I just started working at an architecture firm, after spending many years in the financial industry. It’s been an exciting career change. As part of my business development activities, I have been attending rehearsals with the partners and project teams as they prepare for interviews. Since I’m a newbie to this industry, I’m struck by the way the architects talk about their work and how they describe it to clients. Most of the time, I have no idea what they’re saying, and I’m concerned that our clients don’t either. Maybe this is the way that architects sell their work, but it seems that there must be a way to communicate that resonates better with potential clients. Any ideas?
Lost in Translation
Dear Lost in Translation,
Well, I certainly relate to your frustration! Don’t worry, the Doctor assures you that what is lost can certainly be found. And it’s not just design professionals who have a hard time communicating their expertise. Believe me, when our IT guy tries to explain what’s wrong with my computer, I think we are talking a different language – and that’s because we actually ARE. I am just glad that he is fluent in Macs, because certainly I am not.
Okay, so back to you, Lost. You are not lost, by the way, you’re on the right track. It’s critical for you, your principals, or indeed anyone in your firm to clearly describe what you do for your clients, how you do it, and why you’re the best at it. Design language isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, your experts will do themselves a disservice if they can’t speak in a way that clearly explains their vision and value to their clients. So what can you do about it? Keep these things in mind.
- First, know your strengths! Call it an elevator pitch or whatever you want. You need to know why you’re the team that the client needs to hire and how your design will make your clients’ businesses soar. You need to be able to articulate your value proposition in a snap. Show how you have done this for other clients in the past. This is why your partners became architects in the first place, so show your expertise to your best advantage.
- Keep it simple! Look, you’re architects, and you’re all about design. That’s a great thing. But you shouldn’t have to bring a translator to a client meeting. It is your goal – and it’s also a great opportunity – to educate your clients and bring them on board. They need you, but they may not understand your industry. They may be anxious about the look of the building – not to mention the process, fees, and schedule. You can navigate them through uncharted territory. Describe the experience that they will have in your new building, not just the architectural details. Talk about your working process. Focus on how you will help them achieve their goals. These are all keys to a winning communications strategy.
- Speak your client’s language! Make sure, above all, that you do your homework and know what’s important to a client. A meeting or interview should not be a monologue; it’s a conversation. For example, do they want to be sustainable? Have big private offices or collaborative workspaces? Look traditional or hip? Find out their priorities and internalize them. They will use the building every day – you won’t – so demonstrate that you have listened to them and can deliver what they need.