- December 9, 2010
The Beginning of a Relationship
At Happy Cog, I am responsible for the bulk of our sales efforts along with ensuring that our ongoing client relationships are positive. The early days of the professional relationship are not unlike the very early stages of courtship and dating. If there’s a connection to be made, its foundation is built on listening and sharing, which are sincere efforts for us to understand and help each other.
When a prospective client comes to us, a number of events need to happen to develop a great relationship and lay the foundation for a successful project. Generally, this includes:
- An initial meeting via phone or in-person
- Internal meeting(s) at Happy Cog to further explore the potential project
- Follow-up questions and conversations via phone, email, and/or in-person
- Proposals go out only after we’ve gathered enough information to develop a solid approach and estimate
The First Date
After thoroughly reviewing all the materials provided by the client, I have the aforementioned meeting to make introductions and learn more details about not only the project, but also the people our team will be working with directly. Happy Cog rarely responds to a prospective client’s RFP or inquiry with a proposal if there haven’t been any conversations to establish a human connection.
This initial call or meeting with a prospective client is akin to a first date when first impressions for both Happy Cog and the client team are on the line. So much can go wrong, yet so much promise lies ahead with this initial interaction. The obvious questions around requirements and scope need answering, but we also need to uncover much more than that. I look to form a vivid picture of what this project and our relationship will be like—and I want the same for the client. Through conversation, I try to find answers for questions like:
- Are anyone’s expectations unrealistic?
- Are there opportunities to be creative while solving problems?
- Will our teams’ approaches to work mesh well?
- Will our experience and talent be useful to and also valued by the client?
- What risks exist for the project, even before we start work?
Hopefully, the client will have questions of their own that need to be addressed. Some of their concerns might revolve around how our teams will communicate and work together or understanding more about who will be working with them. There aren’t any set scripts to this conversation. I am simply listening to concerns and initial ideas, then I try to give prospective clients the information they need to make the right decision. Often, that means I’m giving away knowledge and insight without the assurance of a signed deal. This shouldn’t be confused with spec work, which is something we don’t do at Happy Cog for already well-stated reasons. During the first date, I am investing in the relationship to establish a mutual bond. I want to see the client succeed even if that means Happy Cog isn’t their vendor of choice at the end of the sales process. Of course, I want our team to win the job, but it’s more important to win it with sincerity than through selling without heart.
The Friend Dish
After the initial conversation with prospects, I want to share the details (dish about the date) with my colleagues. We discuss the pros and cons of the potential project and, invariably, this leads to additional questions, ideas, and insights that can be communicated to the client. If there are any potential incompatibilities, those topics are fair game during this session, too. The main result I want out of this is additional creative thinking from my colleagues about how to approach the project for the client’s benefit and further our agency-client relationship.
When you really like someone, how soon does one follow-up after the first date? Text, email, phone, or direct message? Regardless of time period and method employed, all subsequent follow-ups and communications are designed to provide further understanding and rapport. In parallel to dating, you need to show that you’re interested after the initial date if you want the relationship to grow. To that end, when following-up I provide as many answers to open questions as possible, and, as often as possible, I involve my colleagues when their knowledge and experience is valuable to the client. This means that our UX, design, and development staff are communicating directly with clients on an as-needed basis. It shows our commitment, provides an opportunity to explore ideas, and reduces the amount of debriefing needed later on within our internal team.
Wanna be Exclusive?
The last step is submitting a proposal, wherein I am, essentially, asking the client to “go steady” with Happy Cog. I am providing our team’s best initial thinking about how we’ll approach the project, of which the shared understanding between myself, the Happy Cog team, and the client is the most essential ingredient. Hopefully, the client shares the same desire to work with us on the project, and take the relationship to the next level.
How do you establish relationships with your prospective clients?