Follow The Leader

Ever lost a project you should have won? You have?!

Frustrating and incredibly expensive isn’t it.

As a sales doctor I am often asked to diagnose the reasons why deals fall over.

The most common cause of “collapsed deal-itis” is because the architect is too timid to set up the game.

Anarchy is the condition of a society, entity, group of people or a single person, which does not recognize authority. It originally meant leaderlessness.


Without a leader there are no rules or order and generally society sinks into chaos.

Engaging with clients is like a game. Every game needs some rules established. Ideally the rules allow for both parties to walk away with a significant victory.

Ever play games as a kid? Sure you did.

There was always one kid, often the big kid, who set the rules and determined what was right or wrong. Someone had to set the rules and establish the order or there would be no game.

No game = no fun.

The kid that set the rules had a slight advantage didn’t he?

The game starts the first time a prospective client contacts you to ask questions about their project.

This is when you need to be the big kid who sets out the parameters of the game, takes control and sets the playing rules out.

Let me explain.

Someone has to be the big kid. Someone has to take control of the early project investigation process and agenda. Someone has to set the expectations and the rules for engagement. Someone has to lay out a road map for moving ahead.

OK take this 3 question test.

Q1) What happens when the control freak client dictates the flow of the project?

A) Chaos with a messy ending
B) On time and on budget with great design

If you answered A) then you have probably been around long enough to make this mistake before.

Q2) Who should assume control of the pre-design investigation process?

A) You
B) Your prospective client

If you answered A) well done, you are well on the way to curing collapsed deal-itis.

Q3) At what point do you assume control?

A) Once they officially hire you for design
B) At the very first contact

If you answered B) then you are flying, the prescribed medication is really going to heal your deal-itis very quickly.

By the way here’s a script you can use to assume control in the first conversation.

‘Your project sounds really interesting, can I outline a simple process we use that we find to be particularly effective at finding the answers to the questions you have just asked?’


As soon as they say ‘sure’ you are now both following an agenda. Yours!

You have asserted control and are training the client to follow your lead.

Better to start the training early in the relationship than try to start when they become a teenager.

That is a simple way to take control on a phone call.

Soon I am going to give you an example of how you might set project expectations and even the rules of how a client will behave during the project but first let me list a few reasons why you should be the boss (assume control) right from the first contact.

1) You have completed dozens of successful projects, they have not that is why they have come to you.

2) You know the best steps to get from A to B, they do not, things will go over time and over budget unless you are steering the ship.

3) They secretly want to be held by the hand of a stern loving parent figure and walked towards a happy ending, even if they don't say so.

4) You want to do a great job and they want a great job. Many clients are control freaks who wrestle control from others as soon as they get stressed. This is their bad habit – for the sake of the project, the client's best interests and yours, it is important you take the lead.

5) No one really wants a wimp for an architect (even a control freak).

Very early on there is a great phrase you can use.

“As we go through this process I will tell you what you NEED to hear not what you WANT to hear – will that be ok?”

Everyone will answer ‘Yes’ to this question. Who can say ‘no’?

With that agreement in your back pocket you can remind them about your deal at a sticky point later and that this is one of those ‘tough love’ moments.

When is the best time to establish the rules?

Before you start the game.

Here’s an example taken from a newsletter sent out by Melbourne based architect and AMA member Melissa Fleming.

(Personally I would get the clients to sign a document like this before you start the design phase. Oh the problems you could avoid!)

10 Things Your Architect Will Expect From You

Getting a great result in a new home or renovation design project is a team effort and is important – for you and for your Architect. So it is important to understand the things that your Architect will expect from you during the course of your project, to achieve that common goal. This list could be considered your “Rules of Engagement” when working with an architect:

  1. I understand that good design takes time. As I will be spending more money on this project than almost anything else I will do, rushing the planning and design phase is not a good idea. A good rule of thumb is that if a house takes 9 months to build, then it is realistic to take 9 months to plan.
  2. I understand that during the process I will need to make a lot of decisions. Sometimes this can be overwhelming, so I need to give myself time in the design process to make these decisions.
  3. I understand that I need to trust my architect. I hired them because they have experience and are experts in their field, so I will not try and design for them.
  4. I understand that most of my decisions will affect the estimated cost for construction. So I expect realistic discussions with my architect about the estimated cost for construction, and agree to either modify my budget or modify my design goals if we exceed my budget.
  5. I will listen to my architect and benefit from their experience. Although we may not always agree, I need their expert advice to make informed decisions about my project.
  6. I understand that the most expensive rooms in the house are the kitchen and bathrooms. The more features I add in these rooms, the more the project will cost.
  7. My architect will need to be very direct with me about keeping the project focused and on track. I accept that some changes that I make could impact budget or timeframes.
  8. I will pay all Architects’ and consultant’s fees on time as outlined in our agreements.
  9. If I don’t understand a part of the design or something my Architect is telling me, I will ask them to explain – two-way communication is key.
  10. I understand that although it may seem overwhelming at times, collaborating with my Architect on my new house design (or renovation) project is supposed to be FUN!

Well done Melissa.

The big kid has established the rules so everyone can play nicely.

If you would like to see more case studies and examples of how architects are attracting clients and winning projects then register for our upcoming webinar.

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