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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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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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CPSM: How Four Letters Can be a Game Changer for Your Career

Do those four letters really matter? The answer is yes and Sara Libby, CPSM, explains why!

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Libby about her role as the Corporate Marketing Manager at SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA) and SMPS Arizona CPSM Chair. Besides picking her brain about the benefits of the Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) certification and the CPSM boot camp, I learned some interesting facts about Sara!

A brief background on Sara Libby – Sara graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. During the first part of college, she took several Environmental Engineering classes, which has helped her succeed in her job at SWCA.

Sara has been in the A/E/C marketing industry for 11 years and 4 ½ of it has been with SWCA Environmental Consultants, where she serves as the corporate Marketing Manager for the company’s 31 offices and 850 employees. She enjoys the “nerdy” side of marketing – this includes the sharing of marketing information and resources throughout her company for marketing and business development support.

Now, back to why those four letters matter – Q&A time!

What do you consider to be the “nuts and bolts” of obtaining the CPSM certification?

Sara explained the requirements of the CPSM –being eligible to test based on experience (Bachelor’s degree + 4 years of experience, Associate’s degree + 6 years of experience, or 8 years of experience), passing the CPSM exam and then maintaining the 50 Certified Education Units (CEUs) every three years after passing the exam.

In addition, she explained that the CPSM exam consists of six domains of practice that cover the Marketing and Business Development gamut. It supplies a wide bank of knowledge in the marketing and business development profession that you might not be exposed to in your actual job. Study groups and study “boot camps” help members prepare for the exam. There is currently a boot camp taking place from January 20, 2017  to May 02, 2017. 

How has obtaining your CPSM impacted your career?

Sara attributes her CPSM certificate for getting her current job at SWCA. Her boss saw that she had the CPSM credentials and Sara feels it was the tipping point that got her the job offer.

What would your advice be to someone that is interested in participating in the boot camp?

She said, “Just do it! We’ve got a great lineup of SMPS Arizona CPSMs and Domain experts that will be presenting the study materials. On top of that, you’ll be in good company. There are 10 others signed up for the boot camp with whom you can study and who will hold you accountable to sit for the exam and take the next big step in your career.”

What information can you provide a marketer that is seeking approval from their boss to enroll in the boot camp?

“At only $80 for a 16 week course, this the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to getting a comprehensive education in marketing and Business Development for the A/E/C industry. Also, being surrounded by others who have the same goal as you – to pass the CPSM exam! – can be extremely motivating and can hold you accountable in reaching that goal.”

What are some interesting facts about you, outside of work?

Sara has a very exciting life outside of her marketing and CRM data. Sara sings Big Band and Latin Jazz music in two bands and participates in swing and salsa dancing. Recently she sang the National Anthem for the Goodman’s Office Chair Hockey tournament!

Sara is the CPSM chair for SMPS Arizona and she would be happy to talk to any interested SMPS members about pursuing CPSM credentials – she can also tell you the best places to go dancing!

Click here for CPSM FAQ sheet from the CPSM Info Session held November 2016, which featured Kevin Doyle, SMPS HQ Certification and IT Manager. For more information on the CPSM program or on the CPSM Boot Camp, contact:

Sara Libby, CPSM
SWCA Environmental Consultants|
2016-2017 SMPS Arizona CPSM Chair
[email protected]

Are you a CPSM? How has it benefited your career? Please share! 

Interviewer/Blog Writer: Debbie Parkins
Business Development, Western Technologies

Debbie Parkins, Business Developer with Western Technologies, has been a SMPS member for a year and a half. She enjoys the hosting duties of the hospitality committee and getting to meet other SMPS Members. Debbie enjoys her communication role within her job and loves to ski during winter! 

Interviewee: Sara Libby
Marketing Manager, SWCA Environmental Consultants 

Sara is a marketing professional specializing in branding, communications, graphics, public relations, copywriting and proposal creation. She has been a SMPS member for 11 years and is currently the CPSM Chair. Sara loves to sign and dance in her free time!  

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