Flourishing as a CPSM - An Insiders Point of View

Flourishing as a CPSM - An Insiders Point of View

An Interview with Susannah Culbertson, CPSM,
SMPS Nashville Past President

Written by Morgan Pare, SMPS Nashville Communications Chair


Being a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) means being a part of something special. Those earning or having already achieved their CPSM have successfully positioned themselves among an elite group of professional services marketers who have invested in themselves, understand and embrace the need for continuous improvement through education; enhancing their opportunity for professional success.

As we enter CPSM Week 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with Susannah Culbertson, CPSM, Past President of SMPS Nashville, directly to her experience earning her CPSM and what it truly means to earn a CPSM. Here is what she had to share.

M: What motivated you to become CPSM certified?

S: “My background is engineering, not business or marketing. I was always trying to learn the ins-and-outs of being a great marketer. The CPSM certification program is, in my experience, the best way to learn just that. Not only did it reinforce tasks I was already performing at my firm, but I gained great, new insights that I was able to implement immediately. Not only was it influential to my role, but it became impactful to my firm. We all have ‘experts’ in our offices. Whether it’s an environmental engineering specialist or a healthcare facility solutions expert with a clinical background. Why not be a certified expert in your role?”


M: What does it mean to you to have your CPSM?

S: “It is an honor to achieve and a professional designation that is respected within the A/E/C marketing and business development community. It’s even more validation to your firm and other industry professionals.”


M: If you could describe the most challenging, yet gratifying, aspect about achieving your CPSM, what would it be?

S: “It was very challenging to make time to study! And remembering how to study, to be honest. Being in the working, professional environment for so long, I needed to figure out how to best manage my time between working, designate time being on the BOD with SMPS and studying for CPSM. Once you get into the swing of that aspect again you feel more accomplished, and in turn, more productive. It’s absolutely challenging, but worth it in the end.”


M: CPSM week highlights Hemmingway’s famous ‘six-word story’. What would yours be?

S: Studying stinks. Worth it for CPSM.  


M: What would you like to do for SMPS Nashville members trying to earn their CPSM?

S: “I’d like to be a resource and sounding board as they study for the exam. A great resource for me were tips on taking the test. It can be tricky, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while.”


M: What was your greatest resource before AND after earning your CPSM?

S: “SMPS! I attended R2C in Atlanta and I tell everyone that without it I would have never passed. It opened a whole new world of test taking tips, great “been there, done that” stories and comradery while studying. The CPSM group on MySMPS is a tremendous daily resource as well.”


M: Why would you encourage others to get their CPSM?

S: “If you are serious about your career in A/E/C marketing and/or business development, it’s a no-brainer to learn and grow in the industry. The CPSM designation shows you are doing just that.”


If you are one of those on the fence about earning your CPSM reach out to Susannah and follow SMPS headquarters all week long for stories, tips and fun facts you may not know about CPSM!


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Three Strategies for Crafting Stronger Content

Three Strategies for Crafting Stronger Content

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by talking about how important content is to your marketing deliverables. If you’re just “answering the mail” you’re missing so many opportunities to connect with your client and show them how you are the perfect firm for them. Below are my top three ways to gain the insight necessary to make your deliverables the custom pieces your clients are looking for.

1. Know your client. I know it’s said continuously, but it cannot be overstated that your client’s needs should shape every deliverable from social media posts to project presentations, and everything in between. How do you “know your client?” By asking questions and, wait for it, ACTUALLY listening to the answers. There are many lists out of there of good probing questions. And I will share a few here, but the most important thing is that you ask the question and then you listen to the answer. But it doesn’t stop there! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve checked the block by asking your probing question and now it’s time to start selling. Understand that the first answer is often not the real answer. It will take some thoughtful questioning on your part to get to the motivation behind their next project. Listen to the answer and formulate the proper follow-up question to really start to uncover the actual problems. The questioning alone serves the purpose of letting your client know that you care, but if you want to know how to sell them on your firm as THE firm, you are going to need to solve their real problem in a way that no one else can. 

Some examples of good, leading, open-ended questions are:

  • What has changed about your business in the last five years? What do you see changing in the next 10 years?
  • If you could fix one thing about your current process/building/job, what would it be?
  • What do you think are the biggest hurdles for your current projects?
  • What was your biggest headache on your last project?

An additional way to know your client is to fully understand the trends and future direction of their industry. This allows you to bring innovative ideas to your client to not only keep them interested, but also to keep them competitive.  Even if their goal isn’t to be leading-edge and state-of-the-art, preparing your clients for future market shifts will show that you are looking out for their best interests. Using language in your submittals that suggests you not only know the client, but you understand their challenges and direction will only strengthen your position.

2. Once you’ve uncovered your client’s need, it’s time to share. If your instinct is to keep your knowledge to yourself and share just what you think is needed in order to “get the proposal done,” you’re missing a great opportunity. The saying “two heads are better than one” is gospel in my opinion. People are inspired by others, and good ideas are often built one small contribution at a time. You also open up the knowledge you’ve gained to scrutiny in order to gain deeper knowledge and thoughtful interpretation. Strategy is best built in a diverse team that includes communications and marketing staff as well as architects, engineers, contractors and other professionals. A fresh set of eyes can discover the one piece of information that you didn’t think to uncover that will differentiate your team from the masses. Once you’ve completed this step, go back to one and repeat as often as necessary (and in the time available).

3. Time can be friend or foe. Time isn’t last in this list because it is the least important; it is paramount in taking the two steps above and actually creating something meaningful. Each element of a well-crafted strategy takes time. Others will be vying for your client’s time as a project gets closer to RFP release. If you get out ahead enough, there’s time to have an initial meeting, regroup with your team to analyze the data you’ve gathered, discover what other information you need and what other stakeholders you should talk to, have those meetings, gather that data, develop the strategy and even run your strategy by the client for them to comment. Imagine a strategy that was developed not only with your client in mind, but with your client’s actual input.

Obviously, the more time spent with your client finding out the motivation behind future projects and what drives them as people and as a company, the better every interaction will be. But don’t let time continue to slip away as you worry that you’ve already missed your opportunity. Any intel you can gather will inform your content. At the end of the day, work with your team to customize deliverables to the best of your ability. Or to decide to No-Go the opportunity! But, that’s a discussion for another day.

 Written By Keri Paxton


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