Feeling CRUSHED by the Competition?
You nurture client relationships, are aware of key issues, and were one of eight firms who received the RFP. You switched to InDesign, hired a graphic designer, are responsive to RFP questions, and use photos and fancy graphics. So why aren’t you getting shortlisted or winning projects as often as you used to?
Responsive and attractive proposals are how you meet the minimum requirement for playing the game. Content is what makes you a winner.
Ban Bland Text, Tell Stories
Stories are as integral to humanity as hearts and minds. In large part, this is because storytelling is a tool that bridges emotions and logic. Great stories are alive. They are inspirational and inspire us to action or emotion. Psychological tests show that people are far more likely to remember a story, while pure descriptive narrative results in low recall.
Your proposals need to engage the reader. It is high praise when a reviewer says they actually enjoyed reading a proposal. Why then, do so many firms continue to recycle the same text they have always used for their firm profile, project descriptions, team bios, approach, and services?
Clients want help and information, not a sales pitch. All your marketing communications need to be expressed from the client's perspective. Don’t focus on what YOU think is important. Clients really don't care about what happens behind the scenes, they only care about whether or not you can provide them with the best solution. So put yourself in your clients' shoes and present information as a how-to guide for solving their most annoying problems or helping them achieve a big audacious goal. Stories and data, presented in an educational, relevant and entertaining format, can engage prospects emotionally. If you can make them feel better about a situation, and bring a smile to their face, you are also showing that you are enjoyable to work with, helpful and not arrogant. This is an important consideration when embarking upon a project that will take multiple years to complete.
Stories are not once size fits all. Great storytellers use their stories in context, telling the right stories at the right times. Use stories to re-interpret who you are in ways that will be meaningful to individual clients or personas. Each project and person has many different stories to tell, so build and share a story arsenal. Also, provide information appropriate for the stage where prospects are experiencing in their purchasing journey. A prospect unfamiliar with your firm usually seeks educational content so they can frame a solution in their minds and evaluate options. At this stage of the buying process, people don't want to be pressured into making a purchasing commitment. Infographics, White Papers, Videos and E-Books will demonstrate to a complete stranger that you have expertise and are an industry leader. As prospects move closer to making an actual purchasing decision, the time will come for scheduling a face-to-face meeting or other personal interaction.
Standard text can get you in trouble. For instance, if you are an award-winning visionary designer, you probably list awards in your firm profile. Clients who want an iconic building may be impressed by this list. On the other hand, if your client had a bad experience with the last “designer” they worked with, and just wants an architect to design the building they need, bragging about your awards will probably get you eliminated from the shortlist.
When describing a past relevant project to a prospect, if all you do is describe what you did and how you did it, you will sound just like all your competitors. If you tell a story about WHY you cared enough to deliver outstanding value, it will show prospects that you care deeply about the same issues that are important to them. This also helps the prospect understand how your connection to the issue will create value for them.
Stories Differentiate Your Firm
The most successful firms know who they are and have strong differentiators. Their stories establish what these differences mean to their clients. Effective differentiators are all:
To connect with your clients and set yourself apart, you need to know what they care about. Thus, differentiation requires knowledge. Conduct first and second-hand research. Go to conferences to talk to people about the issues that are impacting their industry. Also, make sure you are getting post-project debriefs. After a facility you designed or built has been open for six months, interview your client. Ask if your design made a positive impact on company profitability or efficiency. If you are a construction firm and your client was concerned about disruptions to their operations during construction, find out whether your logistics and safety plans alleviated their anticipated pain.
Debriefs and formal post-occupancy surveys are especially important If you are a research-focused firm and you develop innovative solutions based upon scientific studies. This is an excellent differentiation strategy; however, a scientific method requires specialized research and a disciplined approach to gathering evidence. For example, you learn that having a visual connection with nature decreases stress. Your theory is that by integrating biophilic design features your client will experience an increase in employee productivity and attendance. To prove the validity of your theory, after the building has been occupied for a specific period of time, you need to compare quantitative data from the old facility with results in the new one. You also should survey employees to get their opinions. Make sure to use a statistically viable research methodology. If the client was in a worn-out building with poor air circulation and a faulty technological infrastructure causing computers to crash regularly, then even a merely adequate new building will result in higher productivity. However, this improvement doesn't necessarily have anything to do with biophilic design features.
Story Structure is Important
The best stories use the "AND, BUT, THEREFORE" structure. They have a beginning and an end, and make a clear and specific point. [LINK to more information on the ABT Story Structure.]
Here is an example:
We had a client who was concerned because any time one employee would get sick the entire company seemed to become infected. AND he recognized that investing in their building would offset the money they were losing because of excessive employee sick days and a reduction in morale. BUT without adequate funding for a whole new facility, we needed to focus on designing new building systems, adding operable windows for fresh air, and replacing the dust-saturated old flooring. THEREFORE, working closely with the client and our MEP Engineer, we avoided over-designing the new system and our energy calculations revealed that the client's utility bills would be significantly less with access to natural ventilation. The money he was saving with the more efficient HVAC system and reduced energy bills meant we were under budget. Understanding how important his employees' health and well-being were to the company's success, he approved our suggestion to design an internal atrium adjacent to the lunch-room, giving employees a pleasant space where they can relax and de-stress. After being in the building for six months, we met with him and he shared that there was not only a reduction in sick days, but also that his employees reported enjoying their job more so turnover had decreased.
This short story shows that your firm cares about more than completing projects on-time and within budget. It reveals three important facts about your firm:
Re-interpret who you are and what you do in ways that make you more meaningful to your client.
You are more than a PM firm that implemented the design for a manufacturing firm.
You are passionate about working with manufacturing firms to solve problems related to employee productivity and product waste.
On a recent project, you discovered at a post-occupancy review that employees are 20% more productive, manufacturing costs were cut by 10% by minimizing waste, and your client contact received a bonus that enabled him to take his wife on a dream trip to Bermuda.
You are more than a general contractor who just finished a hospital addition project on-time and within budget.
You are the firm whose site controls and procedures that enabled your team to complete the project without a single event that affected patient care and safety.
More than that, one of the surgeons was so fascinated by welding that he was inspired to write poetry.
You are more than a Construction Manager.
You are the airport's caretaker. You keep passengers safe and prevent mistakes that could impact security or cause vendors to lose money.
You have someone on your team dedicated to working with stakeholders. She understands each element of the airport's operation, who could be impacted, and what the effects of the impacts could be. On one project, she was so effective that the schedule was shortened by 30 days. Additionally, her tenant interface was so effective that she provided each storefront with additional access to electricity and enhanced technology, without causing them any operational downtime. This made it possible for the airport to increase lease rates by 5%.
You are more than your job title.
You ARE a storyteller.
Everyone is born a storyteller. Stop trying to be “professional”. Focus instead on being a real person who cares about your clients.
The most successful leaders understand the power of storytelling. In fact, everyone is born a storyteller. Unfortunately, often people focus on being professional, separating what they do from why they do it. They forget to show they are humans who care deeply about the same issues that are important to their prospects and clients. Storytelling the best way to demonstrate not only why you care, but also how your connection to an issue creates value for them.
Why the Goose?
Geese honk to communicate with the flock so they can preserve the "V" formation that enables them to conserve energy and fly for longer distances.
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DEBORAH BRIERS, CPSM, MBA