If I had to sum up the most important thing I have had to teach my AEC colleagues over the past twenty years, regardless of which type of firm I work for or type of clients we serve, it would have to be the following: “Learn to think outside-in rather than inside out.”
Thinking outside-in involves framing every solution, communication and interaction based on the value it delivers to the intended recipient. Because architects, engineers and contractors have been my clients, it has been important for me to learn how they work, what matters to them, and how they assign value to my efforts. When I got my first job in this industry, as far as I knew, a lintel was something I ate and a dentil was something I ate it with. Nowadays I’m far better versed in both the terminology and the practice of serving clients in the built environment because the more I learn, the better I do my job.
Similarly, I spend a lot of time teaching my architects, engineers, and contractors to think outside in. Those who do this well routinely ask themselves three key questions.
How will this make my client look to their boss? Recently I hired a vendor to help me with a project and scheduled a meeting for us about four weeks out with three of my key leaders to review our findings. I contacted this vendor four days before our scheduled meeting with my bosses to confirm their attendance. What I learned was that he hadn’t yet met with his supplier since he was just back from vacation and wouldn’t get the information I needed for another 10 days. This meant I had to postpone my meeting with my bosses for two weeks. How happy am I with that vendor right now?
So What? Often when I’m prepping my colleagues for an interview, one of them will introduce himself or herself, saying something like, “I’m Chris and I just became a licensed architect” or “I’m Pat and I was just made an associate at my firm”. My challenge is, “How does the fact that you just received (that license, certification or title) deliver value to the client?” If you can’t find a way to communicate to a client why a piece of information matters to them, it’s not a relevant piece of information to share. It’s the same when choosing projects to share. Your most recent work may be the coolest to you, but it may not be the most relevant to what the client is trying to achieve.
Now What? Change is an expectation-resetter. As a marketing person, sometimes Robbie asks me to do something that bumps a project I already said I’d do for Marty from the top of my priority list. Sometimes my colleagues are asked by a client to do work that falls outside the scope of the contract. When I have to bump Marty’s project for Robbie’s higher priority, I let Robby know that I had to bump Marty and I let Marty know how long the project will be delayed and why because it resets expectations. When a client asks for work that is outside of scope, I instruct folks to say, “We’d love to do that for you! First we have to determine the effort involved and send you an updated fee so you can sign off on it before we start that work, OK?” This is the best way to keep your project on track, keep your client happy, and not lose your shirt in the process.
While it takes effort to see the world through another person’s eyes, it is, in my view, the essential skill for good marketers and project professionals. Keeping these three questions in mind makes it much easier to see outside-in.