The Fast Lane: Tilting the playing field


This article first appeared in The Zweig A/E Marketing Letter (ISSN 1549-9588)
Issue # 106. Originally published


Predispose the client to want you before the RFP is released.


Consider the following two scenarios:


∙ An RFP is released. You visit the client to ask for clarification or additional information about the project. The client says, “I can’t talk to you about this now that the RFP is out.”


∙ You have questions about a newly released RFP. The RFP states that questions must be faxed or e-mailed by a certain date, and that questions and answers will be posted on the web.


The client is trying to “level the playing field,” so that all prospective responders have access to the same information at the same time, and every responder has an equal chance to win the project.


Unfortunately, each of us wants to have a better chance to win the project than any other firm. We want to tilt the playing field to our firm’s advantage! The challenge is to make this happen— to give your firm the advantage of better information or better positioning— while allowing the client to present an unbiased face to the market.


The answer to the challenge lies squarely in your relationship with your client. Consider:


∙ A municipal client is considering a bond election for roads and utilities, or a local industrial client starts purchasing property for an expansion. You have learned about these things because they are already your clients.


∙ You hear about a bond election and the initial “wish list” on the evening news, or read about the industrial firm buying real estate in your local business press. So you find out who to speak with, make an appointment, and start building a relationship.

In both cases, you build the relationship through personal visits, making sure the client learns about your firm and what it does, the talents of your staff, your ability to work as a member of a team, the reputation you enjoy in the community, etc.


At some point, your talk turns to the upcoming project. If you do your job properly, this is an opportunity to identify the client’s “hot buttons,” discover his “between-the-lines” goals, and learn what concerns have finally convinced him to move on this project.


As the relationship gets stronger, you may also find out what ties the client’s stomach up in knots, what makes him wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, what underlying fears will actually guide his evaluation and selection process.


Don’t wait for the RFP. Begin positioning your firm by talking about:


∙ Clients you’ve helped overcome similar challenges.

 Specific alternatives you’ve considered for these clients.


∙ Developing innovative solutions that saved time, money, or both.


∙ Working with their staff to develop workable solutions.


It will take more than one visit to build the trust to secure the relationship. All of this is aimed at a specific set of goals. Before the RFP is released, you want the client to believe that:


∙ You understand his needs, challenges, fears, and goals regarding the project better than anyone else will.


∙ You will have a better proposal or qualifications package than any other he is likely to receive.


∙ You will offer him and his staff the most enjoyable working relationship of any team pursuing this project.


∙ He has all the information he needs to select you for the project (as long as you submit a credible package).


If you accomplish this, you will predispose the client to believe your team will offer him the best and most experienced talent— organized to deliver a creative, workable, cost-effective solution that responds to his spoken and unspoken needs, and that can be sold to his constituency.


In short, you will have tilted the playing field to your advantage. And that’s one of the basic jobs of a marketer.


Bernie Siben, CPSM, of The Siben Consult (Dallas, TX), has more than 25 years of marketing experience with AEC and environmental consulting firms. Contact him at (214) 681-0097, or

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