Trust Is The Key Factor In Selecting Architectural Services
Relationship Hierarchy for Architects
The business transaction that occurs between an architect and a client is the most sophisticated buyer-seller engagement in the spectrum of transferring goods and services. Let’s look for a moment at our playing field to put things in the proper perspective.
On the relationship hierarchy pyramid, the highest degree of trust is required for the selection of professional services. At the foundation, we find the highest number of transactions, which are perfunctory and not based on the relationship between the buyer and seller. Think about buying aspirins or notebooks. Does it matter who rings you out at the counter? In the old days, we had relationships with small independent businesses, so we might have chosen the local pharmacy or office supply store. But with today’s mass retail landscape, the retail professionals, as they are now called, change so often that having the same person ring you up is very hit or miss.
When you’re buying in volume, and you’re buying items that aren’t particularly difficult to understand or choose, relationship and trust aren’t important in making the purchasing decision.
As we move up the pyramid the number of transactions drops, the complexity of the transaction increases, the good or service is more sophisticated and consequently, whom you are dealing with becomes an increasingly important factor. The more money you spend, the more thorough you’ll be in assessing the buyer-seller relationship. Can I trust this person? Will I really get what I’m looking for? Am I going to get a good deal or am I going to get taken?
This is most extreme at the top of the pyramid—right in the architect’s wheelhouse. Professional services are bought on a certain amount of faith that the provider will be able to deliver what is promised without being able to demonstrate this in advance except for pointing to past experience, and past experience only goes so far in building confidence in the purchaser. “Yes, you’ve done this for others, but I’m different, what about me?”
Think about the last major professional services engagement you agreed to. Perhaps you hired an attorney, CPA, or consultant. The higher the dollar volume, the more soft skills played a part in choosing your partner. By soft skills I mean things other than the professional services provided, such as estate planning. Things like communications clarity and style, or understanding your needs and helping you to frame them based on asking the right questions. These soft skills demonstrate a mastery of the service and help to assure purchasers of the provider’s expertise.
So the higher the dollar volume, this higher the necessary mastery, the more sophisticated the needed soft skills—the more critical it is to have trust.
A word about fees
Architects have been pushed into price wars in certain market sectors. Developers particularly are price and pace driven. So in some cases, trust isn’t the deciding factor. Money is. In cases such as this, no amount of pre-positioning can ensure your winning the work. But what pre-positioning can do is give you the inside track on what fee level will allow you to secure the work. And of course, this is all predicated upon the idea that you’ve decided you want the work. If you are consistently being battered on fees, perhaps it’s time to look at your client base and see if you can begin cultivating relationships with clients who understand value as it relates to the bottom line.