Every staff member in your firm shapes the client experience and thus can sell the firm
When it comes to business development, AEC firms typically have tight parameters on who in the firm is empowered to sell. Historically, this industry has suffered from the illusion that those who sell must be extroverts and who are good at golf. Things have evolved and the historical stereotypes are eroding. The reality today is that every person in your firm affects the brand and thus affects your ability to generate new business. Although it is important to train and motivate those that interact with clients on a daily basis, it goes far beyond that small group. The firm that makes marketing and sales a part of the culture, involving everyone in the firm, can greatly outperform their peers. You see, everyone from the person that answers your phones, to the surveyor in the field, to the project manager, all the way to the CEO has a profound impact on how your firm is perceived. Those perceptions drive the brand and greatly influence your competitiveness. Everything and everyone affect the “client experience”. Many firms claim to be client-centric but lack real focus on measuring and continually improving the client experience. Firms that can be truly client-focused and provide the greatest client experience will outperform all their peers, through good times and bad.
To expand the effectiveness of sales in your firm, you should consider these steps:
Assess where you are – this could involve several methods all aimed at painting a picture of how you are perceived by your clients. The common approaches include a client survey and internal assessments of your people. An initial client survey should be conducted by a third-party and gather information on how well your firm is living up to the client service promise you are making. Ongoing client feedback can be then gathered using internal people or tools. Additionally, internal assessments need to be made to analyze the service delivery quality on things such as phone answering, speed and ease of reaching people, responsiveness and so forth. Internal assessments could include things like a secret caller program where you assess how easy it is to get a hold of people your clients are calling. You will likely be shocked at the information gathered here.
Define where you want to go – having a strong and compelling mission and vision are more than just strategic plan buzzwords. If they are articulated correctly, they can be a powerful driving force that the entire firm can get behind to produce real results. The key to success here is everyone in the firm must know what they are. Additionally, they must understand the benefit and importance of their participation in that pursuit. When the entire firm is energized to improve and build the business, amazing results follow.
Start being the firm you want to be – Take the good, the bad, and the ugly of the self assessments and be intentional about correcting the deficiencies. Publish the results of assessments and be candid where the firm is doing well and not so well and then show to path to improvement. Train everyone in the firm to reflect the desired brand attributes in their respective roles. All employees need to understand that no matter what their role, they ultimately affect the way the firm is perceived by clients and thus how the firm prospers or declines. There is no such thing as a completely internal role that does not affect the brand. Tell all employees that client experience and growth is everyone’s job and make sure they have the proper tools and training to execute that mission.
Too many firms have too few people thinking about the client experience and how to grow the firm. An entire company that is focused on projecting a unified and clear brand will sell more work. A company that is aligned with their client’s perceptions and are constantly working to improve service in every role in the company, is a company that will thrive in good times and bad. If you need help with client feedback, business development, training, or anything related to this article, contact me and I’ll help you any way I can. Good luck!
Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.