If you can learn to actively listen to and understand your clients, you and your firm will reap the benefits.
In the engineering consulting industry, the basics of what we do are quite simple. We find the work, close on the work, do the work on-time and on-budget, invoice for the work, and collect on the work.
All too often engineering consultants will find themselves dwelling on too many fine points of a proposal or work product without asking: What are our clients saying? What are their needs? Do we really listen to clients and take the time and effort to think about what they want?
There are a few things we need to understand about listening:
- The clients know what they want. We need to engage our clients (or potential clients) in active conversation. With active conversation comes active listening, so we can define their problem and offer solutions using products they may not have thought about – or have thought about but not employed in the way those products would be engineered for them.
- Active conversation means differentiating what we can do to perform for them. Performance is a measure not just in time and money, but engagement with the client, whether it be video conferencing, phone calls, or good old fashioned face-to-face visits with them in the comfort of their surroundings.
- Knowing the clients can be right. The key is to not deliver on a service that is offered but giving them the confidence and assurance that they are in control since they are paying for the services. Again, active listening is crucial in understanding where they are going in conversation – and keeping on-task.
- It is not about me, it’s about you. Don’t get into a conversation about your company (me!), but focus on conversation with your client (you!). Providing valuable insights on past problems solved will engage a client to do more business with you in the future.
- Strengthen repeat work with your clients. If you keep listening to what their needs are and solve their problems, you will see a steady stream of work. Successful firms see 85 percent of their work with existing repeat clients.
- Have clients who will find other problems that you can solve. If you can offer a repeat service or product to your clients, they may want to use you for other service or product lines that you may not have even tried to sell. Successful multi-disciplined firms with strong listeners find this to be the case with repeat clients.
- Create brand ambassadors. Your clients will take your services to competitors, colleagues, even family and friends. All for your benefit since you took the time to listen to their needs.
Keep in mind that it starts with honesty, integrity, service, and value if you are a representative of your consulting firm. In the long run the trust you establish with your clients will make your business flourish!
Todd Hay, PE, is Pennoni’s regional vice president for the Northern New Jersey, New York, and New England region and office director for the firm’s New York City and Boston Offices. Connect with him on LinkedIn.