2019 SMPS Build Business Conference Recap

By Lindsay Diven, CPSM posted 08-08-2019 08:08


This article first appeared on Marketers Take Flight.

Last week, I was grateful to be able to attend and present at the 2019 SMPS Build Business Conference in Washington, DC. It has been about five years since I attended the last one. Boy did SMPS step up its conference game. The entire conference was jammed pack with relevant learning, but there was plenty of time to meet new marketing professionals and catch up with friends and peers as well as celebrate the achievements of many marketers.

Congratulations to my friend and inspiration, Donna Corlew, FSMPS, CPSM. She received the 2019 Weld Coxe Marketing Achievement Award.

SMPS Build Business Take-Aways

Throughout the conference, from the keynotes to breakout sessions, there were a few themes that kept appearing. Those themes included the following.

Be Bold

As professional services firms, we need to be bolder in our marketing and proposal efforts.

Did you know that, according to PSMJ research, the typical design firm spends as much as $15,000 to prepare a single proposal (and the typical prospective client spends just 25 to 35 minutes reviewing it)?

Frank A. Stasiowski, FAIA shares these ideas to truly differentiate our firms.

We need to try new marketing strategies, be clearer and more direct in our proposals and offerings. Ideas shared by Frank A. Stasiowski, FAIA during the High-Impact Proposals breakout session included:

  • Talk about change orders. Change orders are going to happen. Talk about your process for managing change orders and how it’s different.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about your competitors. Talk about how your firm is different from the competitors.
  • Use the IFBP Sales Strategy. I describe this strategy in detail here. Using this strategy, most firms stop at the features or even benefits. Proofs are the key to demonstrate your exact experience in a way that matters to the clients. Talk about what you accomplished on the projects. I also detail this in length in the Creating Compelling Content module of my proposal management course.
  • Understand new technology. By 2030, 100% of proposals will be done by virtual reality (VR). As marketers, we need to learn how to do this and be ahead of our competitors. VR will be a complementary part of the content to make decisions.

Have Courage

As professional services marketers, we need to have the courage to step up. We need to learn about the marketing strategies of the future and have the courage to bring them to our firm leadership.

Marketing can and should be driving the strategic growth direction of the firm, and at the very least have a seat at the table. In the M Live! A Seat at the Table Panel, the leaders were asked what does getting this seat at the table mean to you? It means being heard. That your opinion or recommendation was heard, valued, and acted upon.

How do you get to the table? That same panel shared the following advice:

  • Research. Do your homework before you need the information or to prepare for a meeting
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Showcase your communication skills. Someone has to community your firm’s strategic plan or other growth strategies for the firm. That can and should be marketing.
  • Metrics and statistics don’t lie. If you have the information that the leadership cares about or would want to care about it, provide it to them. Sometimes they know what they want, but other times, they don’t even know that the information and data are available. Our job is to track it down and present it to the firm leaders.
  • Share more often. You must put your goals, desires, etc. into the universe more often.

Marketers need to be providing research and insight into potential new clients and markets to our technical and executive team members, long before the RFP is advertised.

A great way to do this if you attended Build Business (or really any conference) is to put together a whitepaper or lunch learn of “The Five Things I Learned” at the conference. Demonstrate how each could be implemented at your firm and the value each thing could bring.

We have the capabilities. We now need the courage to voice them.

Be (Authentically) Diverse

There were several sessions and keynotes that talked about diversity. Diversity in demographics, gender, and age. When you get everyone in a room that looks the same, is the same age, and has the same background, it’s nearly impossible to innovate, create new ideas, or quickly find solutions.

Our clients present us with challenging projects that require more creative solutions at a faster pace. To get the most creative problem solving requires having a team that is truly diverse.

The closing keynote speaker, Duncan Wardle, summarized best on how diversity helps innovation. He said:

“Diversity is Innovation! If someone doesn’t look like you, they don’t think like you, and they’ll help you Think Different!”


Then we have the issue of recruitment. According to the Zweig Group’s research, 100% of women principals have considered leaving the AEC industry, compared to only 47% of men. That’s not surprising to me but is a grave issue for the future of our industry. With half of the available workforce (woman) are thinking about leaving our industry, we need to stand up and take notice.

Advocate for Yourself

This last theme, I believe, summarizes the rest. You must advocate for yourself both personally and professionally. While you might have a mentor or someone at work to cheer you on, you must drive your own growth. This takes courage at times to step outside your comfort zone.

Obviously, belonging to an organization like SMPS or being a part of the Marketers Take Flight is a great first start. In these communities, you can form a peer group and turn to that group for advice and support.

Other ways to help you advocate for yourself is getting a mentor and a sponsor. What’s the difference? Jamie Claire Kiser, JD, MBA summarized the differences best in the M Live! ElevateHer Panel discussion:

  • Sponsor – A sponsor is someone internal to your firm that helps you get to that next level. They advocate for your new role.
  • Mentor – A mentor is most likely outside your firm. They are someone who has achieved what you are trying to achieve. You can turn to your mentor for advice and support to avoid burn out. You can talk openly about what’s going on and provide advice on how to navigate different situations. You should be very active in finding a mentor for yourself.

Bottom line is that you must advocate for yourself.

My colleague, Kevin Hebblethwaite, FSMPS, CPSM, attending the 42nd Annual Evening of Excellence.

Your Turn

Did you attend this year’s SMPS Build Business in Washington, DC? If so, did you have any takeaways from the conference?

If not, what would be one thing you would hope to learn about for next year’s conference?

Comment over on Marketers Take Flight.

1 comment



08-12-2019 15:15

Thank you so much for this recap! I was sad to miss this year and am grateful for this synopsis!