Graeme Owen has a catchy title for his recent blog posting: “The Secret to Winning More Building Quotes.” His answer, you need to uncover the potential client’s most important need and provide a convincing answer — and that need can often be anything other than the lowest price.
Fair enough, but how do you uncover the potential client’s greatest need. Here, we come across the paradox that challenges everyone in AEC marketing. It is kind of like the question about money: “If you need to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it . . .” In other words, if you have to ask to figure out what the need is, you probably lack enough knowledge to even get started in winning the contract or assignment.
There are several reasons that repeat and referral business represents the bulk of revenue from most AEC practitioners. For repeat clients, you know (or should know) the client’s needs — for referral business, you may be able to learn quite quickly what they are, and in any case, the potential client probably has similar needs to the referring client (though assuming this is alway unwise — you need to find out for yourself.)
Nevertheless, the needs question can be vital in the go/no go decision. In the perfect situation, the client has a need that you can truly be the best (or only) organization that can solve the problem. Healthy informal relationships, built over years, or diligent research and investigation — perhaps using social media and interviews with people who know or influence the client — can help you answer the question. If you are appealing to a demographic with consistent needs (especially in the consumer marketplace) you can naturally develop your advertising and media strategy to highlight your ability to solve predictable needs.
However, you will likely be rebuffed — or given incorrect information — if you visit or call someone and try to probe directly for answers about client needs. Most of us can sniff-out that kind of searching, and we’ll find it either irritating or offensive. You can certainly use initial interviews to elaborate and obtain some additional information. Some of the sales and needs analysis techniques might have worked a couple of decades ago. But if you try that sort of stuff today, you’ll probably irritate the potential client rather than discover the underlying need.
The point here, of course, is the story is about the client, not about us.It isn’t about how good we are, it is how good we are at communicating our ability to solve the client’s problems. That requires patience, insight and depth. We need to figure out the client’s needs by listening in a way that doesn’t come off as self-serving inquisition.