Want to build strong relationships with your clients from the beginning? One that ensures all their goals and issues are addressed effectively to set you both up for success? Then, client relationship management must be a top priority.
Of course, this is an obvious statement. What is not obvious are the answers you need from your client to know how to accomplish this. Obtaining accurate answers is part art and part science. You don’t want just to know their overt needs, you want the one’s burning in their gut. The real and covert needs.
I am going to share with you three critical questions that will lead to the answers you desire. These are not the only questions, but the most important. And, you likely are not always asking these. But first, allow me to share a related story.
We Shred Engineering Firms
Mid-engineering career I began working with a client known to be very difficult. I had worked with them while I was with a different firm. The Public Works Superintendent and I got along well and spoke often at professional association meetings.
I had developed a policy for pursuing business. When an RFP came out for a large project I made a No-Go decision if there was a history of conflict with consulting firms.
Due to this history, I contacted the former client and told him that we did not have time to prepare a good proposal, thus we would not be submitting. The next day, he called me back and said, “What if I get you more time?” What could I do? I submitted and we were selected.
At the kickoff meeting the town manager said, “Doug, we have shredded many engineering and architectural firms. What can you do to avoid the typical outcome?” I said, “I will work with your board and manage expectations.”
At the kick-off meeting one of the board members said, “This design and construction project must not have change orders.” I said, “Change orders will occur to deliver a good product since they’re part of the design and construction process. Some changes are improvements and some are to fix the designer’s mistakes.”
There, I put mistakes on the table. Earlier in my career I sat next to my Project Principal and listened to him agree to “no change orders” and to pay for design errors as if the firm was guilty of low quality. I vowed never to chicken out and to discuss the role of change orders and “standard duty of care” with each client as part of the Project Kick-off Meeting.
I learned that by doing this, change orders occurred for all possible reasons. With this board whom I knew from experience was difficult, I blamed their attitude on prior consultants who were also “chicken” and thus, were “shredded”.
After a tough discussion, the board, while still challenging, understood that errors and omissions were normal and not poor design. The firm did not “eat” a single change order. The project was completed reasonably within budget and the client continued to give us business.
The client really just wanted to feel they got a quality design for a reasonable cost. I knew that and spent the time helping them to accurately understand what that meant.
Its All About Knowing, Then Delivering To It
Even clients who are difficult will appreciate your resolve. They just want to know they are getting a fair deal. I had dozens of similar discussions with clients and twenty years later I am still professional friends with many.
To be profitable and have a good reputation does not mean “roll over.” Provide all of your project managers with these tools and they can repeat this kind of conversation. And, be wildly successful.
The Three Questions
Start with the following simple yet not always obvious questions.
1. What are the performance metrics upon which you will be judged?
2. What is the outcome you desire for yourself and what will that do for you?
3. What are your and your organization’s warts?
These questions set the tone for all of your future dealings. And, although bumps in the road are unavoidable, a strong start helps you deal with them with less stress.
I invite you to share your personal experiences with me as I use this information to help others to whom I am advising. As a former A/E/Env engineer, manager and principal, I now partner with professional services firms to ensure them success.
Doug Reed, P.E., Business Consultant at FosterGrowth. email@example.com