AEC Groundbreaking Growth

AEC Professional Growth Fueled by Curiosity

January 08, 2024 Stambaugh Ness Season 1 Episode 11
AEC Professional Growth Fueled by Curiosity
AEC Groundbreaking Growth
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AEC Groundbreaking Growth
AEC Professional Growth Fueled by Curiosity
Jan 08, 2024 Season 1 Episode 11
Stambaugh Ness

Welcome to Episode 11 of the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast, where curiosity fuels AEC growth! Hosted by Stambaugh Ness, join Emily Lawrence and Jen Knox as they engage in a thought-provoking conversation with Kevin Hebblethwaite, SN's Director of Business Development.

In this episode, Kevin shares his unique journey from the world of IT to the AEC industry, emphasizing the importance of a broad business perspective for emerging leaders. The trio delves into the intersection of marketing, business development, and the technical aspects of AEC, exploring how curiosity plays a pivotal role in fostering growth.

Discover the valuable insights Kevin provides on collaboration between technical and non-technical professionals, the power of asking probing questions, and the significance of cross-functional perspectives in the AEC landscape. From unraveling the mysteries of owner transition plans to celebrating the wins of cross-collaboration, this episode is a treasure trove of wisdom for both seasoned professionals and emerging leaders.

Join us in this engaging conversation as we navigate the landscape of AEC growth, fueled by the driving force of curiosity. Tune in, be inspired, and embark on your own journey of groundbreaking growth in the AEC industry!

🔔 Don't miss out! Subscribe to Groundbreaking Growth on your favorite podcast platform. Let's ignite growth, shape the future of the AEC industry, and redefine what's possible. Are you ready for some groundbreaking growth? Let's dive in! 🚀💼

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 11 of the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast, where curiosity fuels AEC growth! Hosted by Stambaugh Ness, join Emily Lawrence and Jen Knox as they engage in a thought-provoking conversation with Kevin Hebblethwaite, SN's Director of Business Development.

In this episode, Kevin shares his unique journey from the world of IT to the AEC industry, emphasizing the importance of a broad business perspective for emerging leaders. The trio delves into the intersection of marketing, business development, and the technical aspects of AEC, exploring how curiosity plays a pivotal role in fostering growth.

Discover the valuable insights Kevin provides on collaboration between technical and non-technical professionals, the power of asking probing questions, and the significance of cross-functional perspectives in the AEC landscape. From unraveling the mysteries of owner transition plans to celebrating the wins of cross-collaboration, this episode is a treasure trove of wisdom for both seasoned professionals and emerging leaders.

Join us in this engaging conversation as we navigate the landscape of AEC growth, fueled by the driving force of curiosity. Tune in, be inspired, and embark on your own journey of groundbreaking growth in the AEC industry!

🔔 Don't miss out! Subscribe to Groundbreaking Growth on your favorite podcast platform. Let's ignite growth, shape the future of the AEC industry, and redefine what's possible. Are you ready for some groundbreaking growth? Let's dive in! 🚀💼

Emily Lawrence: Welcome to the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast. 

Jen Knox: Hosted by Stambaugh Ness.

[Opening Credits]

Emily Lawrence: Welcome to the Groundbreaking Growth podcast. I'm your host, Emily, and here with my co-host, Jen. 

Jen Knox: Morning, everyone. We have a great guest on for this afternoon, where we'll be having a discussion with our Director of Business Development here at SN, Kevin Hebblethwaite. Kevin brings an interesting background and perspective. His time spent in AEC has been focused on marketing and business development. But he also has a well-rounded understanding and approach to the business as a whole, which is important for emerging leaders as they grow and develop their careers.

So, Kevin would love to hear about how early in your career you were starting when you realized how important it was to have that broad business perspective. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. Whatever your role, it's important to understand other parts of the company or the firm you work for — a bit of background. I cut my teeth on IT things before I got to the AEC world about 20 to 25 years ago. The transition from IT into engineering was not that big of a leap because it's a technical field. But I realized that in the IT world, there's this nice mix of selling, selling of people, the services that do the work, and the boxes, the gear, the servers, and all of that. For lack of a better description, I had grown tired of selling the boxes and was interested in professional services. And it just turned out, like most of us in marketing and BD, fell into the AEC industry. Not too long after that, I found myself looking for the connections between the textbook knowledge (I have a business background and a business administration degree) you would get in a college program, business program, and the vocabulary we use daily in AE firms. At first, it was like, what are you talking about? And what does that mean? But after some good probing questions and good dialog with the financial people and the project management team, I started to connect those dots quickly, and I determined it was all the same stuff with a slightly different flair. That's how I got into the dialog with people in other functions and understood the importance.

Jen Knox:  Yeah. And that's so interesting because each business does talk about the business side of things differently. I came from consumer packaged goods, a large Fortune 500. And as an engineer, I was such a small part of the business. We were in charge of executing their capital strategy, but driving sales was a separate function. When I was going into capital reviews and proposing a construction project and manufacturing facility, etc., I realized there was this whole business case for why that needed to happen.

What was the return on investment? How many years did they expect to see that return and so on? It takes some time for a technical person to learn that language. But the more you're exposed to it, the more you see how beneficial it is, and become able to speak that common language. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite:  I agree. And I would always try to do the reverse if I felt like I had something to learn from them. I look for every opportunity to help them understand a little bit about the marketing and BD role. Usually, it's safe to say that most technical professions don't have a lot of business education, as we mentioned, and that can go in many different directions, from strategic planning to how you close a deal and everything in between.

But if it's a pleasant exchange where each side is interested in learning more about what the other has, it's always very productive; I've never really had anyone opposed to the conversation and the learning. 

Jen Knox: Emily, I know you have experienced that at AEC firms. Being that dedicated marketer or BD professional, wanting to collaborate with engineers, and needing to educate them a little. 

That's how I felt. I felt like I needed education. 

Emily Lawrence: Yeah, absolutely. I don't know all the ins and outs of what an engineer does every day, just like they don't know what I do every day as a marketer. Like we've mentioned a couple of times on here, I also have a background before entering into the AEC industry in Fortune 500, I worked in retail on a buying team, and I was exposed to really amazing leaders at the company I worked at that encouraged me to go shadow and learn about different roles as I'm growing my career and decide the path that I want to take.

I became interested in marketing and product marketing, specifically when I was in retail, but like you were talking about Kevin. I fell into the AEC industry and got a job as a solo marketer at a small architecture firm. Then, I joined a national design firm, full service, and was on more of a team. But as a team within marketing, I learned that when I was just the solo marketer at the small architecture firm, I had to know what everyone did because I had to wear many different hats in that role.

Many marketing people also have that experience when they're part of a solo marketing team. Then, being on a larger team, you work on pursuits and proposals. The advantage is that you get to work with all of the technical professionals within the firm and have some exposure. You're putting together how your team is talking about building a project.

That exposure to the different sides of the business has been key. You also have to be interested and ask the right questions as you go along for sure. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: Well, if you trace the history of this profession, the non-technical marketing and BD professions, in the technical profession, go back to their origin, they are different for different industries, but for architects and engineers, you'll find yourself in the very early 1970s when a bunch of them found themselves together, maybe at a bar (the rumor goes), realizing they all had the same problem and they needed to figure it out. You could argue it's a relatively new profession, but we all end up wearing many different hats. Everybody had to figure it out together, and the recognition that it's not something that happens automatically. You have to figure out how to get the word out, get the brand out, even if you're a single sole designer, a company of one. 

Gosh, I remember, this was a long time ago, but somebody was asking another BD person. "What do you all do? What's your job?" I said, "I have three jobs. Get the project, get the project, and get the project." Then, everything else flows from there. I would find some common ground, especially talking with financial people or those responsible for payroll and everything else, financial and HR. But the project management and project leadership team, they have a wonderful appreciation for anybody who will help them "get the project, get the project, and get the project." There's lovely common ground right there. 

Jen Knox: Yeah. I feel like some engineers, at least I felt this way previously, can be a little intimidated to "sell." It's amazing if you can leverage an internal team, build your case, and put your value proposition into the marketplace. There are simple ways to look at it from an engineer's perspective: what selling is, the benefit you're bringing, and how you're adding value for your client.

How can you help them execute their strategy, be a partner, and add value? Here at SN, we often refer to selling like, "This is a great project," as you're wrapping up, and "anything coming up that we can assist you with in the future. We'd love to be there and partner again."

That's selling to some extent. As engineers, we shouldn't be as scared of it. It's amazing when we can leverage the internal team to help us with those conversations, too.

Kevin Hebblethwaite: Sure. And you brought up a great point: who are we selling to? In your example, you're talking to an existing client.

Most of us do the math, with around high 70-80% of the work we do with clients we already know. That's a path you can go down. I also like unpacking the sensitive sales topic we're talking about here where, most likely, a particular designer, engineer, architect, or professional is already working on some things they have a story about. They can talk about the challenges they're overcoming, how it was completed, and how they intend to do it. 

A lot of the sales stuff we have to do is just solidifying a story and sharing it with a few others. Sometimes, that's a direct conversation. Other times, you're trying to encourage some of those clients to talk to their associates and friends out in the marketplace about the work that you're doing. So, yeah, I love those examples. 

Emily Lawrence: I love that. It goes back to having different perspectives at the table and having the exposure. As a marketer or even someone from a different age demographic or professional background, we all can bring those ideas like, "Hey, have you thought about it this way?"

In my past role, we hit on sales hard, talking through some of those things, bringing those different perspectives, engaging in those conversations, and asking questions. One of the main things I've had to overcome as a young professional is not being afraid to ask questions if I don't understand something because it often brings out some critical information that everyone might have overlooked that sort of technically knows what they're talking about.

Kevin Hebblethwaite: I love that. And while I'm sure we won't cover all of the situations in this episode, but I'm sure you could many episodes on what some of those really important probing questions are. I'll give you another example. I thought about this before we did the episode today, but think about things a little more intense, like owner transition plans, even the ones you should be planning for.

Marketers have a great ability to have situational awareness. Sometimes, you may get an answer, like you have no business asking me about that. Most of us work for really nice people, really smart, nice people. But if you can dive deeper and do it from a place you care, whether it's about ownership or strategic planning, anything that's, perhaps, "a little bit outside of your lane," if you have that interest in asking the questions that are a little more probing and a little deeper. The likelihood is high that if you're doing it from the right place, you'll probably get invited to solve the problem somehow.

I'll give you a really simple example because the ownership transition was intense. But if you notice, you hear everybody talking about, well, we can never get our money; it takes 120 days to get our bills paid. I don't know that that's the marketer's job to solve it. However, everybody's at stake if the money needs to come in faster.

So, if you find ways to work on that client experience that shortens that cycle, maybe they're not paying because they don't understand our invoices. They will pay it quickly if they understand them better. Again, that might not be your day job, but look for those little places along the way where you understand a little bit more about what's going on and then offer a couple of suggestions, and guess what? Money's coming in faster all of a sudden, or there's less resistance to pay all kinds of examples in between. 

Jen Knox: I love how you said that, looking for opportunities in other places or not saying no to opportunities when they come your way. I think that's a great perspective for young emerging leaders to have. If someone taps me on the shoulder and says, "Hey, do you want to work on this project? I know it's outside your lane, but it could be a great growth opportunity," being willing to accept assignments and challenges that may not be, "a marketing professional's" job or a "technical professional's" job. To your point, Emily, you bring a different viewpoint, a different lens at looking at a problem when it's something you don't tackle every day, day in and day out. So I loved your comment there about that. Kevin 

Emily Lawrence: Absolutely. And, as a young leader or professional, early on in my career, I learned to raise my hand for opportunities, ask to sit at the table or sit in on a meeting.

We're all up against utilization rates and things like that, obviously being in a professional services industry. But there's so much value that comes in sitting there and learning what leaders talk about and the way that they solve problems and the way they talk about marketing and then being able to tell them and offer some insight like, "Hey, well actually in marketing, (or whatever role that you sit in or project that you're on,)" provide some feedback not just talking just to talk and throwing and things, but as you said, Kevin intentionally asking deeper questions or providing insights that maybe those at the table currently didn't think about. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: Yeah. And you mentioned deadlines, especially in marketing. If we have anything to do with proposals, deadlines are a thing. We have anything to do with delivering operations and projects; deadlines are a thing. So, back to situational awareness, another big one is to let's be honest with ourselves. The day before, the thing is to do whatever it is, may not be the best time to explore some questions outside my job description.

It might go well, but realistically, let's look for that breathing room. If we're in a physical office together, it's 10 minutes here and there where we're taking a break. Or it's a virtual coffee if we're people who interact with each other virtually across the country. Recognize we need a little breathing room to explore this. And we're doing it from a place that is a healthy curiosity. We're not just trying to fill up calendars more. I want to understand more about this, or if somebody asks you about something in your job, I would treat that very respectfully, even when it is right before the deadline, and say, I'm glad you're asking about what goes on in my world can we get 10 minutes, in two days, after we turn in this half a million dollar proposal. You're going to get the respect of accepting that curiosity and sharing. And the more you can do it, the more you have that exchange around common ground, like common goals and common objectives. It means you've got a good strategy in place, and everybody realizes what their contributions bring to your plan's goals, whether it's an annual thing or a broader 3 to 5-year strategic situation.

Emily Lawrence:  So, Kevin, if you were to give one of the first steps, the most important step, to a young emerging leader as they're developing further in their career and maybe taking on leadership responsibility, what would you tell them? 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: Well, that's a good question. I'm thinking about it from two angles. If we go back to the original topic here and say whether you're BD or marketing, even argue that finance and HR, we have plenty of non-technically credentialed people working in technical firms. But focusing on BD and marketing, if you're one of those, you don't have a PE, you're not a licensed architect, surveyor, etc. Start from a place of curiosity. You've got to understand what is the value that client is paying for, what is the product, and what is the deliverable.

Start there and come from a place of curiosity that might mean you need to put your job and what you do secondary. But if you quickly help that other person understand, why do you have a project to put your time against? How do you do that? Where did that come from? What was the genesis there?

There's one angle as the non-technically credentialed person, but then the young professional who is just out of engineering school or is coming into a firm, do your job, get onto a project, and do the assignments that you have, but start to unpack that, that question where we came from on the other angle, which is how did it show up in the first place?

As a young technical professional, I like understanding how these things come out of the blue and how to dialog with clients or prospects about challenges they may be facing. And oh, by the way, here's how we solved that problem the last five times it came up. Or that's where it's like, "Yeah, dive into that more." I will say pretty quickly that if you get into the process of landing new work as a technical professional, you probably have a pretty safe career track ahead of you because somebody has to find it. Again, what's your job? It's get the project, get the project, get the project. If you want to be a part of that, it is not exclusive to technical people. They must be involved in that process. So, depending on where you come from, that's what I would look at.

Jen Knox: Curiosity is so important. To your point, it extends beyond BD and sales. If you have that curiosity around maybe finance or HR and how we best support our team members, get them the resources they need, look to pour some energy into that, see if you can shadow some HR Professionals or be a part of some of the strategic planning from a finance perspective. There are so many ways for technical and non-technical folks to get that cross-functional perspective of the business. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: Definitely. Today, the emphasis is on BD and marketing, but you should learn about recruiting clients while you're at it because everybody has that challenge. 

Jen Knox: Yeah. And Emily, we always talk about employer brand. Your brand within the marketplace is based on you as an employer. How are prospective employees finding you? What is the story they hear about on social media, etc.? That can be shared with every single employee in a company. How I engage with our social media and the stories I tell about Stambaugh Ness builds that employer brand and are a huge part of that recruiting effort. 

Emily Lawrence: Yeah. And it is just that, through cross-collaboration through those projects where you can cross-collaborate with different business areas, you learn so much about what they do and their value. And that is something to look for: an opportunity to pursue anytime you can.

Jen Knox:  And to celebrate. You know, where we connect with each other, that builds that trust and can build that longevity for the organization. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: I agree. It's obvious right off the bat when we have those overlaps, and we all realize this was a win for everyone. It's because we read the plan and all made good efforts; I totally agree. 

Jen Knox: Yeah. Well, Kevin, thank you so much for joining us today. It was a great conversation and gave some great insights for emerging leaders to take away. 

  • Make sure you're approaching everything with curiosity. 
  • Try to understand all those different touchpoints you have with internal team members, be it marketing, finance, or HR. 
  • How can you make their job easier? 
  • How can you be a good partner? 
  • Approach it with curiosity.

So, that was a great conversation, and we look forward to having you on in the future. I know you said you have a ton of stories, and we would love to dig into those. 

Kevin Hebblethwaite: I love what you are doing with podcast. Thank you so much for having me.

Jen Knox: Yup. We will see you in a flash. Join all of our listeners in our next episode. Thanks so much.