Deep client engagement

Jul 20, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 2.05.30 PMFriendships are not only good for the soul, their good for business, so make as many of them as you can if you want your firm to prosper. Personal engagement with clients determines so much of a firm’s success. A client’s satisfaction with the personal relationship with you and your team affects the recommendation they will give to other clients or prospects. It affects whether or not they turn to you for additional work. It affects what they’ll say to their friends about the experience they had, and it even affects the degree to which they pay your bills on time or argue about changes to your scope of services that require additional fees. Here are some recommended rules of engagement:
  1. Mirror your client. Learn how they learn. Be a student of their personality traits, values and attitudes. You don’t need to be a chameleon, adopting their mannerisms, but you do need to understand who they are and where they come from to avoid offending them or getting into unnecessary arguments about things that have nothing to do with what you’re working on. Learn how they absorb information. Are they visual or verbal people? Would they rather see or be told? Do they rely heavily on the opinion or advice of others because, secretly, they have difficulty translating something they see pictorially into how they are going to experience it in real life? Field trips to, or photos of, solutions similar to what you’re presenting can help a great deal. Do they struggle with technical information? Can you find a peer of your client, whom they trust, to endorse what you’re recommending?
  1. Innovate. Think beyond the scope of the work you’ve been engaged to do. Start by learning what’s important to your client. Determine what will make their business perform at a higher level. Are there aspects of what you’re going to do with them that you never talked about in the interview, or wrote about in the contract, that can change their organization’s life?
  1. Become friends. Learn about your client’s family, likes and dislikes, fears and hobbies. Share your own. In my career, I became very close to almost every client, remaining friends long after our business had been concluded.
I’m reminded of Stephen Ambrose’s book, Undaunted Courage, which follows Lewis and Clark’s journals of their expedition to America’s West. Ambrose wrote extensively about the nature of friendship, which was so evident in the relationship between Lewis and Clark. It was the element which gave them the strength to endure the hardships they faced as they crossed the continent as the first explorers ever to do so. Working for a client can often seem as daunting. The description made me appreciate the deep and lasting friendships which have been so much a part of my life, and to realize how important friendship has been in achieving the things we were able to accomplish together. I hope you find this passage from the book worthwhile and wish for you true friendships with the people with whom you share your work. “Friendship is different from all other human relationships. Unlike acquaintanceship, friendship is based on love. Unlike lovers and married couples, friendship is free of jealousy. Unlike children and parents, friendship knows neither criticism nor resentment nor rebellion. Friendship has no status in law. Business partnerships are based on a contract, as is marriage. Parents are bound by the law as are children. “But friendship is freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised. Friends never cheat on one another, or take advantage, or lie. Friends do not spy on one another, yet they have no secrets. Friends glory in each other’s successes and are downcast by their failures. Friends minister to each other. Friends give to each other, worry about each other, stand always ready to help. At its height, friendship is an ecstasy. For Lewis and Clark, it was an ecstasy and the critical factor in their success.” Follow these “Rules of Engagement” and you’ll be richly rewarded. You’ll enjoy your work more, you’ll take greater pride in what you’ve accomplished with your clients, you’ll receive more repeat and referral business with people you’ve genuinely come to like, and your brand will be richly embellished. Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with Zweig Group and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1154 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.