5 Easy Strategies for Mid-Project Business Development

FeltsBy Margaret Felts

Business development is an ongoing process. It doesn’t stop when you win a project and start up again when you’re looking for the next. It’s a fluid engagement that threads through the day-to-day interactions of active projects with new clients and established clients alike. In the throes of a project, when there’s design, coordination, meetings, and deadlines to focus on, it can be difficult to think about ongoing business development. But this is a crucial time to ensure you’re delivering the promised experience and establishing a solid foundation for the next project partnership. Below are five easy ways any engineer or project manager can engage in good business development while a project is in progress.

Establish Communication Expectations

Find out your client’s preferred method of communication. Do they like to go back and forth via email? Do they prefer to discuss things verbally with a phone call? Text messages because they’re often on the run? Do they use a webportal? Asking the client what’s most convenient for them is a simple thing that a PM can do at the beginning of the project, and carrying it through shows the client that you care, that you listen, and that you’re willing to accommodate them.

Also establish what “respond ASAP” means for this client. End of the day? Within the hour? Clear expectations and understanding ensures that everyone is using the same “play book,” and that no one is disappointed. Even though it may be a bit inconvenient for you to adjust your preferences, this attention to detail will pay off in the long run, as the client will enjoy working with you because you are easy to communicate with.

Have a Can-Do Attitude

Nothing kills collaboration like negativity. We can get so focused on the function of a facility or an individual system that it is easy to think of all the reasons why an idea will never work, and in so doing overlook—or appear to overlook—the importance of the concept and/or visual design that the client is trying to achieve. Clients depend on us to come up with engineering solutions that are functional but also aligned to the conceptual idea. Even if a client’s ideas seem lofty and their dreams a challenge to attain, it is important to approach design decisions with a positive, “let’s tackle this together” mentality. The key to this “can-do attitude” approach is to resist the temptation to criticize without offering alternatives. All it takes a little attention to how you say what you need to say.

Start by recognizing that you understand the proposed idea and the concept behind it. If you have reservations about its feasibility in relation to functionality, or know that it really won’t work out, you can still convey this in a positive manner. Be honest with the client and tell them that the concept has some impact on the systems design, but assure them that you will work with the entire design team to brainstorm ideas on how to achieve their idea with minimal impact to the concept. This may mean educating the client on various design options and the pros and cons of each, or compromising on a specific material selection that was previously decided, or any number of design considerations that need to be altered to achieve the end result.

Cross-Sell for the Client’s Benefit

If you’re a multidiscipline firm like Wood Harbinger, you highlight the value of providing as many services as you can for projects that require one or more services that the firm offers. For the client, it offers ease of contracting and a solid, integrated, collaborative design that is optimized for each discipline. Cross-selling should be easy to do; everyone knows all the services the firm offers, and knows enough about those services to give a big picture overview to a client. A simple conversation with a client or a facilities engineer can lead to a cross-selling opportunity. But under the stress of a project schedule and budget, one can become so focused on their piece that they forget to listen for little clues about other services a client may need.

Keep your ears open for these clues and when you hear them, let your client know that your firm may have a solution for the issue that they are telling you about. It may not fall in your discipline, and you may not have all the answers in that moment, but tell them you’ll do further research with a colleague who’s a subject matter expert prior to offering the solution. It may be necessary to introduce your colleague to the client. This is a great way to cross-sell, and it can make you a trusted advisor in your client’s eyes; you’re someone who is patient, careful, and thoughtful enough not to try to have all the answers when you can bring along someone who really does.

Post-Project Follow-Up

One could argue that this is the most important item in this list. After your work on a project is complete and the facility is up and running, schedule a debrief with your client. Ask about how things are going at the facility, what they like or don’t like about it, if they have any issues or questions, and what impression the end users or facilities staff have. Following up on a project after it is done demonstrates your commitment to the client and that you take pride in your work. It gives you an opportunity to right anything that’s wrong, make simple adjustments that can enhance systems operation, and provide instruction, education, and answers for any questions or concerns. This simple gesture gives you another touch point with the client, and more importantly is the last impression of your work that you are leaving with the client. They will remember your dedication to quality when the next job is on the horizon.

Non-Project Related Attention

Just like us, our clients work on many projects other than the ones in which we’re involved. Keep your eyes and ears open for news, articles, or awards with which your client is associated and send them a quick message of congratulations or acknowledgment when you see one of these opportunities. This lets the client know that you not only care about the success of your projects with them, but that you care and appreciate their success on the whole.


Follow Margaret on Twitter @MFelts_WH

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