Strategy: It’s not just the name of the game, it’s what your clients want

Strategically alignment now means anticipating future client needs and industry trends.

By Dave Maxwell, Dewberry April 17, 2018

It’s human nature to chase opportunities that present themselves and grab our interest. We chase new jobs, relationships, experiences, and more. Simply put, it’s fundamental to who we are. However in this industry, it’s less about chasing down what’s right in front of us, and more about thinking ahead—sometimes years ahead—and strategically aligning ourselves to meet the needs of our clients, or potential clients.

Time is on Your Side: Start Now

Pre-positioning is not something I just preach, but practice. Years ago, there was a public utility client I was hoping to work for, and after teaming with another firm to try and beat out the incumbent, we were unsuccessful and lost the job. This taught me a valuable lesson: chasing clients with the sole motivation of winning work is futile. After the loss, I visited the client to find out why we weren’t selected. As it turns out, we had many of the factors and assets that they were looking for, but we simply couldn’t compete with the relationship the incumbent had built over many years. During that same meeting, we reviewed the client’s capital improvement plan (CIP) to identify other areas where we could be of service. We identified projects that Dewberry would be well suited for, and began working closely with them as they prepared for those projects to be funded.

Years later, the same client released a request for proposal (RFP) for work that we had a proven track record of providing. Because of the time my team and I had spent investing in a relationship with the client, they were pleased to find that we had submitted a proposal and in the end, we were awarded the contract.

Building a Relationship with the Client and Meeting Their Needs

It takes a lot of work to build a strong relationship with a client, especially to do it in a way that benefits both parties and adds value to their organization and yours. Here are three things I’ve found to be helpful when trying to establish a new client relationship:

  1. Meet and get to know the client. Visit them in their office and find out what they’re looking for in a consultant. Get beyond work and get to know them. What do they enjoy doing? How many kids do they have? Who do they have in their NCAA brackets? Steven Eget recently said it well: our work is all about relationships.
  2. Review the CIP with the client. It’s critical that you understand their long-term goals before an RFP is released. If you don’t have a good understanding of their goals by this point, you’re likely not well-positioned to win the job.
  3. While developing the proposal, think about win themes and what sets you apart. If you don’t have a plan and consistent themes for how you will achieve the goals of your client, you’re not only wasting the time of your marketing team, but the client, too!

We live in communities today that are products of strategic relationships. It takes more than just a contract or a signature to create a built environment. Between architects, engineers, contractors, and investors, these relationships are the framework of our communities.

Happy Client, Happy Consultant

While this isn’t a full-proof strategy, it’s proved to be effective for many of the clients I’ve spent years working with. Ultimately, it’s about your relationship with them. They want to see your face and know that you’re there to make their projects successful.

At the end of the day, if you’re not positioned to chase an RFP, it’s best to just pull the plug.

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