Published Monday, July 11, 2011 | 10 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, July 12, 2011 | 11:34 a.m.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time this summer touring colleges with my oldest son. We’ve toured schools in New York and Massachusetts, one in Arizona, and in a couple of weeks we will go to Indiana and then to Colorado. The schools we have visited are all fantastic. Although they each differ in certain characteristics from the others, there is an interesting similarity among the colleges: none of the university staff of any school put on the hard sell during the informational or personal sessions we experienced. Sure, they all gave us good information and highlighted their key strengths and differentiators, but none gave the high pressure sales pitch. I had expected that they would, so for me, this was a pleasant surprise.
There are some things we could all learn from these schools that could help us in our day-to-day business development efforts. Here are a few tips I picked up from “going back to school:”
Make it the client’s choice. Although we all know that buying services from our firms is ultimately the client’s choice, many of us put on the hard sell, sometimes even overselling. The schools my son and I visited told potential students that they should only pick a school if it felt right for them. One school said that potential students should walk around campus and decide if they could really see themselves there. They professed that they only wanted students who really wanted to attend their school.
When presenting to clients, give them the facts and information so that they can make a good choice. Tell them what differentiates you from your competition. And then let them make their choice—no questions asked. Don force it. We should only want clients who want us and believe that we are the right fit for them.
It’s our choice too. Even though the colleges we visited wanted each student to choose the right school, all of the schools know that it will be their final decision on who will be invited to attend. In much the same way, we ultimately decide which clients we accept. Colleges take into consideration a student’s expressed interest in attending their school as one of the many factors in the admission process. Just because a client wants you doesn’t mean you need to accept them. It needs to be a good fit for both the client and your firm.
Many years ago, a potential client came to my office with a project. He had done his research and liked my firm and really wanted to work with us. The problem was, I disliked him from the moment I met him. I told him no—that I didn’t think it was a good fit for us to work together. That only made him want to work with us more. But in the end, I did not agree to do the work and later I heard how difficult he was from one of my competitors. The moral is, trust your gut because most of the time you intuitively know whether it will be a good fit or not.
Encourage clients to meet your competitors. My son wants to be an engineer, so we are touring engineering schools. At each school we attend, they ask what other schools we are visiting and occasionally they even name their competitors. I really appreciated when the school staff did that, and it made me more confident in their school as well. Believe it or not, your clients will also appreciate you recommending other firms for them to visit. Now, I know this sounds counterproductive, but if we are really searching for mutuality with our clients, a relationship that is a good fit for both of you, then you shouldn’t be concerned. Besides, it will give them even more confidence in your firm when they come back.
Until next time ...