How to Meet a Client-To-Be Who is “Unaware”
When a client is in the Unaware phase of procuring architectural services, there are two ways in which the CTB is unaware. First, they are unaware that they have a need for architectural services. This can occur when changes to regualations impact a specific type of facility and professionals in the building design and construction industry know about it, but it hasn’t yet come to the attention of owners. Second, they are unaware of your firm. It’s possible they’ve heard of your firm, but they don’t have a clear idea of your position: what you do, for whom and to what benefit.
Psychology of the Unaware
A CTB in the unaware stage of the selection process is neutral. They are neither for or against you. And because they don’t know that they have a need, it’s possible that your defining it for them will actually give you an opening to the organization. Typically a CTB in our industry is 18-24 months away from actually selecting an architect for a specific project.
How We Meet the Unaware Improperly
Based on years of cummulative experience, most architects believe that the approach to an unaware client is to “Tell and Sell.” They ask for a meeting, show up with a thick Statement of Qualifications, walk through the package talking about projects for other (yes, but they’re similar) clients. They ask very few questions and conclude the meeting by saying thanks for your time, then go back to the marketing department and list the client as “tracking.” A colleague of mine calls this approach “we we-ing all over the client-to-be.”
How We Should Meet the Unaware To Establish the Relationship
The best approach to an initial meeting with a CTB is to aim for an 80-20 conversation with you asking questions 20 % of the time and the CTB sharing information and giving you a chance to get to know the organization for 80% of the time. The right approach for an Unaware CTB is to be of help. It’s not a very good idea to take materials to the meeting because you really don’t know what needs or interests the CTB may express during the meeting. It’s much better to establish your expertise by asking really intelligent business or technical questions.
For example, a client of mine was on his way to a university that he really wanted to secure. The firm was interested in positioning for Greek housing. So while he looked up the person he was going to meet on Facebook and discovered her love of Rhododendrons , I suggested some questions. With the decline in high school graduate numbers, what types of facilities was the university investing in to remain competitive? What did the person think about the movement toward housing built by private developers? And so on. So my client opened the meeting with a comment about her passion for Rhododendrons , and then eased into establishing his expertise by asking some great, very pointed business questions. He left with an invitation to come back and present to the entire building department on design of Greek housing. Nice. And what’s more, he actually enjoyed it.
So in Phase 1, the right approach is to be of help, not tell-and-sell. Nurturing the relationship continues by sending pertinent information, perhaps articles about Greek housing, or sustainable design practices. Any follow-up actions should take the form of being of help.