Presumptuous Callers

Jul 26, 1999

At 11:01 a.m. a few weeks back, I got an e-mail message from our switchboard operator that said Ms. So-and-so, “a principal with local architectural firm X” called. She did not want to speak to anyone other than me. She wanted to know if we had listings of all awards and seminars nationally for the A/E/P, environmental consulting, and construction industries. And if not, she said, we should think about doing it because another management newsletter used to do it. Having several things to do before I rushed out of the office at 11:35 a.m. to meet someone for lunch, I asked one of our folks to get back to her immediately to tell her that we didn’t publish such a list. When I returned to the office around 2 p.m., I had a nasty, emotional voice mail message from Ms. So-and-so awaiting me. She was very upset that I’d had someone else call her back with this information. She couldn’t believe it. The way she put it, this was some sort of test that I had failed because I didn’t call her back personally with the answer to her simple question. Look, I’m a decent guy. I return my calls as fast as I can. And if I can’t, I get someone else to do it, especially if I know why the caller is calling and someone else can help him as well or better than I can. Does that make me bad? I don’t think so. I was trying to do the right thing, to be as responsive as I could be. I’m not going to feel guilty about that. The bottom line is that Ms. So-and-so’s ego was bruised. Sorry! I get a lot of calls and a lot of e-mails, and I have a lot of jobs both inside and outside the company that I have to do. We are not a one-person firm— we have 50 employees in four offices. She is not the only client or potential client— we currently have more than 180 consulting jobs. She is not the only person to request information— there are dozens of inquiries daily. I think if someone gets a return phone call within 30 minutes and it answers the question he or she posed, then we’re doing better than 95% of the organizations I interface with on a daily basis! It’s just like the people who call here and leave messages such as, “Have Mark call me at 2 p.m. on Thursday.” Unless we have had a previous conversation and the possibility of a 2 p.m. Thursday meeting was discussed, I think it’s presumptuous to assume that I will be here at that time and be free to make the call. All that does is place the onus on me to either meet that expectation or feel guilty that I wasn’t responsive! Guess what— I don’t feel guilty! In fact, when I get these calls from people who are not clients of our firm I probably won’t comply just as a matter of principle. Another irksome situation is the potential client who thinks you can drop everything and go anywhere at your own expense for a business development trip. We won’t do that, either. Yet I have had people get really upset with me for not being willing to fly to their city for the day on our nickel for a chance to secure a $15,000 job. Think about how this would work in your own firm. A 15% profit on that job (a decent, sustainable, reasonable profit across all jobs) is $2,250. These days, it’s hard to buy a plane ticket for in-week travel anywhere that costs less than $600. Now you are down to $1,450. Subtract parking at the airport ($28), cabs to and from the client’s office ($80), tolls ($4), and a meal ($15), and you’re down to $1,323. Eat up 10 hours of time at the principal’s billing rate of $150 per hour and another two hours to write a standard proposal at the average principal-level billing rate of $100 per hour, and you’re down to minus $377! If this potential client tries to mess with your mind and make you feel guilty, don’t let him do it! The bottom line, as far as I am concerned, is that there’s no need to deal with people who don’t respect you, especially if they are just potential clients. Who’s got the time for that kind of aggravation? Originally published 7/26/1999

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.