Asking these questions of ourselves is one thing, asking them as a leader of an A/E/C company is another. The exploration of these ‘what ifs’ is called Scenario Planning. It was a concept pioneered in World War II by the US Airforce and was brought into a business planning context by Shell Oil during the Oil Embargo of the 1970s.

For companies, it works a lot like strategic planning in that you want to begin with a strong understanding of the current reality in which your company operates – finances, marketing and business development, human resources, operations, technology. It’s also helpful to get employee, leadership, and client perspectives on where you are and where you want to be. The last piece, and this is critical, is reliable economic forecasting. I know, I know, nothing is reliable these days even if there are companies that have done forecasts through multiple recessions for years. There are reports from local universities and real estate groups, and often SMPS hosts economic forecast events with panels of experts. In these times, there are numerous economic forecasting resources.

All this data comes together, is analyzed, and is compiled into a succinct report that tells the Scenario Planning team where the company (and the market) is at that moment.

Let’s talk about that Scenario Planning team. This stuff is not for everybody. It takes a mix of creatives, skeptics, pragmatists, and glass-half-full thinkers. It is also not for the masses. Scenario Planning is a leadership exercise – in part because some of the stuff that needs to be discussed can be very unsettling, especially in planning for worst case scenarios. The team must abide by Vegas rules and keep the conversation confidential.

In a typical Scenario Planning session, you want to explore the good, no change, and bad scenarios over a shorter length of time – in the next 12-18 months, as opposed to three-to-five years for traditional strategic planning. Defining the timeframe helps the team understand that this is not Long-term Strategic Planning where you might set the overall direction for the company, develop some lofty BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), and talk about things like ownership transitions or re-evaluating core values. Scenario Planning is short-term, crisis (or success) planning. The scenarios are as important as the time frame. While good, no change, and bad are the typical scenarios; you might work in a very upbeat company where an ‘awesome’ scenario is viable. You also might work in a company with a lot of issues and create an ‘ultimate doom’ scenario, but I hope not. Even in the worst of times, things bounce back – trust me, I worked for a firm with a large land development arm in Phoenix in 2008. I, along with many of you, have seen the ugly scenario unfold.

Exploring the scenarios involves recognizing what the external world and the company will look like in each. Externally, we can ask questions about our markets and clients. We can ask about the GDP (spell out, interest rates, and inflation), and we can think about our competitors and what they might be up to. Internally, you might ask questions like, what will our billings and accounts receivables look like? How will marketing and business development react? What will our staff composition be? How will we get our work done?

From each scenario discussion should come a prioritized list of goals and actions. We like to set SMART goals – strategic, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timebound. Often, goals will arise that need to be handled regardless of the scenario. These are immediate actions and need to be prioritized appropriately. The other goals fold into plans that are carried out when and if a particular scenario occurs.

We find that leaders that do scenario planning walk away with a better sense of readiness. Sometimes, simply having met and jotted down some big picture actions is enough to give them confidence to rise to the occasion, whatever it might be. And honestly, confidence is 90-percent of leadership.

So, uncertainty be damned. We can be prepared by being prepared for anything. Need help with this sort of thing? There are a lot of excellent business consultants that can facilitate the meeting and keep your team on track. Outside resources can keep the team focused, out of the weeds, and objective. Scenario Planning can also be the kind of experience that adds value to a good marketing or business development manager’s standing. In uncertain times, we can always up our cred. Step up, plan ahead, and stay safe.

Frank Lippert, FSMPS, CPSM, is the founder/partner of Go Strategies, LLC. ( He provides strategic pursuit planning, strategic market capture planning, and the functional seller/doer training to clients throughout the US. Frank is all about helping teams work more effectively and more efficiently with processes, schedules, and tools that keep A/E/C firms’ business development strategy and marketing efforts on track. Frank has worked at small, medium, large, and mega-sized engineering companies in his 30 years in the A/E/C industry. He speaks regularly at SMPS, ACEC, WTS, APWA, and SAME conferences. Frank has served as the SMPS Society chapter delegate and Society president. He has been recognized as an SMPS Fellow (FSMPS) and is a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM).

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What's in a Domain?

What's in a Domain? It’s a statement frequently heard in Architectural, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) circles that I’ve even uttered: “I didn’t go to school to be a professional services marketer, I sort of ‘fell’ into it!”

For those, like me, who hold a degree in marketing or business, our education focused primarily on product—not services—marketing. As much as I tried early in my AEC career to apply the Four P’s of Product Marketing—product, promotion, placement, and price—in the AEC space, it didn’t quite fit. Other colleagues joined the profession via different avenues—perhaps with degrees or experience in journalism or liberal arts, as a technical professional, or through an administrative support path. No matter the path traveled, knowing what to do and gaining the insights and skills to help your firm grow and thrive are challenges faced by us all.

When SMPS began developing a long-awaited Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) program, the first step in the process was defining the practice of marketing and business development in the AEC/professional services realm. The result of in-depth research and numerous interviews with practitioners across the country are what we now know as the six Domains of Practice, specific content critical to building individual skills and supporting firm growth:

  • Domain 1 - Marketing Planning
  • Domain 2 - Marketing Research
  • Domain 3 - Client and Business Development
  • Domain 4 - Proposals
  • Domain 5 - Promotional Activity
  • Domain 6 - Management

The Domains have a much broader meaning than the basis for the CPSM. Within these six Domains are the building blocks for understanding the role professional services marketing contributes to the success of the firms for whom I work, as well as opportunities to expand my skills and understanding. 

These Domains provided a roadmap for the different phases of my career and while I mentored others. As a marketing coordinator, my early “AEC marketer” life centered around proposals and promotional activity. The best practices and skills identified in Domains 3 and 4 helped me understand how I could help my firm stand out and succeed in winning new work. In turn, those same Domains helped to set expectations and share best practices with coordinators who worked with me as I moved into manager roles.

As I moved into manager and director roles, the remaining Domains helped me understand how market research and planning could differentiate my firm by collecting valuable intelligence and insights then using that information to differentiate the firm from our competitors. By collecting and sharing insights into geographic markets and market sectors, we connected with existing and future clients using client-focused messaging and understanding of their issues and concerns. Domain 3 provided best practices and guidance working with our technical professionals to build and deepen client relationships.

Now, as a consultant working with AEC firms across the country in the areas of strategic guidance and facilitation, training and coaching for marketing/business development teams and doer-sellers, and marketing communications, I still reference the Domains on a regular basis. I realized long ago that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and this old dog turns to the Domains, Markendium, and other SMPS resources on a regular basis to check my thought process and broaden my perspective to consider approaches to benefit each of my clients. (For the record, I prefer the term seasoned veteran!)

In our current economic and social upheaval, I challenge you to consider how the Domains can help you to help your firm survive and thrive. In times of uncertainty, firms have been known to turn into ostriches (stick their collective head in the sand and wait for this to pass) or Chicken Little (the sky is falling!). By applying the guidance offered by the Domains and SMPS Body of Knowledge, your firm will benefit by taking a broad, offensively-focused view of the market factors impacting future work, assessing opportunities to address those factors, engaging individuals across your organization to connect with existing and future clients, creating thought leadership pieces to position the firm in a specific market sector or geography, and developing key messaging that identifies your unique differentiator. If you’re keeping track of my thought process—that’s Domains 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5!

Today, Markendium—SMPS’s Body of Knowledge—is a living, breathing compilation of insights you can use to gain firm leadership buy-in, along with the ability to share documented best practices for our profession in the AEC space. Technology is changing how and where we do, pursue, and win work—and the Domains are flexible enough to roll with those punches. Supplemented by the robust conversation happening daily across the online communities of MySMPS and the resources available through the Markendium Online Learning Center, the Domains provide a framework for our profession so every marketer can contribute to SMPS’s vision, “Business Transformed Through Marketing Leadership.”

Donna Corlew FSMPS, CPSM is chief WIT (whatever-it-takes) officer with C*Connect. Driven by a passion for coaching and helping others identify and maximize their unique talents and expertise, C*Connect works with firms across the US to focus strategic vision and market research, grow connections and chemistry with clients and targets, and help seller/doers and marketing/business development teams to thrive and win profitable work. Want to talk further? Contact Donna at [email protected].

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President's Message: How to Cope with Living in a Virtual Reality

The internet has no shortage of memes for 2020, but I think the one I have included in this post resonates with many of us. What do you do when faced with a challenge that is beyond your control? I can assure you that when I signed on to be President of the Arizona Chapter last year I had COMPLETELY different expectations as to what I would experience this year. I thought I would continue to move the Chapter forward by managing the same things that had become refined processes and proven to be successful for previous years.

I anxiously awaited the Chapter Leadership Symposium (CLS) which was to take place in Washington D.C. and provide several days of learning sessions and networking events to ensure that I would be well equipped to lead the Arizona Chapter when September rolled around. But as with many other things, COVID-19 altered my plans and the in-person CLS event was canceled. For someone who places an extremely high value on being prepared before going into anything I began to ask myself, “What are we supposed to do now?”

Luckily, CLS was still able to happen in a virtual capacity, but I’d be lying if I said it was the same as what I had hoped to experience in person. However, as I started to talk to others within the Arizona Chapter, I was blown away by the outpouring of support I received from my SMPS friends (many of which happened to be past presidents)!

It was during that time that I started to realize that this is EXACTLY why SMPS is so valuable. While I may not have had the opportunity to make the same connections to other chapters as presidents before me, I was able to tap into the wealth of knowledge right here in our own chapter through the friendships I have made while serving as a volunteer over the past seven years.

This year, SMPS AZ will continue to ADAPT to whatever challenges may be thrown our way. We will create new and innovative ways to provide personal and professional growth for our membership. This year is an opportunity to be creative and forward-thinking, which will make the Chapter stronger overall. But most importantly, this year is about you. That’s what makes SMPS great - we all face the same challenges and are here to support each other as well. Don’t be afraid to reach out to me or any of your other SMPS colleagues, even if you just need a sounding board, we’re happy to help.

I’m looking forward to an incredible year where we ADAPT and grow, and I’m glad to have every one of you as part of the SMPS AZ Chapter!

P.S. Feel free to share a link to your favorite 2020 memes in the comments as well!

Brad Thompson is the current President of SMPS Arizona and the Business Solutions Director for SDB Contracting Services where he oversees the firm’s Marketing and Business Development efforts. While his experience in Marketing spans more than 18 years, he has worked specifically in the AEC industry for 8 years and been involved with SMPS for the past seven years. When not pushing the limits of technology, you can find him spending time with his family or in the garage with his newest hobby of woodworking.

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Beating the Work From Home (WFH) Blues

Surprisingly this is not my first WFH stint. Several years ago, I experienced a major softball injury which left me to work from home for nine months (hoping this time won’t be that long). This leads me to bring you some tips and tricks I picked up along the way.

Step #1 – Don’t work where you sleep

In the beginning, I worked straight from my bed, which in turn really brought down my mood. Finding a dedicated area to work is essential to your attitude and overall productivity. If you live in a studio apartment or live with roommates, you’re probably saying, “I have no choice.” This is not true! You can find a table to put in your room or talk with your roommates and find a dedicated open space where you can use headphones. Just stay out of your bed. I also highly recommend a space by a window. With the nice weather approaching, you can open the window and enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your workspace. This will definitely improve your mental state.

Step #2 – Be workday ready

It’s so easy for us to stay in our PJs all day. You really need to get ready for your day as if you were going to work. For the ladies, I’m not saying you need to do full hair and make-up, but we all need to get cleaned up and change our clothes. Again, this will help with attitude.

Step #3 – Be mobile around your home

Most of us work on laptops with Wi-Fi connections. Be mobile as to where you can do your work. For example, I have my desk set up for all the regular day-to-day and deadline driven activities. But when it comes time for me to read a RFQ/RFP or provide a document review, I’ll unplug my laptop and either move to the couch or out on my patio. This way I haven’t been situated in the same seat stagnant all day.

Step #4 – Connect with your co-workers

Try not to rely on email or instant message. I am still definitely working on this. It’s so easy to get in this mode of communication. At a minimum, try to have a few phone calls in one day. This can be work-related or even casual. I have found it to be helpful just to call my co-workers and see how they’re doing, or to tell them I need some adult interaction. One thing we’ve implemented at my firm is virtual happy hours. This was extremely beneficial to everyone involved. It’s just nice to hear other humans laughing and smiling during times like this.

Step #5 – Managing family vs. work

For those that are responsible for small humans, such as myself, not only are we trying to balance the new normal of WFH, but also managing parenting, home schooling, and our children’s cabin fever. The younger they are the harder it is. It’s OK to have a non-traditional work schedule.

Option 1) Work out a schedule for whoever you co-parent with. Also, talk to you kids if they are old enough to understand. My youngest is seven and I have found when I’m honest with him (even when he was five or so) and let him know that at a certain time after a call or specifically 10:37AM I can take some time to play with him, he understands.

Option 2) Schedule your kids’ day with activities. If they are not in remote schooling, make a schedule that includes reading or math (workbooks) or utilize some of the free web-based platforms that have been offering free educational activities such as Disney, NASA, and others. I recommend setting them up a makeshift workspace next to yours.

Option 3) My family has a scheduled time of the workday that we take a break. For example, during lunch we don’t just make food, we go throw the ball outside for 10-15 minutes. At 5:00PM we take our dog (yes, this is my little Frenchie, Sheldon) for a walk together. We also will do a family activity (i.e. movie, board game, etc.) each night.

Step #6 – Mental and physical health

I have found that I am looking at this time as a reset for everything I said I’d do at New Year’s that I didn’t do. I start the day stretching (by all means this is NOT exercise). We need to keep physically moving- it impacts us mentally more than we think. Sometimes, when NOBODY is paying attention in my house, I’ll have my Airpods in and rock out to music and stand up and have a little dance party. I typically feel so much better afterwards.

Step #7 – Make a personal professional goals list
I found this extremely helpful. Not going to lie though, I do need to practice what I preach here (uh….study for CPSM…). I have found that utilizing this time to figure out improvements to process or efficiency is extremely valuable. It’s also a good time to evaluate how to help some of your other co-workers and yourself keep busy. For example, since most people here are marketers, create a process and have administrative staff handle resume and representative project sheet updates. Let them help you clean up your network. Think of the things you wish you had time to do but had no time for because due dates are normally swishing by.

Step #8 – FUN

You need this just as much as your co-workers. Besides virtual happy hours, think of other fun things that can bring your teams together. The following are a few ideas that have been generated for my firm:

  • Office Fun Days: Friday Hawaiian Shirt Day, Crazy Hat or Sock Day, challenge other offices.
  • Clubs: Books, tv shows, sharing ideas for kid activities, home health, etc.
  • Professional Team Support Days: March Madness (college-wear days where you could ask them to support based on the different “regions” of March Madness), start of the baseball season.
  • Tell me Something Good Days: Similar to a radio show in Los Angeles.

Other helpful tips

  • Microsoft Teams for team collaboration
  • Video Chats/Group Meetings

Any idea at this point that you think can help morale is a good idea. We as marketers need to lead the way and help people through this time. This is really where our out-of-the-box creative ideas can be critical to the long-term success of our firms. The impact we have directly affects business productivity and collaboration, staff retention/recruitment, and so much more.

Brandi Barr
T.Y. Lin International | Associate Vice President, West Region Marketing Manager
2019-2020 SMPS Arizona Chapter Immediate Past President

Brandi holds a BA in Communication from Arizona State University and has 20 years of AEC marketing professional services experience. For the past 11 years, she has worked for T.Y. Lin International. She has also been recognized by the SMPS, Arizona Chapter as the recipient of three Marketing Communications Awards: Best Proposal (2014), Marketer of the Year (2015), and most recently Best Project Pursuit (2016). Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her husband, three kiddos, and French bulldog. To find her outside of work, check her daughter’s dance studio, son’s soccer or baseball/basketball/swimming practices, or watching sports (probably checking on her fantasy football teams).

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Five Tips for Passing the New CPSM Exam

Oh good, another “Top Things” article! Well, hopefully this one includes tips for something that you’ve been eyeballing for a while – the Certified Professional Services Marketer credentials! 

As someone who successfully passed the “new” CPSM exam, my hope is to lend some confidence and insight to those with the CPSM certification on their radar for the near future. My personal experience included everything that is entailed in this article, followed by the ultimate curveball before test day – “We’ve completely overhauled the CPSM exam with new and exciting questions!”

I thought to myself, “All good, we got this, right?”  Well, those “automatic” questions that were supposed to be a “gimme” were totally out the window. Thankfully, I had studied for conceptual understanding and attended the CPSM bootcamp. The ultimate tip: understand the underlying principles. If you learn the principles and not just the surface information, you’ll be able to cross that finish line and throw some confetti after that name of yours!

Luckily, you can avoid this pitfall by downloading this nifty new study guide that is tailored to the CPSM exam content. Download that now while you’re at it, so you’re ahead of the game.

Now, on to the real tips…

Disclaimer: This article does not include any magic potions, crafty shortcuts, or brilliant algorithms that will take the test for you. You will still have to put in the work! Fret not, my friends – the juice is worth the squeeze.

1. Decide To Certify!
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, or a single click in this scenario. This is an important one, folks. Deciding to register and confirming your game plan with some personal goals and firm milestones will put the whole process in motion. If you’re serious, register for the exam ASAP (let’s not jump the gun. First, go ahead and confirm that you meet the CPSM eligibility requirements in order to sit for the exam). Once you’ve confirmed, select a date, register for your exam, and get ready to rumble! If you need some help justifying the expense for yourself or your employer, SMPS provides some great resources that include templates and tailored content.  

Register for the Exam to give yourself a hard deadline

2.  Easy Button: Pick Up Markendium
You may be thinking to yourself, “of course they want me to buy the book series they’ve published”, and you’d be right. We do, because it’s the best, easiest, and most efficient (read: affordable) solution for you to find success in your CPSM journey. SMPS has pooled information from numerous resources and publications into a succinct format that walks you through a logical progression for the Six Domains of Practice. Markendium (available on Amazon) is a six-book set that includes all knowledge necessary to pass the CPSM exam, and includes interactive study activities and practice test questions throughout each of the books. 

Purchase the Markendium book series and equip yourself for success

3. Hit the Books
Pick the study tactics that work for you. UCLA has posted a nice summary of Study Skills & Learning Tactics that can get you started with some valuable ideas. Personally, I’m big on a couple of these. Surveying, or skimming, for general context, followed by deep-dive reading and highlighting seems to be a good primer for strong understanding of the information. I’m also big on outlining (see: Listing or Concept Mapping) as you’re reading.  According to Colorado State University (and countless other educational resources), writing while studying or learning can slow down the cognitive process in a positive manner and allow for deeper digestion of the information. Outlining serves the purpose of forcing this mental absorption, and also doubles as a personalized study guide down the road.

Choose the best study tactics for you and implement them from start to finish






Form Study Groups & Practice Exams
CPSM Boot Camps can be tough to come by, but if you catch wind of a boot camp taking place in your region, register immediately! CPSM Boot Camps are invaluable to the upcoming class of candidates, as they are often taught by current CPSMs who may be inclined to drop a few gems along the way. Often times, boot camps may not fall within an individual’s personal timeline for certification. The best solution is to seek out fellow SMPS members in your chapter to form study groups. Although this may sound daunting or boring, it is a wonderful tool for understanding the concepts that are difficult to grasp. If you’ve taken the GAP Assessment you may already know where your weak points are. (Hint: Download and complete the GAP Assessment prior to studying in order to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and so you can work on those areas.)

Once you’ve worked your way through the Markendium series, be sure to check with SMPS HQ for any available practice exams online. Again, these were unavailable after the revised exam was released, so take advantage of any and all resources at your disposal. Practice exams and sample test questions are also available within the Markendium series and the CPSM Exam Study Guide provided by SMPS.

Form Study Groups & Take Practice Exams

5. Test Day Routines & Rituals
Chew Gum, knock on wood, wear your rally hat inside out, bring your lucky rabbit’s foot, whatever gets the positive vibes flowing. The exam will be computer based with 150 questions and runs approximately three hours. Check out the CPSM Handbook for specifics on the exam and related details. You will want to be on top of your game. That being said, read each question carefully. You are always looking for the BEST answer. There may be multiple choices that appear to be correct, but the BEST or MOST correct answer wins, amigos. Think in terms of “in a perfect world”, not necessarily how you or your past firms would have solved the problem. Again, the BEST answer will take home the points. Remember, you can move past questions you’re not sure about, and circle back to them after working your way through the rest of the exam. This tactic can be useful in thinking through additional concepts or deducing answers based on additional test information.  Whatever you do, take a deep breath, and proceed with confidence. Hard work will deliver the results you want, so start hitting the books!

Crush it and become a champion!

Signing Off
If you run into any questions or need clarification on study materials, reach out to your fellow SMPS members! We’re all in the game and quick to lend a helping hand. Those who have taken the CPSM exam understand the added stress and will be rooting for you. Hang in there, you can do this!

Godspeed to all CPSMs and all hopeful CPSM candidates!

Bill Pelham, CPSM
Senior Proposal Strategist, Burns & McDonnell

Known for his positive team mentality, Bill strives to support Burns & McDonnell in “creating amazing” as the Senior Proposal Strategist in the Phoenix regional office. With almost nine years in the AEC industry, he has worked with some of the nation’s top firms, including MONOGRAM, BBGM, CallisonRTKL, and Arcadis, providing proposal development, graphic design, marketing strategy, and digital marketing expertise. He has been an SMPS member since 2016, and currently serves as the Communications Chair of the Arizona Chapter’s publicity committee. He holds a B.S. in Business Administration with a double concentration in Marketing and Human Resources from SUNY University at Buffalo and is a valedictorian graduate of Full Sail University with an A.S. in Recording Arts. When he’s not working with a rock star team at Burns & McDonnell, Bill enjoys producing music, watching soccer, and rooting for the Phoenix Rising and New York Jets.

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Traffic, the Workplace, and Resiliency

Here’s the deal with the workplace: it’s challenging, and it’s not getting any easier. There are more challenges and there is more pressure than ever before. The cliché “do more with less” is now a staple in our workplace vernacular. Our days are filled with impossible deadlines, endless projects, “firefighting,” and juggling multiple, ever-changing priorities.

To get through these challenges, we tell ourselves things like:

 “As soon as this project is completed, things will get back to normal…”
“Once the new person is trained, I won’t have to work on these long hours…”
“As soon as I meet this deadline, I can relax…”
“If only traffic wasn’t so slow, I could get to the office on time…”

The reality is that once you complete a project, there will be three new projects that require your attention. As soon as one deadline is complete, there are more to take its place.  And, for most of us, annoyances like traffic are a daily occurrence. These challenges are not going to slow down.

So how do you perform at your best in spite of all this? You must strengthen your resiliency muscle.

Imagine you are running late on your way to the office because you are stuck in traffic. You do the speed up/slam on brakes routine to try to get ahead. You tailgate the car in front of you. You weave in and out of the lanes to get into the fastest moving one. You feel frustrated and annoyed that everyone else is going so slowly. “If only these people would hurry up, I could get to the office on time.” Finally, you arrive at the office flustered, grumpy, and 15 minutes late. “Sorry I’m late,” you grumble as you walk in, “traffic was horrible.”

So, you’ve spent a chunk of your valuable time stressing about something that you have no control over (traffic) and blaming everyone else for your tardiness. The time that could have been spent mentally preparing for your day was wasted cursing the cars in front of you. You are emotionally spun up over something you could not change, and that energy follows you into the office and sets the tone for your work day.

Here’s what the same situation looks like when you’re flexing your resiliency muscle. You realize you’re running a few minutes late. You text your manager to let her know. On the way to the office you are clear headed and use the opportunity to prepare for the day. You arrive at the office a few minutes late and apologize for the tardiness. You are fully prepared and ready for the day and what it will bring.

Think of your challenges as opportunities; opportunities to strengthen your resiliency and better prepare yourself for the next time an unexpected project pops up or the co-worker who was supposed to help you on that proposal calls in sick. The next time a challenging situation arises, big or small, think about these guidelines for building resiliency:

What is my role in this?
How am I impacting the situation? Am I looking at someone else as the problem or is the problem me? In the traffic example, the driver placed blame on the other drivers. However, the more likely issue is that he didn’t allow himself enough time to get to his destination.

What’s my story?
What is the story I’m telling myself? In the example, the story was “These people are so slow! They’re messing with my schedule! If they would just hurry up I could get there on time!” As a result, his frustration grew. When feeling frustrated, tell yourself, “practice patience.” This will quiet the story and keep emotions neutral.

How flexible am I?
In this case, the driver was determined to get to the meeting on time, regardless of traffic. He did not consider other options like letting his colleague know he was going to be late. This rigidity creates unnecessary stress and a heightened state of emotion. The ability to go-with-the-flow increases your resilience and alleviates unnecessary frustration.

Want to learn more about resiliency in leadership? Give us a call at (888) 529-0240 or send us an email at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you!

Brandy Ferrer  is the President and CEO of Pathfinder Strategies, and is skilled at harnessing the power of the people to achieve organizational success. Her diverse experiences and unique skill set help organizations navigate challenges, shape culture, attract and retain talent, and develop tomorrow’s leaders. She has worked in the professional development space for 14 years. During that time, she has created national training programs, leadership programs, management coaching, team alignment projects, career ladders, and strategic plans. She is a certified practitioner of Emotional Intelligence EQi-2.0 through Multi-health systems, a certified consultant and coach of Behaviors & Driving Forces through Target Training International, and one of the only certified BioCode System™ practitioners in the country. She holds certificates in Adult Learning and a certificate from the Association of Talent Development for Managing the Learning Function.

Brandy proudly serves as a board member for Friends of Pima Animal Care Center and Animal Welfare of Southern Arizona. She also serves on the board of the Better Bureau of Southern Arizona and is a graduate of Greater Tucson Leadership.

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Five Tips to Help AEC Professionals Design Great Infographics

Steve Jobs once said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” That’s something that you should keep in mind with infographic design. The purpose of graphic design isn’t only to make things look good, it’s also to make content more organized, easy to read, and understand.

Why do infographics work so well? Consider these statistics:

  • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual
  • We process visuals 60,000x faster than text
  • 65% of the population are visual learners
  • Social media posts with images receive 150% more shares
  • Sites that use infographics generate 12% more traffic on average 

The best infographics simplify raw data by using well-designed graphics to represent and explain the data in a fast and eye-catching way. The real power of infographics is that they can transform complicated or repetitive information, which might otherwise be overlooked, into something that’s inviting, interesting, and easier to comprehend. Infographics can be used in all aspects of your marketing, including printed materials, online marketing and social media marketing. They can also help enhance your project presentations and planning materials, and they can be translated to video.

5 Tips to follow to create better infographics

Creating great infographics isn’t a walk in the park. It requires skill in translating raw data into engaging visual information. Many AEC professionals already use similar skills in other aspects of their daily work, so it's not a big leap to adapt to creating infographics.

To get you started, I have put together five of my favorite tips for creating awesome infographics!

1. Outline your content first
The biggest mistake that you can make with infographics is to start with the visuals instead of the content. Always start by outlining the key points you want to communicate. Once you have the rough outline, then add any references or research you want to include to support your claims. Once the outline process is complete, it is much easier to sketch out how information will be visually communicated and how you want your text and graphics to be arranged. Decide on a hierarchy to show which content is more important than others, and which content is supporting detail or reference. Your infographic’s information should flow seamlessly. It should be obvious to the reader where their eyes should go, and the order of what they should be reading.

 2. Answer two important questions
According to recent research, the human attention span has shortened to as little as seven seconds. Your infographic needs to grab your readers’ attention quickly.Stop to think about “The Hook” — how are you going to attract their attention and get them engaged enough to want to read further?

One way to do that is to ensure your infographic clearly answers two important questions:

  1. What is the topic?, and
  2. Why should they care?

This may seem very basic, but it can’t be overlooked. If it’s not immediately clear what your infographic is about and why it’s important, then your readers will not stay to read it.

3. Design for your target audience

Think about your audience. You’ll want to create something that appeals to their specific interests, design style, and expectations. Don’t make the mistake of designing your infographics for everyone. For example, let’s imagine that you’re with a commercial architecture firm and you want to create an infographic that explains new trends in design visualization to potential contracting or development partners. Your infographic should be designed with these specific audiences in mind. Consider what will appeal and communicate to them visually, as well as in content tone and style.

4. Keep the colors and typography simple

Since infographics are typically viewed on a screen, you’ll want to create a design that is easy to read no matter what device your reader is viewing it on. I recommend keeping colors simple, a color palette of 3-5 colors is ideal. If you have branding guidelines and your company’s color palette is already defined, we’d recommend sticking with those colors. If you need help with color, Adobe offers a simple and effective tool to help you create the perfect color palette.

When it comes to fonts, keep it simple. Again, reference you brand guidelines first, but if you do not have defined guidelines, be sure to use fonts that are easy to read on different sized devices. Contrast also helps. If your header and subheads are bold, heavy fonts, consider using a lighter font for body text. The folks at Canva have a great article on good looking font pairings to help you get started. Getting the color and typography right can make or break the design and impact of your infographic, so be sure to consider these aspects very carefully, and, if necessary, hire an expert to ensure you get the most from your design.

5. Include a clear call-to-action

Lastly, your infographic should answer the viewers' question: “What do I do next?” By the time someone finishes reading your infographic, they should know what the next step is. A typical call-to-action to include is a link to a page on your website where they can get sign up or download more detailed information. This is a great way to use your well-designed, engaging infographic to attract potential customers and get them onto your email list to continue receiving more high-value information from your firm.

Put Your Infographic to Use

Once you have your infographic designed, look to publish it in a variety of places, such as on your firm’s blog and social media pages, such as Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Infographics are perfect to add to your online marketing and social media because people love to share them! And they can be helpful tools for engaging clients in the details of project planning. You can take it a step further by contacting relevant industry blogs, websites, associations to see if they would be interested in sharing it as well.

Infographics are a great way for AEC professionals to make data-driven information more visually interesting, easy to understand, and memorable. Have questions about infographics or interested in having one designed for you? Contact Archmark for details.

Bryon McCartney

Chief Idea Guy & Managing Partner, Archmark Branding & Marketing. Bryon has been in the branding and marketing industry for more than 30 years and has worked with AEC firms for the past 20. His career has taken him on assignments around the world, including living and working in Switzerland for 12 years. When not working, Bryon enjoys golf, traveling, and building with Legos. 

Free Offer for SMPS Arizona Members
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The Accidental Salesperson

The Accidental Salesperson

I did not start out my career wanting to go into business development. In fact, I went to college for architecture and got a job in virtual design and construction, working on MEP coordination and 3D modeling for clients throughout the US. And I liked it. But once I got into my groove, an opportunity presented itself. My area leader asked me if I had ever considered business development. To be honest, I never had considered it, nor did know what business development was. I was happy doing what I was doing, but he saw the potential in me. And I had a decision to make.

Now, I’ve always considered myself to be a planner - someone who has a one-year, five-year, and even a ten-year plan. Becoming a business development manager was NOT anywhere in those plans. My plan was to work, become a licensed architect, and take on management level roles within the VDC department. 

Then this opportunity popped up, and my plan had the potential to change. Dramatically. I had to ask myself some tough questions. Would I enjoy doing business development? Would I be okay starting from the bottom again? What the heck IS business development? Would I be successful – both from my perspective as well as my company’s perspective? What did my manager see in me that made him think I would be successful in business development? 

So, I did what anyone would do -  an internet search for “Top Skills for a Business Development Manager”. I sifted through the plethora of results. It turns out, I had many of the characteristics listed out – I was just using them in a different way. People skills? Check. Working with internal clients throughout our organization has taught me a lot about people and how to customize the message for your audience. Strategic mindset? Business development is all about strategic action plans, and that is definitely in my wheelhouse. I find that structure actually allows for more creativity and helps define a path to success. Knowledge of the company and the market? I realized I had a unique perspective because I have a background in architecture and am an Arizona native. I specifically understood building in Arizona, and that, it turns out, is invaluable for business development. Organizational skills? People who are successful at business development have many balls to juggle, and I am a master juggler! Goal focused? Um, definitely! To say I am competitive is an understatement. Failure is simply not an option, and I feel that mistakes and setbacks aren’t failures, they’re just learning opportunities to succeed next time. 

That’s when I realized that sometimes you just have to take your one-, five-, and ten-year plans, wrinkle them up into a big ball, and throw them away - hopefully making a three-point shot into the can.  

Then the real work began. I quickly realized that while I had similar characteristics in my VDC life, they didn’t always translate smoothly into my business development life. There was just so much to learn. I did have people skills, but selling and closing a deal is a completely different aspect. I also thought I knew a lot about building in Arizona. However, I had a lot of homework to do on the market and the trends that shape it. And as far as organizational skills, I quickly realized that organizing tasks is easy, but figuring out how to organize and qualify relationships in a business development role proved to be an enormous challenge. So, two years in, I’m still learning each and every day. One of the most important things I’ve learned is, sometimes, you just need to “fake it ‘til you make it!” 

Were there moments when I’ve regretted my decision? Absolutely. But here’s the thing - I really love what I do. I love the challenges, the new interactions, the strategies, the wins, and even the losses because they show me how we can do better and be more successful.  

The point is don’t be afraid to become what you never thought you’d be. A co-worker of mine loves to say, “Be afraid, but do it anyway.” And she’s right. For all of the questions and concerns I had walking into this new career, I knew, ultimately, that it was the right decision for me. Don’t let opportunities pass you by. And if someone sees something in you, believe them. And maybe you, too, can become an accidental salesperson.

Michelle Rousseau
Business Development Manager

Michelle Rousseau is a business development manager for Gilbane Building Company’s Western division and began her career as a VDC manager with Gilbane in 2014. She is currently slogging through her architecture exams and is looking forward to the day when she doesn’t have to study for a test. She lives in Phoenix, has an addiction to working out, and has recently adopted her new best friend, her pug Rosie.



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President's Message: Let's Say What We Want and Go After It

When I left New York and my dreams of being the real-life version of Carrie Bradshaw in 2012, I had no idea what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, or even who I was at that point in life. Everything I thought I wanted or the person I thought I’d be when I was in the Big Apple didn’t align with how I felt. Fast forward seven years, here I am embarking on a journey as the President of SMPS Arizona – something I never imagined, let alone knew existed. But atlas, the time has come.

As we step into this new year let us not forget a few of the top things we accomplished last year:

  1. Identified our strategic plan for 2018-2021.
    • Be the go-to resource in education, creating connections, and developing leaders in the industry
    • Leadership development for you within your firm and our SMPS chapter
    • Elevate the SMPS experience
  2. Membership Retention and Recruitment. At the start of the SMPS Year (August 8, 2018) we were hovering around 150. A year later, we are at 170+ members!
  3. Had 2 new Community Outreach Projects!
  4. Updated our Chapter Bylaws.
  5. Implemented the new SMPS branding.

The reason I chose to highlight those five accomplishments out of 20+ is because those achievements reflect the actions of you. Our now Past President, Brandi Barr, set the barr (lol 😉) high as she went into her year as President with fresh, fun, and strategic eyes to make sure we all rose up to make sure we did what was best for our Chapter/membership. From our elevated programming featuring national speakers, dedicated community outreach efforts, to our new branding, we were able to appeal to our members and non-members as a “new” SMPS.

So, what’s happening this year? We’re going to continue to bring you premium program and education events and ways you can give back to our community through volunteering. We’re also going to have a:

  • New training program for marketing and technical staff
  • New CPSM bootcamp
  • Members only Thank You event
  • New E-blast template for our Chapter’s communications
  • Joint event collaborations with other local organizations
  • Increased volunteer member (and firm) recognition
  • Present on marketing and business development topics at local professional organizations

While that list is no small feat, I am confident the work we have all done up until this moment will be the reason we accomplish those goals. We have a Chapter full of dedicated individuals (and firms who support them) who I am so excited to see flourish as we charge forward together.

I had a conversation with someone recently about what it will mean to me to be the President of the SMPS Arizona chapter, what did I want my legacy to be? I didn’t have an answer for them at that moment, but it did make me realize, this year as your President is a part of my life legacy. But this year isn’t just about me, it’s about you. I want each and everyone one of you to go after something you want. I want you to imagine yourself as the President of SMPS, or the Director of Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer at your firm. Whatever you desire, go for it!

A dear friend of mine shared this Epictetus quote with me, “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

When I joined this industry almost five years ago, I was just like you when you landed your first job in this industry. As eager as I was for my new role, I was equally as confused as to how I got here and how I could be the best marketer for my firm. I took on my new role with a supportive boss and a co-worker turned mentor who showed me the way and encouraged me to join SMPS. I knew that everything I did for this Chapter was for the greater good and I was going to give it my all. So, whatever your role is in or organization, give it all you got.

Hear me clearly: Do not edit your desires. You are here in this space, you are entering this world to want what you want, regardless of how big the dream. You may have to get there in stages, you may stumble along the way, but the journey is worth the work. And do not allow logic to be an excuse for setting low expectations.”  Stacey Abrams

Let’s all move forward into this year, saying what we want and going after it. One of my desires for the next year is to make sure our members feel seen and heard. I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions, comments, or ideas you have. Take a moment and leave a comment below to tell me something you desire and one way you can turn it into a reality.

Tiffany Johnson
2019-2020 SMPS Arizona President

Tiffany Johnson is a current SMPS President; she has served on various committees throughout the years and is excited for this new role. She has worked for architecture and engineering firms leading all marketing and business development efforts for the last four and half years. In her free time, she enjoys brunching with her friends, plotting on how to become the next Martha Stewart (cooking, home design, lifestyle hacks), writing and beating everyone she knows at Jenga!

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