In a professional design practice, there are 6 main management facets, discussed under the corresponding hexagonal links above right:
Practice, Client Relationships, Risk, Quality, Design, and Projects.
Although many design firm managers make no distinction between the first 5, it is very difficult to rethink the firm without separating them. Some designers also make no distinction between quality, design and project management; blurring the edges of these functions also makes change and improvement difficult. This entry is an overview of CRM.
Client Relationship Management
Managing Client Relationships is about every aspect of connecting to the people who make our business possible. It has (in this DesignNode model) 5 main functions:
B01 Team Communication
B02 Building Trust
B04 Proposals & Presentations
B05 Negotiating Scope
There is a wealth of evidence and expert opinion indicating that a major cause of client dissatisfaction comes from inadequate communication between designer and client.
It is safe to say that nearly every design firm has an opportunity to improve its client communication. One of the systemic communication issues is that many clients don’t really understand the design process. As a result, they focus on deliverables – end products of process.
This is an important distinction in the overall relationship context, because the more the client thinks “deliverables”, the more they see the design firm as a commodity provider, and less as a professional rendering profession service. And, of course, the more they see your output as a commodity, the more likely it is that price will be the biggest factor in deciding who to use.
One way to counter this perspective is to involve the client more in the design process.
Another way to enhance communication is to plan and drive communication as an essential component of the service provided. Taking responsibility for client communication requires the preparation of a Communication Plan that is discussed and resolved with the client. That way everybody knows what to expect.
Every single interaction between members of the design firm and the client organization either builds trust, or erodes it. It is never neutral.
Design firms that understand this make certain that all of the people in the firm who liaise with the client – including designers and project managers – understand this simple principle, and have it front of mind whenever they are connecting with the client.
This attitude shifts the focus from the design firm to the client. When meeting a deadline becomes a problem, the people involved look at it first from a client perspective, and second from their own perspective. They talk to the client about the problem, and do their best to ensure that trust is maintained in the resolution.
Most design firms see marketing, or “business development”, as a practice management function, not a CRM function. That made sense in yesterday’s world of “push” or “interruptive” marketing. It doesn’t make sense anymore in the new world of “pull” or “inbound” marketing.
The reason is that the marketing model is changing rapidly from “seller” to “buyer” – where the design professional has to create a presence in the client’s mind that makes the client initiate the buying process, and see the design firm as a preferred supplier.
It follows that this kind of “marketing” is a natural progression from good client communication and planned, systematic building of trust.
Proposals & Presentations
If marketing is a CRM function, so is the proposal and presentation process. The emphasis shift noted under Marketing above also applies to proposals and presentations: The focus shifts from what the designer has to offer, to what the client needs and wants.
Too many architects suffer from a bit of hubris on this interaction: They know what the client needs (and therefore ought to want) – and lose credibility by blowing their own horn too much.
There is nothing wrong with architects raising awareness of environmental issues, or any other value driving their practice. However, these typically backfire as “push” tactics. If the design firm’s content marketing has been effective, the client will be coming to the firm to take advantage of its values orientation and expertise.
Professional design services, unlike most other professional services, are negotiated; both in the detail of the service provided, and the fees for providing them.
As noted under Team Communication above, the degree to which the client sees design services as a commodity will heavily influence their proclivity to bargain. People never bargain with health care providers, and rarely bargain with lawyers, or with most other professionals.
There are a few key negotiating principles that good negotiators remember and use:
Rethinking Client Relationship Management
Unless your practice is most extraordinary, almost certainly there are CRM aspects of your business that would benefit from a good rethink. Here are your 15 test questions:
If you can honestly answer all 15 of these with a YES!, you are part of a truly awesome practice. LET ME KNOW!
If you can’t come up with a YES for these 15 questions: Well, you know what you need to focus on in your CRM rethink. The special offer will still be good next year!
More really useful info: