Where’s your plus-one?

Dec 18, 2017

There’s plenty of excuses as to why you won’t bring one of your rising stars to meetings with clients, and none of them are good.

The best training is experiential. Take your rising stars to client meetings so they learn by osmosis. Your next generation of talent will appreciate the opportunity to interact with clients and have real practice with the soft skills needed to build long-term relationships.

You agree with this idea, but why doesn’t it happen more at your firm? I sometimes see the passenger seat of company cars empty as our senior staff leave for client appointments. Our recent internal campaign slogan “Where’s Your plus-one?” is on keychains and posters near doors and elevators. It helps increase awareness and make sure there is someone riding shotgun.

Why they go alone. There are several situations why your senior staff go to client meetings alone. See if you’ve heard these responses:

  • Carpe diem excuse: “The client called and I responded right away.”
  • Copernicus excuse: “I am the only one who can help the client right now.”
  • NASCAR excuse: “I didn’t have time to bring someone up to speed for the meeting.”
  • Lone wolf excuse: “I need to establish trust before introducing too many people.”
  • Bean counter excuse: “The client is an hour away, and the fees won’t allow extra overhead.”

Address these excuses quickly. Make tag-alongs top-of-mind. Your subject matter experts need to make time and space for others to learn. Most clients will appreciate the teaching and learning culture of your firm. The resiliency of your firm depends on a deep bench of talent, especially those with business and client development potential. Invest the time and money even if the fees are tight.

Benefits of going together. In addition to nurturing the next generation, there are other business benefits of two-person client visits. Brian Crowe, director of business attraction for Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Development Corporation, and I recently made visits to corporate headquarters in Chicago to pitch investment in Eastern Iowa.

“I have done hundreds of these pitch meetings,” Crowe says. “Having another set of eyes helps process feedback and strategize next steps.” With idle time in Chicago traffic jams, Crowe and I talked about the benefits of the team approach:

  • Better notes. While Crowe presented the case for investing in Iowa, I was able to take notes and help read the room. Our collective memory was documented the same day of the meeting.
  • Thorough debrief. Conversation in the car after the meeting is extremely helpful to processing the meeting. In some cases, you’ll come up with a thought that neither of you would have considered on your own.
  • Different perspectives. After the meeting, we each shared our perspectives about the meeting which were often unique impressions. This helps connect the dots and discover new ideas.
  • More client connections. Introducing another team member to a client deepens the pool of relationships and creates opportunity to add more value and cross-sell other services.
  • Experiential learning. This was my first economic development trip, and I learned a lot through observation and experience (thank you, Brian!).
  • More fun. As the Blues Brothers proved, it’s just more fun to travel in pairs.

What’s the culture in your firm? Think about how you can accelerate the career path of your rising stars. Shed the conservative, measured approach prevalent in the A/E industry. Rather than concentrating client contact with principals of the firm, get younger staff in front of clients. They are fast learners; they are the future of your organization.

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

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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.