Why clients really hire your firm

Oct 05, 2009

Everyone thinks they know why clients hire their A/E/P or environmental firm. Sometimes you DO know— but sometimes people make bad assumptions. Those bad assumptions will HURT your future selling efforts because you will be doing the wrong thing. And, these bad assumptions may hurt your client satisfaction and repeat business with the client— or simply be bad business for your firm. There are MANY different reasons a client could hire your firm. Here are some of them and the implications on your business strategies: They hire you because they like someone they worked with in your firm. Many clients hire design or environmental firms based on their experience with someone in that firm. Ask the client— do not assume! The lesson here is to be sure you assign this person to a leadership role on that client’s project, and don’t bait and switch and give them someone else. So many firms in our business screw up here! And, try to think about adding other members to the team who are similar personality-wise to the person you know they hired you for. They hire you because they are upset with their regular providers. The key here is for you to know why they are upset. They may have not been getting the responsiveness they wanted. Or, perhaps they felt like they were being taken advantage of on price. Or, maybe the client felt that the firm just wasn’t being sufficiently creative. Again, you must ask and find out why the client is hiring you. Rarely will the answer come from the same simple question asked over and over— you need to probe. You want to be sure to avoid the mistakes made by your predecessors or you will end up being cast off just as they were. They hire you because they want something different from what they normally get. Some clients want to hire a new firm because they feel the output of their regular provider is too predictable, too much of the same. This is particularly true with clients of design firms. The client may need a new look in their buildings or want to change their image. If this turns out to be why your firm was hired, be sure to give it to them! Don’t do the same thing as the firms that came before you. Give them something that is new and really fresh— at least new to them! They hire you because they worked with you before and you are the low-risk choice. Many firms in our business get hired for this reason, particularly from government clients or large corporate clients. The A/E/P or environmental firm may not be “the best” at anything, but is perceived as the lowest risk. The implications for you are to make sure you “wow” them with your services and reinforce the idea that you were in fact the best choice. They hire you because you are the politically acceptable choice. Politics certainly drives the selection of design and environmental firms more often than we may like to admit. Are you on “the list” (of contributors)? Are you local, and therefore the firm that the majority of the public would be happy to see hired? Make sure you don’t do anything unethical or that compromises the quality of your output in anyway to blow that, or make those who influenced the process look bad. They hire you because they want someone who works cheap. You may, in fact, be getting hired by a client who is fed up with what they perceive to be high fees. You need to find out what kind of fees they were paying and determine whether or not those fees were excessive. And, you should make darn sure that you keep selling throughout the project so the client understands exactly what they got from you that they wouldn’t get from the other guys, so they can feel good about more than just your price. Clients who hire based on price are not usually the best clients to have— proceed with caution! They hire you because they abused their last provider(s), who quit, and are being forced into hiring you. Their “old” design or environmental consulting providers could have given up on the client that now wants to hire your firm. You need to find out what happened. Do not dive in without first getting all the details. Are they a slow-pay client? Are they claims-happy? What is the problem? Look before you leap! You may not want to work for this client yourself! Originally published 10/5/2009

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.