Step 6 | Learn the Architectural Selection Process
There’s a technical aspect to getting in front of the RFP process that is necessary to understand, and that’s thoroughly learning the selection process. A project does not need to be on the table to learn about how a client selects architects. In fact, it’s better if there isn’t a project.
There’s a deep seated fear in many an architect’s psyche that we aren’t allowed to ask certain questions to a potential client. It stems, in my opinion, from the fact that most firms don’t go out and proactively build relationships, but reactively respond to RFPs. Therefore, the only time they try to ask questions of a client to be is during the time that speaking to the client is off limits. In addition, the kinds of questions that need to be asked such as budget, schedule, and special issues, clearly can’t be asked once the RFP is on the street.
But that’s where proactive marketing is most beneficial. Believe it or not, when you take the time and the initiative to meet with a target client when no work is on the table, asking questions about the selection process is all fair game.
So what do you need to know?
You want to find out what the process is from start to finish. Where do they announce work? Do they maintain a list of pre-approved architects? Is there a financial threshold beneath which they can hire architects without going to an RFP?
Who makes the decision? What is the typical composition of a selection committee (not the people, because that often differs)? How many firms do they typically interview? What have they seen in interviews that they felt was particularly effective. Does the person you’re with have a vote? Is there influence from a Board of Trustees or outside advisors? Is there a score sheet you can see?
What architectural firms have worked for them? What did they like about the relationship? What could have been better in the experience?
Questions about finance, planning, timelines are all perfectly acceptable to ask–as long as they aren’t about a specific project. The minute you start asking what the budget is for the library renovation that’s coming up, and oh by the way, when will we get the RFP, you’ve crossed the line. The meeting is for basic understanding of how architects are hired, not about specific projects.
Step 7 | Make the RFP the Next Step in the Ongoing Client Conversation
If you carry out proactive strategic business development initiatives
as outlined above, you’ll now be in front of the RFP process. As your
relationships deepen, you’ll be able to ask more specific questions
about upcoming opportunities that you hadn’t earned the right to ask at
your first or second encounter. You will have been having ongoing
contact and conversation well before an RFP is issued for a project
you’ve identified as a good fit for your firm, and the client will be
anticipating your proposal.
When the stack of proposal is collected, it’s likely that yours will be looked for and set aside, while others are sifted through for elimination. This is truly how it works.
Architectural services are procured through relationships. Signature rockstar architects may get calls, but most architects need to work at cultivating relationships that lead to work. It’s extremely rare to win a project when the proposal response to an RFP is the first exposure a client has to your firm.
Meeting the client early, letting them know you’ve identified them as a good fit for your firm, telling them that you’d like to work with them, that you’d like to be of help to them, is the best way to nurture an authentic relationship that leads to work.
Employing these 7 steps will help your firm get off the RFP merry-go-round. Your business development pursuits will be more strategic, meaningful and successful. Eventually, the RFP and your proposal will simply be the next steps in your ongoing conversations with your client to be.