The power of the relationship

Apr 14, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.04.54 AMPeople want to do business with people they like, so make as many meaningful connections as possible if you want to grow your business. There are two instances where a powerful relationship with a client can lead to marketing success with little or no cost – Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contracts and discretionary assignments. ID/IQs allow you to visit a client and convince them to assign their current need to your contract rather than going through the effort of a full-blown solicitation process. The agency doesn’t add to staff workloads with selection committee assignments, and you don’t have the expense of proposing and presenting before adding the assignment to your firm’s backlog. It’s a win-win situation for both the agency and your firm. In 1996, while working on my first proposal for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) ID/IQ contract vehicle, I learned what I believe is the most important thing about ID/IQ contracts: An ID/IQ contract is not work; it is not a project. It is more like a license to hunt. There is a guaranteed minimum fee if there are no assignments, but that fee is a tiny portion of the contract’s potential value. If you wait for the contracting officer to assign a project, you won’t realize more than a small fraction of the contract’s potential revenues. If you’re not marketing the ID/IQ contract, agency staff with projects and funding won’t know you are there, capable, and ready to work. When an agency’s project manager or contracting officer mentions a possible project, you can tell them the work can be done under your ID/IQ contract. In most cases, they will be happy to give you the work and avoid the time and extra work of a full-blown solicitation process. So the best way I know to get new tasks under an ID/IQ vehicle is to visit the client’s office, and talk with end users and/or project managers. Once you are in the agency’s or end user’s office, make the most of your time. Meet as many of their project managers and contracting officers as possible, and make sure they all get information on your contract. If you can, get everyone you already know to introduce you to someone else they think you should know. In a previous employment, one of our environmental leaders wanted to increase the revenues from a USACE environmental ID/IQ. He visited a local Air Force Base every week, and always came away with a new contract. His complaint was that every new assignment was $25,000 or less, and he wanted to increase the "burn" on the contract. I suggested that, until a larger assignment came along, he should visit the base three times a week and have every agency project manager with whom he worked introduce him to another project manager or contracting officer. More visits with more project managers creates more relationships, and that equates to more business. The second instance has to do with a client being able to give out work on a discretionary basis, with no formal selection process. Generally, these contracts must be for less than a specific dollar amount. If you have a strong enough relationship with the person who gives out those assignments, many of those discretionary projects can come your way. It’s all about the value you bring to the person who makes that decision – whether the value is professional or personal – especially if it’s a value he or she can’t get elsewhere. Here is a great example. A previous employer of mine did a lot of work for a major airport located near one of our offices. On one regular visit, our project manager commented on a picture on the client’s wall, showing a teen-ager with a tennis racquet and a trophy. The client explained that his 16-year-old son was a nationally-ranked player who had difficulty finding a local opponent good enough to give him a good challenge. Our project manager, a strong player, offered himself as a partner, and the client accepted. The first game between teen-aged son and project manager turned into a once-a-month meeting. The son was happy. So the dad was happy. So we wound up on the receiving end of a lot of smaller projects for the airport without competing. So our project manager was happy, as were his division and office managers. We know that, all other things being equal, people like to give work to people they like. So you have to develop relationships with multiple agency/client staff, and make them real friendships, not just people you greet when you pass them in the hall. Personally, I subscribe to what a friend called the “Velcro theory of relationships,” where many people in your organization have relationships with many people at the client/agency. I think this approach helps people make relationships that are real, strong, stand the test of time, and bring value to all the people on both sides of the equation. Bernie Siben, CPSM, is owner and principal consultant with the Siben Consult, LLC, an independent A/E marketing and strategic consultant located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached 559-901-9596 or at

This article is from issue 1143 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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.