The Client Interview a.K.A. the 'Short List' Presentation

The industry is going strong, you’ve made the short list, but is your firm ready to compete and win the interview?  The following is an except from my new book BE…The Winning Presentation – The essential handbook to master the short list interview and win more work.  

The client interview is frequently one of the most overlooked aspects of a project pursuit.  While everyone sharpens their pencils on the cost estimate and works and reworks the schedule to the nth degree, in comparison, very little time and effort is spent preparing for the one chance you have to actually be face to face with your prospective client and discuss their project and unique needs. It likely is not a coincidence that the interview is also the most feared aspect of the process. It is well known that public speaking is frequently one of people’s top fears. This is particularly true of the highly skilled technical professionals found in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) firms. These technical professionals are generally not trained to present their thoughts and ideas in front of a diverse group of individuals, yet that is exactly what you need to do to win. 

 In the end, every firm that has been short-listed and is interviewing to design or build the project is qualified. The ONLY thing you can do to affect the outcome at this point is to give the best presentation, one that connects with the client and persuades them that you are the best choice for the project.

No Dog and Pony Show Allowed

You’ve already submitted a proposal that educated and informed them about your qualifications, capabilities, and firm history. If the client didn’t think you were qualified to do the project, you wouldn’t be at the interview.  In fact, in the mind of the client, every firm that is interviewing is capable of doing the project. 

The clients don’t want a rehash of your proposal; they are more savvy and sophisticated than that! The traditional ‘Dog and Pony Show’ is out. Sure, that approach used to win work years ago and it didn’t take much effort to prepare for that kind of presentation.

Those days are past.

Now, the client wants to meet your team and see and hear more. Now, you must persuade the client you are the right company for the job. You must make an emotional connection with the client. I know what you are thinking… we are contractors – we don’t show emotion… By emotional connection I mean, you must demonstrate a deeper understanding of the client’s emotional needs and concerns. You must understand what their fears are, what is keeping them up at night.

What your Clients Want

Let’s take a step back and look at what our clients say about the interview process. I have conducted hundreds of debriefs with clients, both public and private to better understand the selection process and what they look for and what tips the scales during the interviews. I want to share the following trends and comments that rose to the top.

We don’t want a ‘sales’ presentation. We wanted to know what they knew about us.”

“The losing presentation was canned and sounded generic. The winners’ presentations were totally geared towards us.”

“The winning team had a very detailed approach, especially when it came to showing us how OUR issues would be solved.”

Notice how not even one respondent said they needed more info about you or your firm?

The teams that connected, the teams they remembered, all had built TRUST and not only showed, but proved to the client that they could successfully deal with and solve the challenges of their project.

At the end of the day, your clients are looking for the “SAFE CHOICE”: The firm that can get it done and make them look good.  

Here are three ways you can make a stronger, lasting connection with your audience.

1. Show them you understand the risks of their project.

The client must know that you understand their project, the possible challenges and risks that go along with it. Spend time reviewing drawings, visit the site, understand everything about the goals and vision for their project and any roadblocks that could be encountered along the way. And discuss these during the interview. Let the client know you’ve done your homework and understand their situation.

2. Discuss how you can solve their challenges.

You’ve done your homework and understand their issues, now you must come up with solutions and how your team will deal with these challenges. That doesn’t mean coming in to the interview with their project already designed. But it does mean that you have given thought to and have concepts in mind and can solve the issues they will be facing.

3. Prove you’ve solved similar challenges.

Remember, your potential client is looking for the ‘Safe Choice’, the team that has ‘been there – done that’ and done it successfully. This is where you show the client where you have faced and dealt with similar issues and how you successfully overcame those challenges. Caution: don’t confuse this with simply showing the client pictures of 10 other similar projects you have completed. They are wanting more than that – they want (and need) you to connect the dots – specifically for them. It’s finding very specific and detailed examples of past projects that faced similar challenges. Then, as you are addressing their concerns and talking about how you mitigate that risk – or solve that challenge, you follow-up with the exact example of where you solved that same issue previously. 

See the difference? When you showcase your previous experience in this manner, it holds more credibility with the owner and builds that emotional connection you are striving to achieve.

Lasting persuasion and connection starts with the right content; understanding your client, their concerns and challenges, and having the right solutions.