Losers can still win

Jun 26, 2017

When a client selects another firm, learn why and stay in touch. Who knows, you just might win the next round.

Think back to your childhood. Did you play on a sports team that had a tough year? For me it was the 1985 Iowa Electric baseball team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We were a rag-tag team of 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old boys whose passion for baseball did not quite match our developing skill level; we lost 15 straight games that year.

Our baseball skills did improve and we eventually won games as the years progressed with different teams. The summer we lost every game, however, taught us all humility, determination, and that your true character shows in defeat.

As in baseball, there are wins and losses in the competitive AEC market. It’s important to celebrate victories and learn from defeats.

Architect Steve Davis recently shared a story that inspired this article. A client went through the request for proposal and interview process, and selected another design team that included a resident of the community. Steve got a debriefing and sent a thank you for the opportunity and feedback, and wished them the best going forward.

Steve kept tabs on the project as it progressed and made quarterly calls to the client. One day Steve received a meeting request to talk about taking over the project, which had stalled. The client hired Steve’s team and they are the trusted partner to this day.

When you lose, be gracious and consider these activities:

  • Learn more about the client’s decision. Respectfully debrief your client to understand the “why” behind the decision. You were most likely a “close second” to the winning firm. Find out what drove the client’s selection.
  • Thank them for the debriefing. Send a handwritten note or letter. Personal communications like these are rare and they will stand out. Include appreciation for what you learned from the debriefing and wish them the best.
  • Remain curious and stay in the game. Set up a Google alert to monitor news coverage of the client and project. Is the other design firm doing a study? Will you have an opportunity to pursue subsequent projects? How did the bond referendum vote turn out? Situations can change quickly. Stay connected.
  • Keep in touch. Face-to-face is best on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. After all, hopefully you’ve developed a relationship with the client that goes beyond a single opportunity. Be creative about opportunities to meet and always offer value when you can (e.g. funding ideas, bond referendum strategies, etc.).

Steve could have written off the client that selected the team with the hometown talent. Instead he listened to feedback, thanked them, monitored progress, and kept in touch. Even though he was six hours away, Steve built a relationship and eventually became their trusted advisor who helped move the project forward.

Even in defeat you can build relationships that lead to new business. Your true self shows after you lose an interview or proposal. Show the client what you’re made of and stay on the field to win the next one.

Greg Kanz is marketing director for Shive-Hattery Architecture-Engineering. He can be reached at gregkanz@shive-hattery.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.