While clients want to be in the hands of an expert, they also want that expert to care deeply about the success of their project.
A best practice in business development/project initiation that you can adopt today is to always ask clients why they hired your team. Not just new clients – ask existing clients why they continue to trust you and your colleagues with valuable work. It’s important to know what we are doing that the market likes, and it’s a lot more fun to share this feedback than it is to share the “here’s what you’re doing wrong” feedback that we all have to endure sometimes.
My favorite reason to be hired for a job is a glowing recommendation from a client. Something that I very rarely hear is that our technical expertise or resume was the most impressive. While clients want to be in the hands of an expert, in my experience, what clients really want is to be in the hands of an expert who cares deeply about the success of the project. I believe that the way we treat people matters, and that energy and ambition are more important than credentials (but again, I am a University of Arkansas grad). While I’ve heard dozens of reasons why a client engaged us, sometimes I hear reasons that shock me. Some specific examples in the “shock” category are below:
- Competitors took a week to respond to an inquiry/RFP, or didn’t bother to respond at all. If there’s one thing I am, it’s alive and able to respond to an email or call. Responsiveness is quite literally the easiest differentiator – the “low hanging fruit” – and yet it is repeatedly, consistently cited as either an area of excellence or an area for improvement on client perception studies. Clients value responsiveness in a way that I can’t state more simply than this: They really, really care.
- We acted like we were part of the team from the introductory call on. I had a now-client tell me that they were immediately impressed that Zweig Group consultants referred to the firm on the other end of the phone as “we” and “us” instead of “you.” They said we made them feel that their concerns, questions, and values were shared, and they felt that we would take on their challenges as our own. This takes some reinforcement with your internal staff, but I visibly cringe when someone says “I” or “me” in a meeting when referring to a team.
- You heard us when we explained our specific needs and allowed us to deviate from your normal process. This is vital to consulting in the A/E and management worlds. If we don’t hear what our clients say (and what they don’t say), and we push “our” way onto them from the initial call on, we are telling the client that they don’t know what they need, and we know better than they do. Can you imagine retaining someone to help you who has already made it clear that they are always right?
- The project team we presented clearly likes working with each other. I am pleased to hear this. Building rapport and camaraderie on a project team is vital to presenting a unified front to clients and to co-workers. If you are ever concerned if your team is, in fact, a team, spend some time talking to them about their interactions with each other. Ask a team that’s constantly blamed for something internally to teach a lunch-and-learn and tell the rest of the group what they do and what they need in order to be successful, and how they like to interact internally and externally. Provide some visibility to the “whipping boy” areas in the firm and see how that changes the conversation. Throwing colleagues under the bus to clients (even tacitly) is immediately recognized. If we’re willing to blame our co-workers, we won’t be there for our clients when they need us.
Upon reflection, there’s really only one wrong answer to the question of why a client hired your firm: We proposed the lowest fee.
Jamie Claire Kiser is Zweig Group’s director of consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.