CRM: Changing FAST!

CRM – Client Relationship Management – is evolving VERY rapidly right now in the design professions; a true “tipping point” in thinking. The locus of this change is in the way that design professionals “connect” with clients, potential clients, and the public.

The immediate cause of this change of thinking is the dawning realisation that the ways we traditionally “got projects” just aren’t working any more – they are dysfunctional. The roots of this dysfunction stretch back to advent of the Modernist movement, and are marked by some significant changes, such as the 1973 “consent agreement” between the American Institute of Architects and the US Department of Justice, the exponential growth of the internet, increasing commoditisation of the design professions – and more. It’s a long story.

The first step in rethinking CRM: get marketing out of the “practice” arena, where it traditionally sits, and into the CRM arena. Marketing is primarily a client relationship activity. That’s part of the evolution of “getting work” – the whole CRM idea is itself a relatively recent phenomenon, at least in the design professions. As late as the 1950’s, the idea of marketing was seen as anathema to most architects (see sidebar).

Because this topic is utterly core to practice, there is a huge body of writing about it. DesignNode taps into that river to dip out a few cupfuls that will suffice to describe the changes taking place. For a long time, there was a lot of whining and complaining; I’ve read many rants about how the professional associations should fix the “problem”. Those are declining; some real thinking is challenging old assumptions. It will be interesting to watch how fast this sea-change takes effect.

The second step in rethinking CRM is realise that – first and foremost – we really are in the Presentation business. Every day, every senior person (including all project managers) in a design firm is having to present something to somebody. That somebody could be your staff, your boss, your equal-level colleagues, your client, a contractor or supplier, an associated design discipline member of your team, and/or various approvals authorities.

It’s not about us. Overwhelmingly, our focus in these communications is about ourselves, what we think, what we want, how smart we are, etc., etc. Therein is the problem. From the 1940’s that Wills writes about, until just a few years ago, this “interruptive” form of marketing, where we interrupted the thinking of the client, worked. It no longer works; the background noise and the options available to clients simply drown out this kind of marketing.

What’s replacing this style of selling is called “content marketing” – not unlike fishing by dumping bait off the back of the boat to attract lots of fish, making them easier to catch. You must find ways for the fish to come to you, rather than you going to them.

Presentation skills are essential for success in today’s world – but the focus of presentation, in order to work, has to be about the client, the client’s issues, the client’s industry.

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