When the Client Calls

Mar 24, 1997

You spend all kinds of money to get the phone to ring and to get on qualified bidders lists. Your best technical seller-doer-closers beat the bushes for new opportunities. Your glossy quarterly newsletters are mailed to 13,000 people. Your business development staff gets out to see 20 new clients a week. You submit 37 proposals every month. So what happens when the call comes in or the RFP arrives on your doorstep? It’s unusual for an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm to spend time answering this question. Here are some problems that occur and how we should handle them: The receptionist doesn’t know who to direct the caller to, nor tell the caller who they are going to be connected with. I see this all the time. A client calls with an interest in getting the firm’s help, and the gravel-voiced receptionist acts like it’s the first time it’s ever happened. Or worse, they dump the caller directly into some unknown person’s voice mail. This should never happen. The switchboard operator should tell the caller who they will be connected with and what that person’s function is. They should track down that person, and if they can’t, find another live person for the caller to talk with. The last thing that should happen is for the caller to be dumped into voice mail where they can leave a message. Nine times out of ten, they won’t (leave the message). The caller isn’t recognized. This is a big irritant. Have you ever called a firm that you do a lot of business with and gotten the third degree? “How do you spell your name? What company are you with? Why are you calling?” It’s irritating as hell, especially if you call the firm often. How do you know this isn’t happening to your clients in your firm? Have you ever done an experiment? Does the back-up receptionist who takes over at lunch have the same knowledge of your clients as the regular receptionist? Have you given these people a list of frequent callers and who they are with? Have you made the client database available to them at their desk so they can quickly look up any caller who is on your list? Do you ever quiz your staff to see how well they recognize names of people from client organizations? Whoever answers the phone should fall all over the clients who call in, if it’s at all possible. Of course, that may mean you have to pay a decent wage to get someone with a brain and a personality to handle this. RFPs are dropped in the in-box of whomever they are addressed to and no one else. This is a common problem. The person opening the mail should realize it is an RFP and not stick it in the in-box of someone who is going to be in Siberia for two weeks. It should also go to two or three other people in the firm. The last thing you want is to do what is required to have these opportunities and then blow it due to disorganization and lack of planning. The people in your firm who take calls immediately volunteer to send out information. On the surface, this may seem like the right thing to do. You want to be cooperative and service-oriented, right? But in practice, it’s the worst thing. I find that many times A/E marketers offer to send out a 12” thick GBC binder full of resumes and project descriptions before they know what the client is interested in and before the client has even asked for it. The person in your firm who is fielding phone inquiries should ask the client, “Would you like to come over here to see us or would you like us to come out to see you?” If the client then asks for information, the next response should be: “We have enough information here on our people and our experience to fill up two trailers full— but we want to give you what you really want. It won’t have to be a long meeting— would you like to come over here or would you like us to come over there?” If the client still wants information, ask what they want to see, and send it. But you should make at least two attempts to get together. The caller is never entered into the client database. These callers obviously saw your firm as a possible source of help. Why not put them in your database and continue to market to them? You probably won’t get the first job you have a crack at, but why give up? This seems obvious, yet most firms lose these callers as prospects because they put no emphasis on getting everyone they can into their database. None of this should be tough for a firm to do if they spend just a little time on it. Think about how callers are being treated and what happens when the RFPs come in, and get ready. You’ll be glad you did. originally published 3/24/1997

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