Editorial: Really know your clients

Mar 13, 2015

Hot buttons, communication preferences, politics are just a few elements to know how – or how not – to address.

It occurred to me the other day how crucial it is to really know your clients. It is absolutely one of the single most important keys to your success as an architect, engineer, or environmental consultant. Here are some examples of what I mean:
  1. Know their hot buttons. If they get excited about the use – or lack of use – of a particular design software, you need to know that. If they are all about money and cost savings, everything you do has to address that. If they are all about sustainability and being green, you better be conscious of that. Everyone on your team who interacts with this particular client needs to know what is important to them and what isn’t.
  2. Know their communication preferences. If you like to call, but the client always returns with a text, get tuned into that and start texting instead of calling. If the client rapid-fire responds to every single email you send, you better do that, too. If the client wants to have lunch with you once a month, set that up. If the client expects to see you in their Chicago office twice a year, set that up and follow through with it. You cannot force people to communicate with you when and how you want them to, especially when they are the ones paying the bill.
  3. Know their politics. You have to be really careful here. I had an architect working for my development company on a commercial project really blow this one. He and I were on a call one day, talking about the project, and he told me about a new client he had just started working with, who had a particularly radical political orientation that he wanted me to meet, because he thought “we’d have a lot in common.” Problem was, his politics were the exact opposite of mine, and I took offense to his thinking that’s what I was into. I’m sorry – I think politics is something that you have to be EXTREMELY careful with. I would not share mine with anyone unless I was 100 percent certain I knew theirs and we were compatible. It’s just too risky…
  4. Know their interests. Everyone appreciates it if their friends and business associates know what their hobbies are and what they are interested in. It gives you something good to talk about. Of course, most of the highly successful people we deal with tend to be most interested in and want to talk about their own businesses or organizations. Let them do that. Encourage them to do so. Ask some questions. This will all be helpful to your ability to serve them well.
  5. Know their pet peeves. And then be sure not to ignore them! If you knew 25 years ago, for example, that Ross Perot’s development company was not fond of people with beards, you wouldn’t have assigned someone to work on their job who was bearded. Now you may say to yourself, “that’s ridiculous” or “they shouldn’t care about that,” but really, your opinion doesn’t matter. Only theirs does. They are the client. You probably won’t change them, but you can lose a client if you don’t know their pet peeves!
Last but not least, don’t hesitate to share what you have learned about your clients with everyone in your firm. The more people who really “get it,” the better off you will be and the happier your clients will be with what you are doing for them. Talk to your people about this! See what they have learned, too, and share it. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

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.