Whether you’re a freelance architect or a manager at an AEC firm, attracting potential clients and securing their business can be a tricky balancing act – unlike other business types, architects can’t be too lax about pricing or workmanship due to safety concerns. Not only do you have to find and capture a lead, you have to work extra hard to convince them the budget is right. As such, architects are often parched for prospects.
But still, architects need clients to survive. Rather than waiting for RFPs to fall out of the sky or taking on low-margin work, architecture firms can be smart about their business model to consistently find and persuade high-quality clients. If you’re interested in improving your architecture firm’s sales funnel, here are five actionable sales strategies to boost your number and quality of customers.
How to Attract More Clients
To start off, let’s look at three ways to help your firm garner new interest and attract clients.
Offer Free Consultations
To start off, a way you could entice potential customers is to offer free consultations for prospective clients, letting them get a taste for your design philosophy and personality.
Especially with the current state of the economy and housing market, clients might be anxious to even approach an architect for fear of an expensive commitment – even an hour’s consultation might be a prohibitive cost barrier. Openly advertising no-strings free consultations through your website, LinkedIn, and emails allays these fears, and opens a conversation between you and a potential customer.
During the consultation, come prepared with a portfolio curated to show off all your projects’ unique features and the aspects that set you apart from others in the industry. If you’re open to projects from different sectors, it’d be best to have discrete portfolio sections for each segment for easy browsing.
Even if the consultation doesn’t bloom into a sale, if you maintain an amiable and professional connection with the person, they may be more inclined to recommend you to a friend or consider you for a future project!
Market to High-Level Clients
As part of your business plan and career goals, you should have a clear idea of the sort of structures you’d like to design and build, and the type of clientele you wish to work with. Rather than prospecting and accepting jobs from any old customer, build a brand for your architecture firm by actively networking and marketing in the spaces where your ideal customers are, raising your visibility to highly qualified prospects that match your vision.
Some ways you could connect with these dream prospects is by attending industry events, trade shows, consortium meetings, and speaker panels where your target audience gathers. This places you in the right social circles to get references and introductions. Choosing to speak at an event also presents you as an authority in your field.
At its best, this will net you high-profile clients. At worst, your name will be known among the big leagues, who might be willing to refer your business to their equally-high-level friends.
How to Close Larger Deals
Now that you’re negotiating with more clients, how can you convince them that you and your designs are worth every penny? Here are three tips to help you sign contracts and close deals for more.
When prospective clients come to an architecture firm, they usually already have a nebulous vision in mind for what they want the final building to look like. But of course, if they already knew exactly what they wanted, they would go straight to the builders. In other words, as an architect, it’s entirely within your purview to negotiate with the client to enhance the scope of the design – in business terms, upselling.
Upselling will look different depending on the specific project: it might be the addition of new features, higher-quality building materials, or restructuring an area with new considerations in mind. In any case, upselling should be a collaborative effort to provide more value to the customer based on their own goals and vision.
Of course, the viability of the upselling strategy depends entirely upon your own fee structure. If you work on an hourly basis, charge per square foot, or work with a fixed budget lump sum, upselling might not be feasible. But if you charge a mixed fee structure or percentage of construction fees, getting good at upselling may be a great way to increase your income without having to continuously seek out new customers.
So how exactly do you convince the client to agree to a design and price point beyond their initial estimations? We’ll take a look at that with our next tip.
Focus on Value Proposition
When faced with an estimated fee schedule or projected construction costs, clients will invariably recoil and say the same thing: “That’s too much!”
Rather than caving into pressure to lower your fees, reduce the scope of the design, or use sub-par building materials, you should instead hold your ground and focus on the higher-level value of your design attributes, steering the conversation away from dollar costs.
Draw an explicit connection between your proposed design and the vision the client has for their project – for example, how a feature affects the ambiance of a space or the impression of the whole building, or represents an investment in a long-term sustainability goal. With a bit of persuasive prowess, you’ll be able to convince the client that every moment of your time and element of your design is well worth the money.
Use Soft Closing Techniques
Finally, the last hurdle for a successful contract is to pop the question asking for the sale, known as the close. Rather than bluntly asking “Do we have a deal?” or dithering around the project details for eternity, architects should take a finessed, proactive approach to closing a deal by using a soft closing technique.
When faced with a hard closing question such as “Will you be purchasing my services or not,” even the most agreeable prospective clients may suddenly feel pressured, and back out as a result.
Instead, soft closing techniques avoid words such as “buy,” “sale,” or “payment,” and gently close the conversation while keeping the mood upbeat. An example is the assumptive close, which makes a statement as if the client has already closed the deal. For example,
“If you can get that contract back to me by Monday, I can get the first draft to you by the end of the month.”
Soft closes such as these neatly sidestep the critical yes-or-no moment, ushering clients to a done deal before they have a chance to doubt themselves. If your consultations and negotiations have gone well so far, a soft close will carry that momentum all the way to the end of the conversation, letting both architect and client walk away on a high note.
Rather than twiddling their thumbs waiting for clients to walk in your door, an architect or managers at an architecture firm can employ these five strategic tips to attract more clients and get the most out of each contract. With luck, you’ll be able to design a sales model as elegant and flawless as your own buildings, ensuring your firm’s success for years to come.