Most Dangerous Words in Business

by Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM

I’ve heard it said that “We’ve always done it that way” is among the most dangerous phrases in business. I can’t say I disagree. Those six words effectively destroy innovation and keep companies from growing and evolving. And in the A/E/C industry, we hear those words a lot. In fact, we’re notorious for it: construction productivity is essentially unchanged since the 1960s. During the same period, manufacturing productivity went through the roof. Only now are terms like “Lean Construction” entering our lexicon. This “We’ve always done it that way” mentality, in a world of rapid change, is now the kiss of death for a business.

However, there’s another phrase stated all too often in the A/E/C industry, and I think this one needs elevated to the pantheon of creativity-sucking-backward-thinking-phrases-to-avoid. If you are an A/E/C marketer, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard these dangerous words – most likely very recently.

“That won’t work in our industry.” (Or it’s equally-ugly sibling, “That won’t work in our firm.”)

Sound familiar? Wow, it’s not just that these words are dangerous, it’s that this line of thinking can destroy companies.

The phrase is very much the bane of an A/E/C marketer’s existence.

I still come across some professional marketers who lament that they are not allowed to use social media at their company. Never mind that the most popular platforms are more than a decade old, and almost everyone has been influenced to make a buying decision by something they saw on social media!

Here’s a personal favorite for backward management thinking: a marketer told me that her company will permit her to use social media to promote the firm – so long as she does it on personal time.

I can’t imagine a marketing program that doesn’t involve social media. The people who don’t think it will work in the A/E/C industry actually have very little understanding of what it is – other than their perception of sharing dinner photos on Facebook. And the role of social media in driving traffic to your website and Search Engine Optimization is beyond their comprehension.

I recently had a spirited conversation with a salesperson who didn’t see any value in content marketing. He’s had a successful career in sales, but still believes in the traditional interruption selling approaches, like cold calling and stopping in at a company unannounced. He’s a big fan of trade shows. Although I would never stop in at a company for an unannounced sales call, which I find to be very disrespectful, I certainly understand that there are times when you need to make a cold call (although it is best avoided, if possible). And there’s no doubt that trade shows still have a place in the marketing mix.

But to disregard something as broad and proven as content marketing because you don’t really understand it makes no sense. My counter argument to the traditional salesperson was that I’ve heard him say in the past that he hates when he’s talking with someone and they’ve never heard of his company – content marketing is the perfect way to counter that. Plus, as a salesperson, shouldn’t he want loads of content at his fingertips to curate and determine which pieces could aid his prospects in their buying journey?

But no, “That won’t work in our industry. We’re B2B. We’re professional services.”

It’s the same argument professional A/E/C business developers have heard about social selling. Like a salesperson that doesn’t use LinkedIn (yes, there are still some!). It’s such an amazing tool for learning about your clients and prospects, much less connecting with them in a non-threatening way. Social selling should be a key tool within a seller’s toolbox. It is not “the” answer; however, it is an important tool.

But apparently “social selling won’t work in our industry.” Why? Because “Our clients and prospects don’t use social media.”

Still sounding familiar?

A/E/C firms need to be nimble and highly flexible. That requires change. That requires an open mind – from every employee, at every level of your organization.

We’re entering a new world of advanced automation and artificial intelligence. There will soon be “push button design” for some of the more prescriptive aspects of architecture and engineering. But there are naysayers who don’t believe that this technology will ever work in our industry. (Google “generative design” and see how it is already being employed.) Sure, I understand that it can be threatening.

There’s a statistic out there from McKinsey that roughly 45% of what you currently do in your job – 45% of what all of us currently do in our jobs – can be automated with technology available right now. Many see this as a threat. I see it as a wonderful opportunity. I certainly don’t have enough hours in a day or in a week to accomplish what I really want to do. If I can free up 45% of my workweek, there’s so many more, higher value things I can be doing.

(But that will never work in our industry, right?)

We hear a lot of talk about setting priorities. Do you focus on the important, or the urgent? Do you spend your time doing something that has a good value to your firm – or the highest value?
What if you could shed many of your less important, but necessary, tasks to focus on those that have the highest value?

Instead of saying, “That won’t work in our industry,” say “How can we get this to work in our industry?”

All it requires is a change in mindset.

Autonomous vehicles are something else that will never work in our industry, either – right? And yet, there are autonomous bulldozers and construction trucks available for sale right now! Some are appearing on jobsites as you read this.

The phrase “But that will never work in our industry” is going to be incorrect the vast majority of the time. All it takes is some innovation and creative thinking, and ideas from other industries can be easily applied to our own.

So yes, social media plays an absolutely critical role in marketing today.

And yes, A/E/C firms not incorporating content marketing into their strategy are falling behind the competition.

Yup, social selling is a necessary component of an effective sales strategy.

And beyond a doubt, automation and artificial intelligence will change the way we do business in the future – it already is changing things right now.

Firms with a “We’ve always done it that way” attitude are holding a nail to their coffin. Firms that compound that with “But that won’t work in our industry” thinking are hammering the nail and sealing their fate.

When your marketer says, “This is going to revolutionize our industry,” believe them. Embrace them. Follow their lead.

When your technology strategist says, “This is going to change our business and make us more productive and profitable,” ask where to sign up.

Everyone in your firm is a Subject Matter Expert, and they each have their specialized areas of expertise. Trust them. Follow their lead. Sure, conduct the appropriate due diligence – don’t follow blindly. But you hired these professionals for a reason, so listen to them, support them, and then get the hell out of their way.

And don’t ever say, “But that won’t work in our industry,” lest you unwittingly preside over the demise of your company and chase highly talented people – who could take your firm to the next level – into the outstretched arms of your competitors!

Or have you always done it that way?

Is your firm having trouble embracing current marketing thinking, technology, and strategy? Need to talk through an idea or train your staff? Reach out to Scott Butcher at 717.434.1543 or email him.

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