Today you are going to learn how to qualify your potential clients including the exact, word-for-word questions to ask them. This can save you hundreds of wasted hours each year.
Most sales processes teach ‘qualifying’ clients; I prefer to use the term ‘disqualify' (you want to weed out potential trouble clients)…
Using the monkey’s fist strategy you can generate more leads than you can handle, so you'll need an effective disqualifying process.
Most architects cast their net too broad when talking to prospective clients. They end up trying to be all things to all people, a ‘jack of all trades – master of none’. There are clients who are an ideal fit for you and many more who are not. You can do a great job for a small number who value your services.
Others are painful to work with: they don't have the money, they want to run the process their way, they don't value your expertise and have false expectations that lead to trouble down the road.
The Client Isn't Always Right
I want to dispel the misconception that the ‘client is always right'. Yes, you should serve your clients by listening with empathy and understanding, but that doesn't mean you should take on every prospect that comes to your door.
Some clients should be jettisoned out the exit shoot before they get a chance to waste your time.
Here's an example from my own practice…
A few years ago I ran a successful marketing campaign. One prospect requested a meeting and wanted me to submit a whole pile of information about myself and my fees before we met. He gave me a bad feeling (warning!).
I sent him an email telling him that I didn't think we were a fit, and we should cancel the meeting. He then sent me a long email complaining.
If booking the appointment was this much drama, I can't imagine we would have ended up as best mates. And because he was disqualified quickly, he only wasted a small amount of my time.
The bottom line: you'll stay poor trying to serve anyone that knocks on your door.
Hire Slow, Fire Fast
The ‘hire slow, fire fast' mantra works for clients just as it does for employees.
Is dating any different? I don’t want to find out after two years that I'm well-suited with a potential mate (I love you Julia!).
The secret to saving time and working with the ideal client is knowing what you want, and eliminating the rest quickly, before your wallet gets halved.
The Qualified Prospect
A qualified prospect is someone who can pay for your services and has realistic expectations. Too many architects entertain prospects that are NEVER going to hire anyone; they are just looking for ‘ideas'. We need a quick way to eliminate those who aren't suitable.
A few strategic questions asked on the initial phone call can save you a huge amount of time and avoid the potential ‘trouble clients'..
To qualify to meet with you, a prospect needs to satisfy ALL FIVE of the following criteria:
What do you want? (The logical question)
Why do you want it? (The emotional question)
On a scale of 0-100 how motivated are you to finish this project? With this question, you are testing motivation. Anything less than 70/100 should raise alarm bells.
What is your budget for this project? Or do you need help determining what your budget should be?
Don’t be a wimp. Ask the budget question. It's a fair question because you can't proceed if their ideas aren't in alignment with reality.
Also, never invest your valuable time unless you know they are willing (and able) to pay for your services. How many hours have you wasted chasing pipe dreams? You could have prevented this heartache by asking the right money questions.
If a potential client wants a budget for feasibility, then charge them for providing this service.
When do you want this project complete?
The answer to this question will tell you if this is a ‘now’ project or a ‘later’ project. Don't invest your evenings and weekends on a ‘later’ project without being paid.
If you ask, ‘Who makes the decision on this?’ the prospect will answer ‘Me’, instead ask:
‘Apart from you, who else is involved in the decision making process?‘
If you don't get access to ALL decision makers, then you are usually wasting your time. I learned early in my career to refuse to do a proposal unless we had met all decision makers and key stakeholders. This was a great lesson.
‘I can't give you a solution unless I understand the needs and requirements of all the key stakeholders and how the needs of these stakeholders interact. If there is a conflict in needs or wants, we'll have to prioritize’.
After refusing to tender a proposal, companies would backtrack and allow us access. This saved me hours of wasted effort.
You'll never get ahead if you can't win the trust of the key decision makers. Trust is earned face to face, not through a well written proposal.
Finally, your prospects need to agree to your process. Just as your building designs are communicated through a set of plans, your pre-meeting process should follow a systematic and well-defined plan. Deviate from the plan and disaster strikes!
‘Here’s the process we use to get our clients the best result (1-2-3-4). Here is why this process works so well (X-Y-Z). Does that sound reasonable? If so, let's put some dates into the plan.’
Now you've asked all the questions and received your answers. You have separated the wheat from the chaff. Only those who are most qualified to work with you should pass on to the next step.
Letting a prospect go isn't easy. I never said this process would be easy, I said it would be worth it.
Now that you have the meeting booked with a new prospect, what do you do next? We'll answer that in next week's article.
What we talked about today is outlined more fully in the Petrie Method, a proven framework for qualifying and winning the best architecture clients.
Get a free Petrie Method training video here.