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09 Sep, 2020

Strengthening Business during COVID: Interview with Jason Dittrich

Irene Kwon

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Member Spotlight  
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Read time: 4 minutes, 31 seconds

SMPS DC is profiling members of our Chapter to learn more about how business development strategies have changed during the COVID-19 era. Through this series, we hope you have a chance to learn more about how our members are adapting their tactics and approach to new business, how they continue to mine leads, and strengthen their respective businesses and firms during these challenging times.

Meet Jason Dittrich, Director of Business Development at Mueller Associates and SMPS DC’s Sponsorship Director, and learn his tips for strengthening business during this uncertain time.

Jason Dittrich has more than fifteen years of experience as a professional marketer and business developer in the AEC, commercial real estate, and healthcare industries. He is the Director of Business Development and Marketing at Mueller Associates, Inc, where he is responsible for generating new business through the building of existing relationships and establishing new partnerships with clients and owners. Mueller specializes in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering and fire protection design services for higher education institutions, cultural and civic institutions, along with select corporate and government clients.

What are your top three tips on continuing business development during COVID?

During a time of economic and industry uncertainty–depression, recession, pandemic, industry downturn, or all of the above–begin at the macro-level, then move to the micro-level. Start with who you know the best and then expand your interactions into second- or third-tier contacts.

  1. Utilize your existing network and business development connections. They are your top priority. Regardless of industry or market sector, and subsequent COVID-19 effects, you must maintain strong and resilient connections to your current clients. Emails, Zoom chats, notes in the mail, social distancing get-togethers–any way you can demonstrate appreciation for their business, your clients need to remain top of mind. Even better, find a lead or tidbit of information on a new project, regardless of relevancy, and throw it their way, to demonstrate your mindfulness, concern, and continued interest. An article in a business journal or industry publication, a book review, an interview–whatever you're reading and hearing, think about how this information is relevant and important to your clients. These existing clients are one of the many reasons why your firm is as strong as it is–they have gotten you to where you are; you need to consistently be there for them, even if you’re both struggling through the current economic conditions. All the more reason to developer stronger bonds with them–and demonstrate your appreciation!
  2. Dive deep into the network that exists mostly within your firm’s subject matter experts–your principals, project managers, associates, and others. Deltek and other systems are great when times are good (if the information is input correctly, of course); your human resources–those on the front lines–offer you an opportunity to speak and interact with those who can land you the next (and the next, and the next) job. These contacts aren’t often in your CRM, or, if they are, their titles sometimes don’t reflect their influence or impact or knowledge of the industry. So, take this time to interview your internal subject matter experts–the project managers, architects, engineers, and others who are exposed to a plethora of individuals across disciplines. Don’t ask them questions like, “Who’s important?” or “Who’s making the decisions?” Instead, “Who did the client (Owner) listen to the most?” Or, “Who offered insights and improvements to improve the project’s design and delivery schedule?” Or, “Who impressed you the most or made your job easier, better, and why?” Asking tangible, technical questions can lead you to understand the subject matter expertise of your clients (and others); their trust and respect for your team is often more valuable than their title.
  3. Execute inbound and outbound marketing accordingly. Too often, AEC firms succeed in outbound marketing–producing collateral, proposals, for instance–that generate a lot of internal resources, i.e. soft costs. Given the current economic conditions, marketing needs to be mindful of all costs. Thus, what materials and information do you already have in your arsenal to produce inbound marketing materials – articles, blog posts, interviews, case studies, virtual presentations–which may take a little marketing time to produce but can generate increased interest from new or potential clients. Comb the archives of your marketing files. Cobble together what already exists. Update the information as appropriate. Review and determine your pitch to third-party media producers. No takers? Send an e-blast, post it on your website, promote it on your social media platforms. Get it professionally produced and include it in your proposals!

What are you doing with the newfound time that you’re saving from traveling?

Much of the labor of business development is in the research: budgets, CIPs, newspaper articles, and other public notices of discussions related to current and future projects. Pre-COVID, this activity was important, and too often not enough time was dedicated to it. Now, it’s more critical than ever, especially given the economic conditions many institutional clients confront. Forecasting and preparing a list of potential prospects and projects, gathering intelligence (from a variety of sources), can be the make-or-break moment to success or failure, win or loss.

What have your clients found to be most helpful during this time?

Our clients have appreciated our concerted and consistent effort to remain communicative and open. We’ve been transparent from the beginning, determined to deliver the same quality of service, regardless of the circumstances. Interestingly, our clients have demanded more than before. While many clients cannot meet with our employees in person, they still require information and prompt responses to their inquiries. Thus, we have streamlined our processes and procedures to promote virtual team and client meetings, weekly check-ins, or, in some instances, daily check-ins, as means of overcommunicating. We’re now setting a new level of customer service expectation that will continue even post-COVID.

Any innovative ways to keep in touch with clients when everyone is Zoomed out?

Zoom rhymes with doom and so many of us are zoomed or doomed out, at this stage. Go back to some of the basics, but with a twist.

Since business developers cannot mostly meet current or prospective clients (or may feel uncomfortable doing so), set up a virtual lunch, dinner, or happy hour. You can take care of the ordering using Uber Eats or Doordash; the app Drizly offers wine and alcohol delivery. New businesses continue to pop up, in response to COVID, and existing ones are pivoting, so we as marketers and business developers need to do, too.

Still, nothing is as personal and poignant as the “thank you” card or another touch of appreciation. Pre-COVID, most were reticent to share home addresses. That still may be the case. But today, a person’s home address might as well be their new work address! Such sincere acts of gratitude are touching, now more than ever.