1. They don't see much difference between you and other similarly sized firms offering similar services. This is where knowing your brand comes in. At it's most basic level, your firm's brand is the promise it makes to existing and prospective clients. Think about it, when you open a bottle of Coca-Cola anywhere in the country, you know exactly what to expect. Is your brand promise clearly communicating who you are and what you can do?
2. You talk too much. Clients want brevity because they are busy. A lot of the fluff about your depth and breadth of experience over a 25+ year career is just to boost your own ego. AEC firms waste valuable face time with clients by talking about how successful they have been, listing the number of past projects, or reciting their work process without explaining what they offer the client that is different than other firms and how they will solve the client's problems. Clients want you to be specific about exactly how you are going to help them with THEIR problem. And to do that, you need to get close enough to understand their problem. Is it funding? A lack of specialized expertise in-house? Negative public opinion? When you know what the root issue is, you can direct the conversation around solving it and your client will love you for it.
And on that note:
3. They're not reading every single word of your proposal. Picture this: An owner receives 15, 20 page submittals to the same RFP. That's 300 pages for them to read. Ummm... they aren't. Would you? They are skimming through looking for the answers to their questions, and you are only going to capture their attention and entice them to read more if you have a well curated proposal with the appropriate amount of white space, photos, and call-outs to break up the sea of text.
4. You don't let them get to know you. Even though many clients use a point system or go with the lowest bidder, they still want to know who you are. Points help a client get down to their top three picks and from there, they often want to have a personal relationship with the finalists.
5. You need to know the truth. On a technical level, many AEC firms are the same. It's the people, the experience, and the relationship that makes clients favor one firm over another — not technical skill. Debriefing clients where you didn't win a proposal or soliciting candid feedback from a new client on a current project provides valuable intel that allows you to improve your positioning, win "brownie points" from the client, and even be the first to know about a new project or RFP in the pipeline.
6. Typical "differentiators" get you invited to the table but won't guarantee you'll stay there. You deliver projects "on time and within budget." You offer "innovative solutions." And I bet you even have "unmatched experience and expertise." Sound familiar? Congratulations! You have the same competitive advantages as everyone else. These advantages are often short-lived because any firm anywhere can make a new key hire, purchase the latest and greatest technology, or add a new service offering to their portfolio. Sustaining your competitive advantage happens only when it can’t be easily and quickly imitated by your competition.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, stay tuned for next week's blog post. I'll dive into strategies for overcoming client opinions; fine tuning just what your competitive advantages are; and developing a plan for communicating them to clients.