“They aren’t the best at what they do, they are the only ones that do what they do”

Bill Graham, legendary concert promoter and impresario said the above quote in regards to one of his favorite bands to work with: the Grateful Dead. Since today is the 22nd anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s passing, I thought it would be fun to tie in today’s post with something related to the Dead…

Matt Handal, SMPS rock star, head of marketing for a highly successful consulting firm in the A/E/C industry, author of the best book I know of on responding to RFPs, and just an all around neat guy, posted yet another intriguing post at his website, Help Everybody Every Day. The post: Architects and Engineers Suffer From Mass Superiority Delusion.

Here’s the opener:

Architects, engineers, accountants, and attorneys suffer from mass superiority delusion. They believe that there is nobody better at what they do than themselves.

The truth is you can bet they’re not the best at what they do.The reality is there are tens, if not hundreds, of professionals just as good who have almost identical experience and expertise. And these hundreds of other individuals are convinced, beyond any doubt, that they are the best at what they do.

Yikes! You’ll have to read the rest of his article, but ultimately he makes a very important point: Nearly every A/E/C professional/team pursuing a given project will portray themselves as the leader of their industry or niche, so the only point of differentiation between various teams is likely going to be their price.

When price is the primary factor in deciding upon a purchase, it becomes simply a commodity.

I don’t see most of the professionals I work with typically as commodities, but I’m also not sitting on too many selection committees evaluating proposals and pitches.

Another Perspective…

Our team was recently invited to present to a selection committee on a major assignment representing years worth of work on behalf of a major institutional client. There were three candidates left at this point, and our team went last.

The previous team was seen leaving the presentation room dressed to the nines in high end dark suits, polished shoes and looking more like folks from Congress, rather than a team of seasoned construction professionals.

Our team did not look nearly as polished; in fact not a single jacket nor tie was to be found. Yet we won the assignment.


After a brief introduction, the selection committee later reported that they could instantly recognize that the people presenting from our team were the real deal. As in bona fide experts in their respective specialties, speaking from decades of experience about topics they live and breathe on a daily basis.

What’s the Point?

Winning a bid on a major project is awesome. Winning because your firm represents the only real option worth considering on a project is even better.

A lot of architects, engineers, contractors and consultants do have similar sets of experiences to other professionals in their field. But what I’ve found that separates the truly great ones from the status quo comes down instead to the unique set of experiences that a professional brings to the table.

If you try to compete on price — as a commodity — you’ll either win or lose based on that price.

Instead, I recommend pursuing your own exclusive niche, whether as a firm or as an individual professional. Or to paraphrase Bill Graham, instead of competing to “be the best,” try to be the only option that the buyer or selection committee evaluates.


Image courtesy JerryGarcia.com

Thank you, Jerry!