Editorial: Relationships key to success

Oct 30, 2014

Six suggestions from Mark Zweig on how to form and keep relationships alive.

I never liked the idea that a consulting business should have its marketing based on personal relationships. I just don’t like being too dependent on people. Doing what it takes to have a brand – where clients come to you because of your company name, not because of specific individuals who happen to be employed there – is much better. While I realize few firms ever get to this “nirvana” state marketing-wise, I still feel the same way. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want your people to have good relationships with their counterparts in your client organization, as well as with regulators and those in a review and approval capacity, and those in other firms you work with as subconsultants or teammmates. Relationships are critical if you are going to be able to overcome pricing issues or service/quality problems. You want people to like and trust you and understand that you are a good person who is serious about your work and cares deeply about them as an organization and as individuals. This won’t happen if you don’t have a relationship with them. If all you are is a name and they know nothing about you the slightest problem could become a good reason to dump you. So how do you form these relationships? Here are my thoughts:
  1. It takes time. There’s something to be said for working with someone over an extended period of time. You really get to know and trust each other. This is more easily done with subconsultants and suppliers than with clients, obviously, as you aren’t in control of the latter. But one thing is for sure: Don’t be one of those people who always lets the new client seduce you away from the old. It’s critical to take good care of your current clients if you are going to have long-term ones.
  2. Show some loyalty. Show some loyalty to the people you work with and who work for you. Don’t always make them compete on price. Have some trust to let them go ahead and work and then send you a bill. And have some loyalty to your clients, too. See point #1 above.
  3. Don’t let the nickel get so big that it hides the dime sitting behind it. What I am talking about here is just getting so cheap that any out of scope request from the client is met with your corresponding extra services agreement to be signed by them. Some people just don’t get this idea. And I’m not suggesting that you let your clients walk all over you, either. That’s another problem some folks in this business often have.
  4. Don’t over-rely on email. One problem with the “e-generation” (those weaned on cellphones and computer screens) is that many of them seem to lack face-to-face social skills. People have to pick up their phones and CALL other people. And better yet: Get in the car or on a plane and go SEE them sometimes. Then maybe they will connect your name with a face and a real person.
  5. Get the other guy talking about themselves. Ask lots of questions. There’s one thing everyone likes to talk about – themselves. Use this to your advantage. People will like you if you get them talking about themselves. They’ll never trust you if they don’t like you. And you won’t have a good relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you.
  6. Don’t speak ill of the other guy or complain about them. You really have to be careful about this. It could get back to them. Even if it doesn’t, your complaints or negative talking could affect the attitude of other project team members and how they will interact with the client. And that, in turn, could affect your relationship with them.
Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments atmzweig@zweiggroup.com.
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1078, originally published 11/3/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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.