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Why AEC firms should be cultivating 'visible experts'

A new study pinpoints the true dollar value of having knowledge leaders and market shapers on your team.

July 07, 2015 |
David Barista

The explosion of social media and the “publish everything” culture has turned everyone into brand-builders. In the AEC market, it’s hard to find a firm that isn’t taking steps to promote their knowledge leaders, whether through authoring blogs and books, speaking engagements, webinars, social media, or video.

They’re all chasing the Holy Grail of professional services: to become known as the expert and go-to resource for clients and prospects in a given market or niche. The prize, of course, is more work and a chance at higher profit margins, as market leaders are more likely to command higher fees.

How much higher? Substantially higher—we’re talking between 81% and 832% higher, according to a new study by Reston, Va.-based marketing consultant Hinge. The group surveyed more than 1,025 purchasers of professional services, including 205 AEC service buyers, to pinpoint the true dollar value of so-called “visible experts.” Using a baseline hourly rate of $100 for an “average” AEC professional, Hinge asked survey respondents to indicate how much they were willing to pay for knowledge/market leaders. The results are staggering:

• $180.63/hour for what Hinge describes as a Level 1 visible expert—those who are recognized as an expert by clients, staff, and colleagues, but are not well known outside of their firm.

• $220.84 for a Level 2 expert—those who are known in their local market or niche.

• $275.02 for Level 3—those whose reputations are moving onto the regional or national stage.

• $445.35 for Level 4—nationally recognized names within a given niche who are able to attract top-tier business opportunities.

• $832.18 for Level 5—individuals who have broken out of a particular niche and are synonymous with an entire area of expertise.

Why are AEC service purchasers willing to pay such a high premium for visible experts in their market? The reason cited most often by respondents is not related to an expert’s status, influence, or deep connections, but rather their problem-solving skills (31.2% selected it as a primary factor). Other key factors: their influence on projects (i.e., ability to increase credibility and visibility, and attract business opportunities, 26.5%), and the opportunity to reduce risk (16.1%).

Hinge’s study offers a wealth of ideas for AEC leaders, including: proven methods for fast-tracking employees to visible expert status (on average, it takes 20 years to reach Level 5; fast-trackers can do so in five years); factors that convince AEC buyers that someone is a leading expert (hint: it’s not the number of industry awards or qualifications); and top sources of leads for market experts (relationships and referrals head the list).

Download Hinge’s report and start cultivating your firm’s visible experts.

David Barista | BD+C Editors
Building Design+Construction
Editorial Director

David Barista is Editorial Director of Building Design+Construction and, properties that combined reach more than 100,000 commercial building professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. David has covered the U.S. construction industry for more than a decade, previously serving as Editor-in-Chief of BD+C, Professional Builder, Custom Builder, and He has won numerous editorial awards, including six Jesse H. Neal Awards and multiple honors from the Construction Writers Association and the American Society of Business Publication Editors.


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