Spotlight on Strategy - Brand Building: 'It's ours to lose'

Apr 30, 2015

OpenResponseSuccessOver-confidence going into a proposal or interview can create a self-fulfilling prophecy; front-runners must be sure to wow clients. We have all been there. We find out we are short-listed for that project that we feel really good about winning. We did our homework, met with the client before the RFQ was released, and have relationships at the levels of the client organization that we believe we should have. We start discussing the interview presentation and someone says: “It’s ours to lose.” I wonder if there is a mental effect of saying that out loud that causes a subconscious adjustment of strategy or level of effort toward the presentation. Whether officially notified that you are the front-runner or you found out otherwise, take note of what your reaction should be. It should be that now you must try harder and invest even more into the last phase of the selection process. Do not allow that sense of accomplishment to distract you into fantasies of receiving that congrats letter and running down the hall and high-fiving your colleagues. Being the front-runner means one thing: The client will expect more from your team. I recently saw the results of a survey that ranked influencers on decisions-makers when selecting professional services firms. The respondents ranked personality and attitude as the top influencer, then team culture, then project approach, and lastly related experience. These same respondents stated that they find it easy to differentiate firms. I think that statement might surprise many of you who work on the consultant side of the equation. We constantly obsess over becoming a commodity, as, from our vantage point, firms look very much alike. But when you sit on the client’s side of the table, and personality, attitude, and team culture are your top concerns, then firms really do look quite different. This presents a real paradox for firm leaders. The things we focus on in the interview development are project approach and experience, because we think that distinguishes us from the firm down the street. That focus influences a number of decisions that ultimately lead to an interview that looks just like everyone else’s. Front runner or not, everyone needs to start looking at project selection processes as more than just a data dump of your qualifications but rather the opportunity to create an experience for your clients. Here are some pointers that everyone can use to close the sale:
  • Choose your team carefully. From the first client contact, match your people with your clients in a way that considers how likely it is they can work together. Don’t look at just the most qualified in the firm; you will always choose the most senior person, and that could really be a bad idea. When putting this in the context of an interview presentation, choose those who attend the interview just as carefully. When personality, attitude, and team culture are being judged, you must make sure the team has chemistry. This is a rare opportunity to show a client who the team really is and how they get along and communicate with each other. A team that is assembled with only the technical merits considered could be an awkward pairing of individuals, and a client is sure to sense that.
  • Take risks. The conservative wiring of technical professionals often keeps them from being bold when it comes to marketing and business-development. Whether you are in first or last place, taking risks and being bold is critical to standing out. Do something memorable and impactful in your proposals and interviews. If you shy away from this, you will only be able to provide cost-effective, innovative solutions to your clients -- the same things your competitors are offering. Don’t be afraid to show your clients who you really are.
  • Never assume anything. Assuming that being in first place is an opportunity to relax and even save some money on the interview because the odds are for you, is the quickest way to go to second place. In the famous words of Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” There is only one spot where being in first place matters, and that is at the finish line. Nothing that happens in the race before that matters. Other assumptions that matter include assuming your client does not care how you or your team is dressed, assuming that your team cannot outnumber the people on the selection committee, assuming that the client is not keenly aware of the chemistry of your team, and assuming that the client will strictly follow the scoring sheet that you so cleverly got a copy of.
All of these things are important for firms to be mindful of as they market themselves and attempt to close sales. It is also important to view business-development holistically. It is a courtship that starts with an introduction and may result in a winning interview. It is about project experience and expertise, but it’s also about team culture and your unique personality. Whether you are in first or last place at any point in the race, never take your eye off the finish line, and run as hard as you can. Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at © Copyright 2015. 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.