The Worst Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) Ever

Written for ABC’s Construction Executive – Managing Your Business newsletter – February 12, 2015

When a large construction company is planning the design and content for a statement of qualifications (SOQ), it wants the marketing material to stand out—but not because it’s the worst.
In many doomed SOQs, it is difficult to determine a company’s underlying goals and objectives, the actual qualifications of those who put the materials together and the extent of the project budget.Looking at one horrible SOQ as a case-in-point, it was obvious that the person or team who created this atrocity lacked marketing savvy and creativity. The SOQ was imposingly thick and had multiple sections covering the company’s different divisions and subsidiaries that succeeded in generating much confusion. While perhaps an attempt to demonstrate the massive size and complexity of the company, it was clear that an underqualified staffer was put in charge of the project and that the company considered it to be “busy work” of little value. Or, a committee had watered down the content and inflated the size of the document.

Here is what made this particular SOQ so bad.

It lacked a powerful, dynamic first impression. First impressions are vitally important when differentiating one company from its competitors. This SOQ was drably professional looking and orderly; it made the company look competent, but it did not stand out. One could switch the company’s logo with the logo of another company, and most people would not have noticed a difference. The lackluster, outdated look—tabs, spiral coil and see-through plastic cover—made it appear small-minded and lacking the money and capabilities of a top-tier construction company worth hiring for $100 million projects.

It had the nuts and bolts, but no soul. The SOQ had all the contents of a good SOQ (company info, projects, equipment, awards, etc.). However, it lacked culture, personality and anything that could connect a prospective customer to the company emotionally. Even the toughest, most conservative construction industry buyers benefit from a human, personal connection. For example, the SOQ gave more coverage and emphasis to the company’s organizational chart than to its company history that spanned nearly 100 years.

It was all about “me, myself and I.” The days of touting one’s greatness are long over. It is now more important to explain why the company’s greatness benefits the prospective buyer: What is in it for them? Clients want to imagine themselves when reading a company’s marketing materials. The contractors must position itself as their go-to resource, not just “me, us, we, our, etc.”

It had clunky organization. The company structured its SOQ around its subsidiaries. The problem was its subsidiaries had overlapping services, geographies and capabilities, which confused the reader. Also, because it was subsidiary-focused and not consumer-focused, it made it difficult for the customer to know whom to call. Oddly, the SOQ did have a page that described how to request a quote, but it listed four business developers without describing whom to contact for certain capabilities, market sectors or geographic markets.

It missed an opportunity to showcase expertise. The project section is the meat of any proposal and SOQ. This company included a vast project section and an overview of the project with a brief scope, materials used and the value of the project. What it missed was what made the project special, how it made the project happen, how the company overcame particular challenges and how it made a difference. Construction companies often make the mistake of not explaining their mastery, only their competency—resulting in their talents looking like a commodity. A contractor must strike the delicate balance of being client focused, while clearly demonstrating how the company can make the difference for a client.

It had no differentiation. An SOQ must point out what makes the company different from its competition. To edge out another contractor, a company needs to educate and “arm” clients with its own differentiating characteristics and assets. Differentiators include equipment, process, attitude/culture, geography, market sector expertise and skill expertise. The key is not to look and sound like every other construction company.

It had boring layouts with small pictures. Throughout the SOQ, the company used good pictures to illustrate its work and the vastness of many projects while showcasing its wide array of services. Unfortunately, these great pictures were small and lackluster, and they were applied to a thoughtless and unremarkable layout. Using a dull, boring layout does not excite people or help them remember the company when it comes time to make a choice about whom to hire.

Unfortunately, this type of lackluster SOQ is a typical marketing piece for the construction industry. Furthermore, because it is a time-consuming task that does not directly bring in new clients, it is seen by company executives as a big waste of time and money. Worse still, it is often assigned to an executive assistant or a project manager to throw together at the last minute so the company can meet a deadline for an request for qualifications.

However, with some thought and creativity, a strong design and layout, and content that is customer-benefits focused, an SOQ can be a powerfully differentiating brand marketing tool. When done well, it can sway prospective buyers to hire your company.