Differentiate your team during client interviews

June 2011 » Columns » MARKETING CORNER
Debbie Frederiksen, CPSM

You’ve made it to the shortlist and now have the all-important interview before the client selection committee. With all of the effort it took to get to this point, don’t blow it with a generic, boring presentation. Set your team apart from the competition with diligent research, creative content, and solid delivery techniques.

Research and content development
Client — Having reached the interview stage, you already should have gained detailed project information and client insights. So at this point, it’s simply a matter of reviewing what you know, particularly in regard to the client’s “hot buttons.” Consider the individuals involved. Who are the voting decision makers? Which are advisors and influencers? It’s likely that each committee member has a different set of priorities. Knowing your audience is critical to developing an interview that will resonate.

Medium — There are many things to consider when deciding on a presentation medium — audience, team members, content, the room size and layout, technological capabilities, et cetera. PowerPoint is the go-to tool for most because of its ease and flexibility, but it certainly won’t differentiate you from other AEC firms. Well-known educator and communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan, coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” The medium you choose will influence how the message is perceived. Consider other presentation technologies such as Flash, Keynote, and Prezi. Or, try simplifying your approach and focus on making a personal connection by using boards, flip charts, or a handout. Challenge yourself to get out of PowerPoint mode!

Content — Many times, the client dictates the interview content outline. It’s important to follow the instructions, but there are ways to be creative. Rearrange the order or change the terms used. For example, I once was involved in the pursuit of a motor speedway project and we titled the sections for Project Team and Experience, “Pit Crew” and “Racing Stats.”

When developing the content, keep it client-focused. Continually ask yourself: “Why is this relevant to the project?” There’s no need to rehash qualifications that were included in the proposal. The client knows your team is capable or you wouldn’t have made the shortlist, so spend as much time as possible talking about them and their project.

Delivery
Set the stage — One way to distinguish your team in a long series of interviews is to change the setup in the room. If you’ve done your research ahead of time, you’ve already visited the space and have a visual plan. If it is possible, rearrange the tables and chairs to make the environment feel different. I’ve seen interview teams completely “redesign” a room, changing a classroom-style setting and bringing in a backdrop. It can be a powerful differentiator.

Practice — Everyone dreads rehearsing, but the best way to ensure a successful final presentation is to practice. Practice at least three times with the entire team; reading your notes alone in your office doesn’t count. I’ve heard every excuse from, “I’ll be fine, I do this all the time,” to “I’ll perform better ‘on the fly.’” The problem with this rationale is that it’s rarely true and especially difficult when you factor in the dynamics of a diverse team of individuals with differing levels of presentation skills. You can’t guarantee clear messages, timing, or smooth transitions if you don’t practice. Here are just a few technical tips that can make a huge impact in your interviews:

Eye contact: Don’t scan the audience quickly, talk to your props, or stare at your notes. Make deliberate eye contact for at least 3 to 5 seconds at a time with an individual. This isn’t an easy task, and it definitely takes practice, but it enables you to make a stronger personal connection with the audience members.

Transitions: Bob: “And now Susan with ABC Engineers is going to talk to you about the environmental issues related to this project.” Susan: “Thanks, Bob. As he mentioned, my name is Susan and I am with ABC Engineers.”

Ugh … redundant and boring! Demonstrate your team dynamics and collaboration by developing smoother transitions.

A client once told me during a debrief: “The presentations all kind of looked the same.” Ouch. Next time you’re shortlisted for a project, don’t make that mistake.

Debbie Frederiksen, CPSM, is director of Marketing Consulting Services at ZweigWhite. Her career spans 17 years in the architecture/engineering/planning industry. Contact her at dfrederiksen@zweigwhite.com.


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