Why Aren’t Potential Clients Running To You?

In this CEO memo, we're going to discuss why everyone in your marketplace doesn't come running to your architecture firm.

Let’s start off with a little parable here.

Last week I was traveling, and while I was gone, one of the toilets in our home was out of commission.

I have six kids. As you might imagine, having a toilet out of commission with a family of 8 is a big deal, especially with two teenage daughters, two boys who are 10 and 12, and then two younger daughters as well.

Yes, this was a big problem.

I needed to get this toilet fixed as soon as possible.

So when I arrived home late last night, I went to the local hardware store and I picked up what had broken, the toilet handle and lever.

However, upon arriving home I discovered that the lever I bought didn’t fit because the my toilet’s tank is angled on the corners.

Most handle/lever combinations attach to the handle at a right angle, but my toilet requires one that attaches at a 45 degree angle.

So I have to go back to Home Depot. It's late at night. It's 9:30 pm and the store is about to close.

Trust me. I would rather be at home, like getting ready for bed, but I knew of course we needed to have a flushing toilet.

Especially since today is Father's Day. You know – what kind of father would I be if I can't even repair the freaking toilet. Right?

So here I am, back at the hardware store, looking for the right lever … and lo! and behold, I find a lever that has a fully adjustable angle.

I buy this one, fix the toilet and complete the repair.

Now here's what I'd like you to consider today – here's how this little parable relates to your work as an architect and attracting and winning the kind of clients that you want and actually getting clients to run to you like a flock and demand to work with your firm.

Here's the problem: the little handle in our parable represents the messaging you're putting out there in the marketplace.

What I mean by ‘messaging' is the specific words you use to communicate the value your firm offers your clients.

This messaging is key – it forms the basis for every marketing, every business development, every client attraction strategy that you use as an architecture firm owner.

If the words that you use to speak to your potential clients are off point – if they're not resonating with your clients, then you're going to struggle to be able to grow your firm effectively and to be able to up-level the projects you’re working on.

Just as I need to buy the correct lever for my toilet, you need to figure out the exact message that appeals to your ideal client.

Every client has a different motivation for doing a project.

Clients in the same markets have similar needs. For instance, if you're working for a corporation and you do interiors, their needs are going to be very similar as other corporations doing interior projects. If you're working for homeowners, their needs may be similar, but at the underneath those similar needs, there's going to be some very different needs, right?

So here's the problem. Most architects don't really understand and they're not able to communicate clearly what motivation drives their clients' projects.

They don't understand the reason and the motivation for why their clients are doing the project in the first place.

I talk to architects all the time and ask them, okay, why do you think your clients are using you? What are they looking to get at? What is the value you're bringing to the table?

And they tell me things like, “they're looking for an experienced architect.”

“They're looking for someone that has a lot of projects in this kind of portfolio.”

“They're looking for someone that they can trust.”

Pause. All right. Yes.

All of these things are extremely important and you're not going to be able to win very many projects without them.

But here's the key: these aren’t what are motivating the project to happen.

No CEO ever woke up and thought, “Oh my goodness, I need an experienced architect! Where are all the experienced architects? Sheesh, I’m lonely. I need some companionship. Please. Any architects out there?”

The key here is that if the CEO could get the job done without an architect, he or she would do it. I know, this may sting.

In reality, they’re doing the project for a business reason. Maybe they’re losing market share in their industry. Maybe they're not attracting the kind of clients or customers that they want.

This is what's keeping the CEO up at night thinking … “My goodness, if I don't get a good team on this project and we go over schedule and over budget, what are my shareholders going to think? It's going to delay our entry into this market. We're going to lose market share. My salary will go down. We may have to lay some people off. We won't be able to hire the best clients like or the hire the best team members.”

This is the conversation that’s happening in your prospect’s mind. These are the kinds of things that you need to understand and be talking to them about.
Now, yes, it's good to say we have experience, but that is not where I'd start the conversation and I wouldn't even start the conversation assuming that you know exactly what it is your client wants and what's driving the project.

The very first thing you should do is you should understand and figure out what exactly it is that's driving the project.

To do this, you need to come to the table with a general understanding of your market and the general understanding of why the businesses in your market or why the homeowners in your market are doing what they do.

There's a great way to do this called the ‘Five Whys.’

First ask your potential client what's them to do this project.

And they tell you.

Next ask, “why is that important to you?”

They’ll give you an answer.

Great. Next ask, “Why is that important to you?”

Keep asking this until you get down to something that has emotional impact for your potential client.

Now here's the test. When you repeat back what you heard, gauge their reaction.
If you're not spot on, they’ll give you a wishy washy answer.

You’ll read this in their face and their body language.

They may say something like, “Yeah, that's sort of what I'm saying.”

And they’ll add additional information.

But when you repeat back what you heard, if they look at you and they light up and say, “That's exactly what I mean – your expressed that while you're so eloquent,” then you know you understand what motivates them.

Over time, as you practice this skill of communication, of understanding and repeating back what is motivating them, you'll begin to understand the framework in your marketplace – commonalities between your clients.

And then you can take this messaging, the words you're actually using when you're communicating with your marketplace, and you can infuse this into your website. Infuse it into any speaking engagements you do. Infuse it into any brochures and marketing collateral that you have. If you're doing any Facebook live videos or any social media, you infuse those words into there also.

Once you broadcast this message to your marketplace consistently, this is when you have clients start to run to you.

So, what I'd like you to consider today is where in your messaging are you off target?

Where in your message are you talking about your experience, your portfolio, the past projects you've done, instead of what motivates your clients to do their projects?

Let me know in the comments below.



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

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