It's your client to lose!

It was our meeting.  We called the team together, including the client, to kick off the project.  Our GC surprised us by taking control with a couple of very insightful questions.  He asked of the client, "What are your expectations for this project at the close of the job?", "Describe your ideal communications from our team to you to keep you informed during the project." and "Discuss the greatest worries you face with this project."  Wow.  I was at once pleased, but keenly aware that it wasn't the design team leading and asking these important questions.  I love an epiphany.

"Our favorite way to close out projects involves all parties that helped our client, our firm and our team reach a successful conclusion."

These questions and answers were dutifully recorded in our meeting notes, and the project was launched and under way.  We plowed through the project, completed the work and executed a beautiful new facility for our mutual client.  The whole team was happy.  Now it was our turn to turn the tables.  Our favorite way to close out projects involves all parties that helped our client, our firm and our team reach a successful conclusion.  We invite everyone to an appreciation dinner, held nearby after work, at a wonderful restaurant. 

Our format begins with the client and contacts from the project including facility, IT and others. We invite their real estate and brokerage team to join our team plus engineering.  Our General Contractor and key vendors such as furniture and special product representatives round out the event.  It is always a fun time sharing the experience all around not to mention how the positive vibes send a clear message that we all appreciated the opportunity and the chance to work together.  Best of all, our GC used the opportunity to close on his earlier questions and ask the client about our success on meeting the project goals discussed in the very beginning.  Of course, the entire team worked hard to meet each one, right down the list.

Interestingly,  our design and engineering team, vendor, sub and general contractor teams began to look forward to our appreciation dinners, even sharing in the event cost.  The events were renown.  And it became a point of pride to be included.  

"If a key client contact moves, and a new person comes in, we can find ourselves competing in the future for a client that had already been ours."

In my experience the close out event is a method to eliminate buyers remorse or that feeling of sudden abandonment from having spent the better part of a year of longer with a team. The change in attention can breed minor discontent leading to apathy on behalf of the client. Projects close.  New projects begin.  Time moves on.  It is so easy to find yourself out of the loop.  If a key client contact moves and a new person comes in, we can find ourselves competing in the future for a client that had already been ours.  

I like to pre-calendar a 4-6 month post occupancy meeting to check on things and when followed by the contractual 11-12 month post occupancy warranty review you have a meaningful continuance of the relationship.  If there are also some annual lunch or follow up calls, you can beat the competition to the punch when they try to sneak in the back door. 

When engaging the client in the subsequent years after occupancy bring something to the table besides a smile and a handshake.  Keep your eye out for new developments in the clients industry.  Are they collaborating more, is technology impacting their business, did you read about an acquisition or merger? Bring some benchmarking information to share. You want to continue to appear to be the expert they hired and you will find yourself the expert they continue to work with because you expressed concern, knowledge and importantly personal interest.  Once you learn the client is starting another project - it's not too late, but the client may think of you as a transactional firm not a relationship firm.  

Repeat and referral business is the holy grail of professional firms.  Surveys indicate that if you aren't attaining 75-80% or higher repeat and referral you may have a client service problem. Not attaining a high percentage means you have to be ultra diligent about finding new clients all the time - a time and funds devouring effort at best.

Build your future on the work you have done.  Leverage those initial transactions into relationships.  Call your client before that new opportunity develops because your competition may have also heard and they may just be a little more aggressive and a little more hungry to win the client.

It's never to late to start and if I can help you build an internal process to streamline your relationship building, let me know.  I'd love to visit.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com