Your likeability could be the difference between winning and losing
A lot goes into competing for projects in the AE industry—developing specialized expertise, creating a trusted brand, establishing a respected reputation, building deep business relationships, and a whole lot more.
But what gets you over the hump? What does it take to win? When all else is equal, it’s often simply because they like you.
Sure, expertise matters. Experience and technical ability matter, too. But our industry is already teaming with smart, capable architects, engineers, planners, and scientists, and with AE services becoming more and more commoditized for a variety of reasons, your “likeability” can go a long way in cinching the win.
But what makes one likeable?
You have to defeat “relationship blockers, which are the things that keep you from being able to demonstrate your credibility, integrity, and authenticity. And when you can’t demonstrate those things, you can’t tap into a client’s goals, passions, and struggles—the foundation of a long-lasting business relationship. To say it another way, your clients don’t care what you know until they know you care. Here are a few tips on how to circumvent those pesky relationship blockers:
Go easy on the hard stuff. Don’t hyper-focus on the “hard” skills—or your technical prowess. You might think showcasing your knowledge and expertise would impress a would-be client, but you’d only accomplish sounding like your competitors, or worse yet, appearing as a commodity. Instead, start by showing genuine interest in the goals, passions, and struggles of your client.
Be present. Be aware of your surroundings and know you’re being evaluated. Use the opportunity to reinforcing trust, reliability, concern, and competency. Don’t get caught solving problems while clients are asking themselves:
- Do I believe what this person is saying?
- Is this someone I can trust and respect?
- Do I really want to do business with this person?
- How will this person work with my team?
Don’t keep them waiting. If you made a promise to a prospective client, come through on it, whether it’s a proposal, a reference, or the answer to a question. Don’t stall. Clients want to know they are high on your priority list. Responsiveness is not just liked, it’s loved—especially these days.
Listen. And here’s what that means:
- Stop talking. You can’t be listening if you’re talking.
- Put all your energy into listening.
- Notice your own filters.
- Don’t argue mentally (agreeing or disagreeing).
- Resist the urge to immediately answer questions.
- Adjust to the situation (it’s never the way you think, moods are different, circumstances are different).
- When in doubt about whether to talk or listen, keep listening and don’t assume you have to do anything but listen.
- Work at listening.
- Listen generously with a willingness to be influenced.
Develop a rapport. Allow clients to set the tone. Don’t get too chummy too soon—e.g., going for big air by making a risky joke or bringing up a controversial topic. Ask neutral questions, instead. Let clients make the first common ground decision and see which way they take the discussion.
Establish objectives. When you converse with clients, it’s some about you and a lot about them. Know what you want to learn and collaborate on how your interactions will play out—get mutual agreement on how you’re going to explore the situation together. It might sound something like this: “What I’d like to do today is briefly introduce our firm and learn more about your facility challenges (or goals, passions, struggles).” Put three or four things you want to learn in your back pocket and keep them firmly in mind—try to cover as many as possible in the time you have. After stating what you want to learn about and discuss, get a clear understanding of how your time together will proceed as well as the desired outcome.
Establish credibility. Ask questions that display your sincerity as well as your competence regarding the topic, then ask follow-up questions that reinforce that competency. Asking the right questions early on does far more than providing solutions that have not yet been requested. I repeat, they don’t care what you know until they know you care. Stick with the facts and resist embellishment. And “go ugly early”—if there is an issue that on the surface could jeopardize your opportunity, expose it anyway.
If you need help surfacing your inner likability, call Mark Goodale at 508.254.3914 or send an email to [email protected].