Relationships - with existing strategic and quality clients – are the key to an architecture or engineering firm’s success. Sometimes it’s worth pondering how client relationships evolve over time and how their various stages can contribute to the sustainability of a long-term bond.
Keep these stages in mind when creating and fostering your own client relationships.
Initial acquaintance. This stage of a relationship is the “awareness stage.” It’s the introductory phase, similar to a blind date, meeting someone for the first time and sharing critical facts and information.
Establishment of credibility. This is the “quals” stage, where you establish qualifications and boundaries and get the client to know your staff. Similar to a personal relationship, this is when you take the date home to meet the family.
Testing the relationship. You typically test the strength of a professional relationship when you are awarded a project. The client watches carefully from the sidelines as your firm executes the project, analyzing your strengths and weaknesses. You know that you’re under the magnifying glass, and work extra hard to deliver a quality product, on time, and within budget.
Trusted advisor. After several (small) projects have been awarded and you have performed admirably, you become a part of the client’s “inner circle,” understanding the pulse of his thinking. You are now at the “sweet spot” in client relationships… you are the “fairhaired boy” who can do no wrong. Enjoy this stage, because it can be fruitful… but it seldom lasts!
Strain and strengthening. This is a key stage in a professional relationship. You are a trusted advisor, but that can lead to problems. When a client knows you well, he will often mention items that need addressing that aren’t part of your scope, and you don’t think to document the request as a change order. Soon the project is 20 percent over budget and you have no formal documentation of any changes.
This is the “strain and strengthening” stage because the savvy A/E firm knows to sit down with the client early on, identify all of the items in which you and he have differing views, and resolve them one by one. Not an easy task, but once done with rationality, both you and your client realize that expectations were not calibrated correctly. Use this opportunity to show the client that you will always be there to resolve differences in a rational manner and to support the overall client needs. The metaphor of ‘metal tempered in the heat being stronger’ is pertinent here.
May you never get to Stage 5, the strain phase (though most do!)… but know that relationships run our business from start to finish. Make sure your entire staff knows the importance of relationships and are not averse to moving through the stages to end up with a strong, unbreakable client relationship.
You know your firm, but do your clients really understand what makes your firm the low-risk choice? You know who your prospects are, but do they know who you are? You know who your competitors are, but is the only way to compete based on undercutting their fees? This is exactly what was at the front of our minds when we created The Ultimate A/E/C Business Development Manual. Here, you get must-use strategies that get results in virtually every facet of business development.
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