These five points will get you thinking differently about how you interact with potential clients in the future.
If you are like most principals or senior people in AEC firms, you are likely to be regularly talking with new potential clients. But have you ever really slowed down enough to think about whether you are doing that properly? Are you really getting all of the information you need to decide whether or not any specific potential client is one you should consider working for? And are you setting the stage to not only close the deal with those you do want to work with, but also to have a healthy working relationship with these people once they do become clients?
I think these are important questions, and these interactions need a lot more thought than they typically get. Here is some of my thinking on this subject:
- Not every client is one that you want. Some clients won’t appreciate you. They won’t understand why you are not giving your time away for free. Some have a bad reputation for a reason, such as they don’t pay their bills promptly. Some will mistreat your people. Some will refuse to deal with anyone else in your company but you. Some are just difficult to work with for other reasons. The point is this: You should not work with any client that you know has a high probability of being difficult to work with. They will make your life miserable. It’s not worth it.
- Do some research. Have you checked inside your firm to find out if you have ever worked for this client in the past – either where they are now or at a different client organization? If your company has worked with, or tried to work with this client before, how did it go? Did you talk with the specific individuals in your firm who dealt with the client? What did you learn? It’s amazing how rarely this step is taken when it is such valuable information to have! And how about the business’s D&B credit worthiness rating? If that’s bad, you may want to pass. Or their Better Business Bureau rating? Or a check to see if they are involved in any litigation and if so, what kind? How about doing a Google search? Have you looked up the people on LinkedIn? If not, why not? There is a lot of information out there – good and bad – that could be helpful to your decision on whether or not to work with a client.
- Ask lots of open-ended questions and then ask even more questions. When you talk with a new client, you need to really figure out what their needs are. That takes a lot of questions. It also takes you doing a lot of listening. You should be talking 20 percent of the time and listening the other 80 percent. The more you can learn about the clients and their specific needs, the better off you will be. You also need to understand how this particular problem or opportunity that made them inquire about your services is impacting their business and impacting them personally. Is there a specific dollar figure the issue is costing them or could cost them? Go through the math. Not only will you learn a lot, you will be more likely to gain the client’s trust and make them like you when you take this approach.
- Restate what the client is telling you to be sure you have a full understanding. Again, this is a technique all good consultants use. Show the potential client you are listening to them and give them proof of it by parroting back to them what they told you, asking them if you heard what they were saying correctly.
- Don’t hard sell. You always want to project the image of someone who doesn’t need the work, but who may choose to work with a client if you so wish. This again means less talking and more listening. And while I am on the subject, be careful about being TOO thankful for their time, or for them talking to you. YOUR time is valuable. YOUR services are in demand. You don’t NEED their work. Remember these things. Most design professionals I know (not all) are too subservient.
Hopefully, these five points above will get you thinking differently about how you interact with potential clients in the future!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.