How to Handle a Client-To-Be Who Is “Intent”
Finally, we’re at the place in the selection process when we know a CTB is ready to take action. The project budget has been allocated. There has been discussion of when the RFP might be issued. Everything seems to be on the move. This is typically between 9-12 months before the project is due to begin.
Psychology of the Intent
This phase is one of the places that architects tend to make the biggest mistake in nurturing the relationship with a CTB. Think about this. What was the last major purchase you made? Something that you thought about for a long time before finally making the go decision? Now try to remember how you felt. Typically when an important, major decision is made, people feel an immediate sense of relief, but that is almost always followed by a sense of fear. This is where our industry tends to take the biggest sidestep in approach to clients. We mistake their position as excited, when they are actually steeped in fear.
Fear is a reasonable response when you consider that the people making the selection decision will have to live with that decision for a long time. They are going to spend a lot of money with people they hope they can trust, whom they hope will give them the project that’s in their heads without any major debacles. So there’s the initial fear of choosing a partner you actually want to spend your life energy with for the upcoming months, or even years. But the fear is deeper than that. What if the project goes awry? The architect leaves the scene, but the team that’s left behind has to live with the building, live with potentially critical peers. The problem might just linger on and on. That’s a lot to fear.
How We Miss Connecting with Selection Committees Intending To Act
I’ve worked with so many firms over the years on presentations. As with initial CTB meetings, the tendancy is to point to projects done for other clients and talk about how great they were. I once conducted a debrief with the president of a large community college. He complained that architects leave it up to the selection committee to figure out how the projects being presented relate to the project at hand. He really wanted the presenters to walk through what they’d learned that they could apply to his situation. If we’re too busy flashing big pretty pictures to inspire, we are on the wrong track.
How We Should Meet the Intent To Secure Work?
The best energy to meet fear with is assurance. That’s what the selection committee needs. Confidence that you’ll do the job well and won’t let them down. I’m not saying that the presentation needs to be subdued by any means. Energy and enthusiam are key components in conveying your sincere interest in working with the client. The focus needs to be on how you’ll manage the project, handle budget issues, address challenges that come up along the way. Talking about your project experience from these perspectives can help a client feel confident that you’ll be able to work things out no matter what.
Perhaps the most helpful way to assure a selection committee that you’re up to the job is being very clear about your process. They don’t want to hear you talk about SD, DD, CD and CA. They want to understand how you will guide them through design. I encourage firms I work with the take time to look at how they operate from the 20,000-foot viewpoint. What are the steps they take to move a client toward their goals? What techniques do they use? How do they communicate? What kinds of collaborative techniques have worked well in the past? If you can document your process, and even better, name it, this will go a long way in assuring your clients that you’ve done this before, but that each project and client is different. The outcome will be different, but the steps you take and they way you guide clients is consistent and has proven successful outcomes. That’s simply the best way to present to selection committees to assure them that you’re the right firm.