Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Client Audits

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


Client Audits

Over the past year or two, interest in what’s become known as “Client Audits” has been growing.

  • What are they, exactly?
  • Why are more firms doing them?
  • And … what’s the bottom-line benefit?

A “Client Audit” is a form of Mandeville interview. It’s a hybrid variation from the Mandeville feedback instrument … tailored for each firm and each client situation.

Typically a firm lists the client organizations from which they’d like to learn how the clients view them. In a way, it’s a form of “Client Perception.” A firm may wish to know, if it’s a current or past client, how they’re seen – based on past performance. A firm may want a client’s awareness of their different services, or their perceived strengths. In some instances, a firm may want a sense of what the clients expect in the way of issues and projects over the next, say, ten years … as well as what the clients may see as the ideal firm to meet their needs.

For each client organization from which a firm wants this feedback, they need to list every individual in that organization whose opinion counts and whose perceptions may, due to their role, vary. For some municipal clients, just the Public Works Director may be sufficient. Some municipal clients, however, may have directors for water, for wastewater, for roads, for solid waste management, etc. And in some, the opinions of some elected officials may be important. The idea is to obtain as full and detailed a picture as possible of how your firm is seen.

The Client Audit must be done by a third party – someone who has not personally worked with anyone in that client organization. In some firms, a firm leader (with Mandeville skills) can do an excellent job. In many instances, an outside consultant serves an excellent third party. The idea is: the interviewer must have no axe to grind or bias of any sort … just the desire to listen and learn – as thoroughly as possible.

When Trina works with firms to do Client Audits, and when the firm creates the list of client organizations and individuals within each whose perceptions they want, the firm notifies the clients that they’re doing a “Client Perception Study,” explains the process, and indicates that they’ll be contacted to arrange an appointment.

Most interviews take an hour. Some only take 30 to 45 minutes. And some may take nearly two hours. Most interviews are done face-to-face.

Clients tend to welcome being interviewed, as the outcome could be greater responsiveness from consultants on whom they depend.

Why are more firms doing them?

The reasons vary. Some examples …

  • A long-term repeat client starts hiring other firms.
  • A firm is pursuing a major project with a client they know and wants to be sure there are no hidden obstacles – “ghosts in the closet.”
  • A firm is pursuing a major project, is thinking of teaming with other firms, and wants to be sure those firms are seen in positive ways by the client.
  • A firm hears rumors that the client doesn’t like the person they’re considering using as project manager.
  • A firm would like to do work for a new client – usually a major client that awards a lot of work, year after year. They want to know if the client is actually open to other firms, and, if so, what they’d have to do to become the “apple of that client’s eye.”
  • A firm has been trying to get work from a client, has submitted many proposals, and keeps losing. They need to find out why.
  • A firm has “an inkling” that a client is unhappy, but can’t pin down what’s going on. Is it true? If so, why?
  • A client likes a firm and their people – but – they have to be open to competition. We’ve actually had clients suggest that the firm do an audit, so they could tell the firm precisely what to do so they could hire them. (Better responses are also in the client’s interest.)

The marketplace is competitive. Firms want to know the lay of the land before they commit time, energy, and dollars to pursue clients.

What’s the bottom-line benefit?

The information a firm secures as a result of the Client Audit enables them to:

  • Make internal adjustments that increase their chance of winning new contracts … their “hit rate”;
  • Increase retention of repeat clients; and
  • Gain a picture of the issues and projects and client expectations that will be surfacing in coming years.

A Client Audit tends to be very cost-effective. For example, an interview of a client individual, with write up, might run about $500 – whether it’s a senior member of the firm or a consultant. If an audit identifies, say, four individuals that should be interviewed, that’s $2,000. If a firm identifies, say, four client organizations to include in their audit, that’s roughly $8,000.

If the information helps a firm win just one contract they might not have won without the new information, the cost is a fraction of the profit from just that one contract.

The actual costs and benefits varies with the scale of the effort. But the Client Audit process has proven to be very cost-effective.

Marketing Coaching

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


Marketing Coaching

Over the past two to three years, a new system for evolving a firm’s marketing strength has evolved. For sure, it needs to begin with hands-on training, such as with Mandeville-based workshops. But even the best training will have a fading effect.

Long-term, some workshop alumni continue to report solid results, year after year. Some maintain the essential “lead with your ears” approach, but often cease to practice some of the nuances that add a lot of power to the process. Typically, many do not follow up on Mystery Words, and get to the underlying concerns of a client. And many cease to pause at the end and summarize what they’ve heard, to be sure all of their subsequent efforts are built on a solid foundation.

Increasingly, Trina has become involved with activities that follow up a workshop experience, and actually carry the effort through to the winning of specific contracts … giving a firm measurable ROI. The coaching scenario goes something like this …

  1. Trina attends the Mandeville workshops, to get familiar with the individuals and to get a feeling of the “tone” – the marketing culture and “style” of the firm members.
  2. At the time of the workshops, she works with the firm’s marketing director or principals to identify logical sub-groups, or teams. Sometimes teams are formed by market segment, sometimes by geographic segments. Typically, teams have three to five members, to be sure each member receives solid personal counsel, and to organize some of the marketing efforts on a team basis.
  3. Coaching sessions usually require two hours apiece, spaced about a month apart. (In some cases, they were done every other week for two to three months, then changed to monthly.) In-person seems to produce the best results. However, if a single team is remote, Skype is the next best medium … followed by conference calling.
  4. In each session, participants receive specific assignments that are to be completed, usually, by the next meeting. That could include a project-specific Mandeville meeting, a client feedback meeting, a market research meeting, to learn what a client organization’s future plans are. It also could be a plan for what to do at a client convention, to be sure those attending have specific goals and expectations.

In one clear example, a firm was working on a huge federal contract that was coming up for renewal … five more years of work for a large number of people. Team leaders were confident they were a lock to get the renewal – but – were so busy, they hadn’t actually had contact with, much less received feedback from, many of the clients, for some time. Trina had them organize a feedback effort. They discovered the clients were so unhappy they might not have even made the short-list.

Using the feedback, they’ve made adjustments and are now – according to their clients – a virtual shoe-in for the contract renewal. The third party perspective – and prodding – in getting the team to apply basic Mandeville feedback techniques, made a huge difference.

  1. In between coaching sessions, team members may phone Trina for advice about any difficulties they’re experiencing.
  2. Where a coaching session departs from “normal” meetings is in accountability. Trina often talks people through even basics, such the best way to even introduce themself. But – she also expects results at the next meeting, and can be quite firm about why something wasn’t done, what kind of support is needed, and how to be sure it’s done next time.

In terms of seeing concrete outcomes, in the form of new projects awarded to the firm, the time frame depends somewhat on the market. Private sector clients will make decisions based on need, where many government agencies have standard cycles for RFPs, selections, and contract awards. From experience …

  • In six to nine months a firm will have measurable outcomes, in terms of new awards.
  • Teams will have a picture of new leads and specific pursuits to pursue over the coming months.
  • And – best of all – teams will have a momentum, sharpened skills and the confidence in using them, and support among team members that yields long-term new business.

Finally, Trina also works with whomever is in charge of the firm’s marketing, to “coach the coach” and transfer future coaching to an in-firm operation.

While Mandeville workshops have had a positive effect on the marketing fortunes of scores of firms and thousands of professionals, this “one-two” system of training and coaching is showing impressive and measurable results!

Turning the Corner

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


Turning the Corner

A couple of years ago, we phone interviewed leaders in many client firms, to learn what they saw on the horizon over the next few years. In response to the questions, “How do you see things going for your firm?” and “What gives you the most concern?” the overwhelming response (paraphrased) was something like …

“Backlog is OK for now – not growing, but stable – but we’re not sure what’s coming after that, which leaves us nervous. We need to stay vigilant and cautiously look at where clients may be. There are a lot of unknowns, but if we stay flexible, we should be OK.”

And to the question, “where do you have your highest hopes?”

“Youth – new people seem to welcome change and will work hard to get there. We’re learning more about our clients’ business than just their facilities. We need to prepare our next generation of leaders.”

How do you address these issues?

The mass media follow all the rule, “If it bleeds, it leads,” because negative, fear-based information always gets higher ratings – TV, radio, or newspapers. And politicians seem to spend more time pointing fingers at the other party than evolving useful solutions. But underneath it all, we do see some markets growing. For example …

The average university cost is around $50,000 a year, with fluctuations for geography, private vs public, etc. Higher education enrollment is growing, but families – nervous about the economy – are sending their kids to community colleges for a year or two. Freshman English is freshman English and the credits transfer. In most geographies, community colleges have more students than space … hence a strong demand for more facilities.

Trina and I are considering hosting a two-day strategic marketing briefing this fall, probably at William & Mary University, in Williamsburg, Virginia. If a sufficient number of firms show interest, we’ll do more extensive market research – with emphasis on the markets and geographies of those firms.

In addition, we’ve evolved a system that combines basic Mandeville training with marketing coaching. It helps firms evolve a team of young professionals who are both enthusiastic towards and capable of bringing in new business, and who – with coaching – actually begin bringing in a regular flow of new projects.

The system has been working beautifully in some client firms, each effort producing a considerable amount of new business secured by younger people. And each leaving the firm with both the people and the organization to keep that new business flowing for years.

We’ll share how that system works, so you can implement it yourself and grow a cadre of young professionals who can eagerly bring in the regular flow of new projects you need.

If this kind of briefing sounds as though it’s something from which you’d gain the benefits you’re seeking, then simply email your interest, the number of people who’d likely want to be there, and specific markets and geographies in which you have interest.

Once we see sufficient interest, we’ll do the research, detail a program agenda, pin down a place and date, and send out notices.

Rather than worrying about “what the economy is going to do,” here’s an opportunity to take the bull by the horns, look at where the project work will be in the next few years, and initiate actions that will help your firm thrive in those coming years.

Stu Rose

P.S. Many of you know that we relocated from Washington, DC to southeast Virginia to create a pilot development of “Net Zero” sustainable homes. As many firms have interest in sustainability, we’ll also host a reception at our home and project site for those with interest.


Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips



Observing where many firms place their marketing energy and dollars, huge commitments seem to rest at the finish line … proposals and presentations.  Yet, the greatest success typically comes from efforts invested prior to that time … the “pre-proposal” or “pre-presentation” times.

To begin, that first Mandeville meeting is essential. You break the ice. You identify that client’s key goals and concerns. You identify others on the client side who influence the hiring decision. You build a professional-client comfort.  And … you create an opportunity for additional meetings.

Once you’ve identified what your client sees as the biggest concern, you’ll need to create an algorithm for solving it … a step-by-step process you’ll use, once you’re hired, to solve that concern. In your presentations and proposals, you’ll also give your approach a name, list its benefits in detail, and describe past applications … citing successful outcomes. That “packaging” isn’t needed during this phase.

Arrange a follow-up meeting with your client to share your “draft” approach to the client’s biggest concern. You shouldn’t need more than 20 to 30 minutes, so your meeting time is readily scheduled. In your meeting …

First, share your perception of the concern – inviting feedback, in case you may have misread some aspect of the concern.

Second, share your process for solving that concern – answering questions as you go, for ensuring client understanding.

Third, ask for candid feedback … “How does this strategy for solving your concern feel to you?” The feedback helps you fine-tune your approach, when you include it in your proposal and presentation.

And fourth, identify another expressed concern, and suggest another brief meeting, in order for you to share an approach for solving that concern.

Why not create share response to several concerns
in just one follow-up meeting?

You might save considerable travel time.

And available time may be short.

But your impact is less.

The idea is to create a sequence of brief meetings.  In each meeting, you ensure your understanding of that client’s concern. You provide information your client will find helpful for solving some major concern. Your feedback helps you refine your approach, increasing client acceptance of your ideas.  And your client feels part of the process for solving project issues.

Each meeting provides a nugget of help for your client.

By repetition, your client begins to expect that when you meet, you’ll consistently provide something helpful.  That’s known as …

A helping habit.

Think about professionals you engage for help … your physician, dentist, attorney, or accountant. In one or two initial meetings, you feel no special bond or commitment.  But – after multiple meetings, often over years, you become dependent on that person for help.

It’s a “legitimate professional-client dependency.”

If my mouth hurts, I don’t want to interview five dentists; I want to call “my dentist” and get help. You undoubtedly have long-term clients who call upon you whenever they need help. It’s comforting to have someone on whom you can depend, whenever the need arises.

If your client represents a government agency or municipality or corporation, the phenomenon still exists … even if they have spread-the-work policy and only hire after a competitive selection process.

Many firms seem so focused on maximizing utilization rates on existing projects, they’re averse to committing time and dollars where it doesn’t seem as essential as the finales … proposals and presentations.  And to be competitive, firms even engage special consultants to ensure their proposals and presentations are “top drawer.”  However …

If the client doesn’t know you, your polished presentation, with beautifully designed visual aids, it can feel that it’s too slick, which can hurt your credibility.  However …

If the client does know you, and expects to be helped whenever you walk in the room, then it feels as though they’re interviewing four “professionals” and then “their doctor” walks into the room!

Clients may even hire you, then share ideas others have given them in their proposals and presentations – so they end up with everyone’s best ideas and the person on whom they’re depending.

The technical term for this phenomenon is “Operant Conditioning.”  The marketer’s term is often “Wiring the Job” or “Positioning.”  In its essence, however, it’s simply the most comfortable and most reliable way to win clients and their projects.

The Fear of Connection

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


The Fear of Connection

Our newsletter heading is “Stu’s News, with Trina’s Tips.” This issue features some of Trina’s Tips.

In working with both project managers and firm leaders – essentially coaching the firm’s marketing team – she’s finding that people have an incredible amount of fear in just beginning a relationship with a new client. When they’re working on projects, and discussing issues on existing projects with clients they know … comfort is fine. But when they need to meet a new client, or talk about a new project with a client they already know … FEAR.

  • If there’s no specific project to discuss, they fear knowing what to talk about – especially if some of what the client normally does is out of their specific area of expertise.
  • Some clients expect a firm to come in and make a brilliant presentation … without knowing anything about their interests. In a way, we trained the clients to expect this, as during a difficult economy, firms believe that if they give the client free ideas, they’ll get the work, later. Professionals fear knowing what to say to make a positive impression.
  • And fears surround even minute details of an initial meeting …

Who sets up the meeting? Should we phone or email?

How do we set an agenda? Who walks in first?

Who introduces who to whom? How do you shake hands?

What to say in an introduction? Where should we sit?

Do we give business cards? What’s best to wear?

Who states the agenda? Who asks the first question? How to write a note, later? How do you follow up?

Professionals who have had Mandeville training seem to be rusty, which gives them uncertainty and discomfort. Most project managers don’t seem to have ever had Mandeville training, other than brief intro from managers.

The biggest reluctance is simply how to be with people … to connect with a client as a person … to begin to care about the client, and to genuinely want to help that person … not just care about doing the client’s project to meet a firm’s projected revenue goals. Fears on the personal side include …

  • Fear of exposing oneself, especially the potential of not knowing the answer to some question.
  • Fear of not being perfect.
  • Fear of being seen as human … having a spouse, kids, hobbies, etc. … and looking stupid.
  • Fear of just not being liked by the client.

The fears, and lack of comfort they produce, creates a stiffness. And that stiffness makes the meeting more awkward. The professionals can’t relax, can’t really hear what the client is saying, and just be “with” that client.

And the solution …

First, pair less experienced people with a more senior person who may have had training and who’s done this before. Most senior people have said that when they young professionals, a senior person in their firm put their arm around their shoulders and guided them into the world of client relations.

This generation needs to do the same.

Second, Trina uses what’s known in theater as “Stage Blocking.” It’s not a full rehearsal, as you might do when preparing for a major presentation. There is no client panel, and no one poses as the client to ask questions, etc. But it is a detailed scripting of who does what, and who says what. It’s more of a “walk-through” in which the “performers” become comfortable with their lines.

The introducer verbalizes the introduction.

Whomever is supposed to set the agenda, does so.

Each little step is rehearsed, but without someone as client.

Trina, as a third party – which can also be your marketing director or some senior person in your firm who’s great with clients – listens and gives feedback. If flaws are sufficient, then the professionals go through their lines a second time. The key is being able to break the meeting event down to minute details … down to who shakes hands with whom, and how they do it.

The benefit?

In working with her client firms, the teams Trina is coaching are often the only professionals actually cultivating a relationship with a client. They’re enjoying spectacular impact on their success rate … and on major projects.

Founders’ Roots

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips



The culture of many of our finest firms seems to have shifted … away from the vision and the values that the founders of our profession’s greatest firms had in mind when they began their firms, and towards a focus on utilization rates and profitability.

And clients are feeling the shift, as well.  Paraphrasing some common feedback we’ve been getting from major government clients …

“I dread hiring those big firms – but the law says I have to stay open to them.  Anytime anything surfaces that isn’t spelled out in detail in our contract, they head for their in-house attorney to see what extras they might get. They seem to care far more about their profits than they do about serving their clients.

Plus, the quality of their work is not as consistently good.  And their enthusiasm for their work seems to have evaporated.”

In 1982, “In Search of Excellence” rattled the cages of a huge number of organizations … including many in our profession.  Do you recall the measurement that Peters and Waterman used to determine “Excellence”?

It was several years of consistent profitability.

They used a quantitative yardstick.

Then, once they identified several firms that had, in fact, performed at that high level of profitability over a period of time, they worked to discover what those organizations did to have realized their success.  And all the factors that surfaced were qualitative.

What they learned is, if an organization does things right – good people, good sense of marketplace, good innovation, good quality control, good management information systems, a passion for doing things well, etc. – then profits will follow.

The right qualitative actions lead to the best quantitative outcomes.

Other management books have surfaced over the past 30 years, also pointing to qualitative actions as a foundation for quantitative success.  I recall many firms latching onto Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great” and declaring that as the goal of their firm … the “mantra of the year.”  And while firms varied in the degree to which they actually followed Collins’ guidelines, whatever they did was intended to be a qualitative improvement.

Strategic planning statements were also qualitative …

“To win awards of excellence from societies.”

“To be seen as the firm of choice in our region.”

“To develop a cadre of top-flight project managers”

“To pioneer new systems for watershed management.”

That’s changed.

Now, the prevalent mantras seem to be …

“Maximize utilization rate.”

“Reach our $6.5 million target.”

“Increase gross revenue 15% each year.”

“Get more production done with fewer people.”

Development of employee capabilities – whether in project management, in quality systems, in marketing, in team orchestration, use of new software … and whether done with brown bag lunches, with mentoring, or with scheduled training done by either senior firms members or outside consultants – seems to have virtually disappeared.  Some CEOs don’t even understand that a “system” is more than “we have good people.”

Comments from many clients cause me to wonder if the major firms that serve those clients have any quality control systems at all.  It seems that if they have a good person leading the project team, and if no special problems surface technically or with schedule, they’ll luck out and end up with a good project outcome.  But if problems arise, they dread the onslaught of the firms’ attorneys.

Today, many corporations seem solely bent on squeezing as much profit as they can.  BP, for example, took a risk and bi-passed clear warning signs that would have increased their costs and led to delays.  Many died in that disaster.  The Gulf of Mexico is trashed.  More are getting sick or dying from cyanosis from the dispersant and oil going airborne … even 50 miles inland from the Gulf.  But …

They just declared record profits.

As many of you know, “Mandeville” is more than a slick bunch of open-ended questions that will jump your ability to win a contract.  Yes, the process will have that outcome.  But – when you apply the process properly, you begin learning of the client’s non-physical needs … goals, aspirations, concerns.  And that understanding creates a bond that will get you hired.  But it also carries a responsibility that you truly care about helping that client resolve the concerns and reach the goals.  It’s qualitative.

And it’s the essence of a professional client relationship.

Finally, we’ve heard from founders of some major firms – people who are now retired, but stay in touch with how their legacy is faring.  Many think that the heart of the firm has simply given way to bottom line numbers.  Some see the most recent generation of leaders simply cashing in their stock by selling the firm … and taking their money while the taking is good.

Yes, we’re facing difficult times ahead.  But getting back to our roots – to the passion that caused us to get into our profession … in our strategic planning and in our operations … and to our professional excellence – may be the best way to help all of us come through the difficult times ahead.

A new world is coming.  No question.

And we have an opportunity to contribute to it.

Making Business Development Fun

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips



For many firms, and for a long time, new business would simply walk in.  New hires were simply assigned to projects … letting them do what they went to school to learn to do, and keeping utilization rates high and firms profitable.  Now, the marketplace is more turbulent and less new business is just walking in.

To bolster your marketing success, a broader cadre of people is helpful.  But the new people often have not had the training or coaching that senior people once had.  Many firm leaders have shared how a senior leader in their firm took them under their wing when they were new to the firm.  Took them to client meetings or had them support proposal efforts – talking them through what to do or not do, each step of the way.

Many firms have younger people who work on projects and, in the process, have established comfortable relationships with their clients.  Now those younger people can help firms bring in new business.  They’re motivated, as they’re more likely to be laid off in difficult times than senior people.  But they’re also just eager to learn how to bring in new business.  They actually crave it.  However, some support is needed …

  • Rename aspects of marketing to make them feel less threatening.  “Cold Calling” doesn’t sound like fun.  But doing “Market Research” to find out where clients may be headed over the next ten years, so your firm can adjust and be more responsive, feels more professional.
  • They have fear going into a new client’s office.  “Will I screw up and cost our firm this client?” “Will this client like me?” The best remedy – adapted from theater work – is “If you know your lines, you can really relax.” Experienced people need to walk younger people through each client meeting, step by step.  “If the client does this, then you need to do …”
  • After each event – a meeting with a prospective new client, a meeting with an ongoing client, support for a proposal or presentation – have a detailed debriefing.  What worked?  What didn’t?  When you make this kind of effort again, what would make it work out better?  And do your debriefings with everyone who’s contributing to your business development efforts, as everyone can learn from one person’s experience.
  • Celebrate successes.  Not just the winning of a new project but even a successful meeting.  We’re living in very somber times.  We need to celebrate our positives more.  Bring the people who are supporting your business development effort together – might just be a brown bag lunch meeting – and share what people did in the past week or month, and what the positive results are for your firm.  Winning is fun!

Yes, if you have marketing educational materials – a book, the Mandeville video, the audio cassettes, or training (when warranted) – provide that support as well.  But it’s the day-to-day coaching … in a way, applying Mandeville under the guidance of firm leaders … that will deliver the best results.

Building a cadre of young, eager, enthusiastic, and skilled business development people will go a long ways toward helping your firm succeed despite these turbulent times.  And that success becomes fun for everyone.

Strategic Planning in Turbulence

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips



In previous times, we’ve used a three-part process for helping firms in their strategic planning.

1.    Client Focus Group.

Too often, firms gather their leaders and use their individual insights to forecast where the marketplace will for the next five years or so.  The problem:  it reflects the bias and enthusiasm of our leaders, and not necessarily where the marketplace will be.  Inviting 18 to 24 outsiders – clients or “knowledgeable third parties” (e.g. economic development directors, politicians, lenders, realtors) – to a three-hour session will yield client-based perceptions of growth markets … with numeric “market strength” scores.

2.    Market Verification.

Before making a decision based on the collective wisdom of our guests and our firm leaders, select the most promising markets – usually some new markets that are of interest and some mainstay markets – and conduct research into each, to raise the confidence level of likely behavior in those markets, before investing your firm’s resources in them.

3.    Strategic Planning Retreat.

Now your firm’s leaders receive a thorough briefing on likely behavior in each market of interest.  From that, they can select the most promising and develop detailed action plans for capturing work from each desired market.

This three-phase process is detailed in our marketing book, which can be readily downloaded from our web site.  However, I’m seeing a slightly different process producing excellent results at a time when market forecasting is less certain because of the general nervousness and lack of certainty in what lies ahead.

Here’s a new variation of the Mandeville Techniques, which combines general client feedback with needs forecasting … and response testing.

Begin with the questions from your Mandeville Feedback form.  If you experience major unhappiness from an existing client, just gather the feedback data and leave.  Promise to come back with corrective actions in short order.  (In fact, the only risk in this process is listening to feedback and not taking corrective action, as it destroys your credibility.)

You can also use this process on past clients, adjusting the phrasing of your questions, such as … “When we were working with you on those previous projects, what did you like best or value most, overall?” You can also use this process with people prospective clients – people with whom you have not worked … “In general, what have you found that you liked best or valued most from consultants with whom you’ve worked?”

Responses to this question from prospective new clients certainly give you a wealth of information you can use when you’re eventually structuring your approach to addressing one of their upcoming projects.  That’s a short-term benefit.  There’s more …

When you’ve completed your feedback questions, received a “client satisfaction” benchmark score and summarized and verified what you’ve learned, then shift to market trend information, from your Market Interview form …

“I really appreciate the feedback you’ve shared.  I’d like to also learn your perceptions of what you see happening in your types of projects over the next, say, eight to ten years. …”

After you’ve interviewed several clients in any given market, the data from the first three questions in your Market Interview form will give you an excellent picture of what lies ahead in that market … growing, shrinking, or just shifting … and many markets are in flux.
Then comes Market Interview questions #4 and #5 … ”What kind of help will be most important to you in addressing the issues you’re anticipating?” and “If you could design the perfect consultant (or team or firm) for meeting your needs, what would that be?” We need to start thinking “out of the box.”  Traditional consultant team disciplines and project delivery systems are changing with the shifting pressures on clients.
Sometimes, a specialist in wastewater treatment is uncomfortable asking a client about trends that shift away from his or her background.  “They’re talking about public relations, fundraising, and consensus building … in addition to engineering disciplines that are not up my alley.  And they even want someone to set up their rate and collections systems;  that’s not engineering!”

You don’t have to personally solve all these problems, but you do have to listen, to learn what they are.  If you can then identify coming trends in markets you wish to serve, and can identify client ideals for project support – whatever they may be – and can stay flexible and able to put together specialists and project approaches you may never have tried before, you’re in for some new learning … and … some prosperity in the midst of an uncertain and turbulent economic environment.

Trina has been doing an increased number of interviews for firms, as an “outside third party.”  The positive response from clients to the initial interview, and then to a subsequent interview after corrective action has been taken, is phenomenal.  Payback for the firms has been immediate and huge.

The one discovery that leaves us sad:  No one else – and many of the clients with whom Trina meets are major clients who award millions of fee dollar contracts a year, and who have worked with many of our major and most prestigious  firms – has come to them with these questions and with follow-up action.  It’s time to “walk the talk” and change the norm in our profession, for the sake of our clients and for our own positive future.

Sustainability: it’s a lot more than meets the eye

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


It’s a lot more than meets the eye.

Do you remember the old I.Q. tests?

I was in a class on educational systems, in which all the students were doctoral candidates.  The professor read us 25 questions from an I.Q. test and invited us to answer them as a class, rather than as individuals.  As a class, we got 3 correct.  We were then told the questions were from an IQ test given to 10 year olds in rural Louisiana, and most would get 23 correct.  The point is, tests cannot be made culturally free.  Intelligence can’t be measured.  So when someone tells you that your kids are not living up to their potential, ask them how they actually measure potential.

Why is this topic an “issue”?

A teacher once was given her class list, and next to the names were numbers that ranged from 140 to 175.  She assumed she was given the high IQ students.  And the class outperformed anything she had ever done before.  At the end of the school year, the principal showered her with praise.  Then she said, “Anyone could have done what I did if they had that caliber of student.”  She told the principal she had seen their IQ scores on her class list.  He said, “Those were their locker numbers!”

If your son or daughter had locker number 87, think of how bad a year they’d have!

Moving right along, have you heard of Educational Testing Service, in Princeton, NJ?  It’s a non-profit that created the SATs – even though scholastic aptitude, like IQs, can’t really be measured, and there’s never been a proven correlation between SAT scores and how someone actually does in college.  But – once the university admissions people wanted applicants to submit their SAT scores, ETS had it made.  Fees for scoring tests.  Books and classes on how to do better on SAT tests.  Then – the PSAT tests and books and classes.  My oldest son even got catalogs from colleges before he got his own test scores back, meaning that ETS was selling mailing lists.

Why is this a problem?  Teachers are now obliged to teach to the SAT test, rather than teach what they believe is best for that subject.  Their reward system often hinges on how well their students do on those tests.  So – some supposed experts in some far-away location now influence what our kids are taught, based on nothing more than the insecurity of college admissions people.  And – some good kids might not get into college to see how they’d do, because they don’t do well on their SATs.

Now let’s move up to the “US Green Building Council.”  It is not a government agency;  it simply created a name that gains credibility by inferring that it is.  Actually, it’s a non-profit built on the same model as ETS, and begun by people with MBAs, not environmental professionals.  And once the insecurity of owners caused them to request LEED certification, they also had it made.

Thousands of architects and engineers and contractors read their books and take their courses, because owners request it.  Then there are fees for scoring designs, and for training instructors, and on and on.  It’s a great business model.

The problem?  People design for LEED scoring, and not for sustainability.  An article in the NY Times,, cited a federal office building in Youngstown, Ohio that was LEED certified and turned out to be an absolute energy hog.  “Sustainability” means “Net Zero” … what we create must live with the earth, 100%, and that can continue, indefinitely;  that’s sustainable.  And from my experience doing Garden Atriums, it’s not that difficult to do.

Our Earth is undergoing a dramatic change – a bigger shift than has happened in thousands of years.  Our weak economy, our interest in sustainability, and our diminishing confidence in the integrity of corporations or the efficacy of government are not separate issues.  Everything is connected to everything.

Every week, I add two or three new ideas to, my blog site, with ideas for addressing the shifts that are happening.  They’re free and they’ll prove to be quite helpful for addressing the changes that are happening.

Some firms are doing quite well – even in this “down economy.”  Some report that they’re concerned about “where their next meal may come from.”  That’s sad.  If we don’t change in this time of sweeping change, our firms are in trouble.  Most people are sensing that this “recession” isn’t just a recession.  Waiting it out until we can go back to “business as usual” is simply not a viable alternative.  Instead of hunkering down in a survival mode, start asking clients what their biggest problems are, and start developing systems for solving their problems.  For example …

Municipal infrastructure is aging, and maintenance costs exceed municipal budgets.  We hear horror stories from many clients about how fragile the systems are in even our biggest cities, and how political leaders only spend money when an actual rupture happens.  Then, I read about a system that uses a sequence of plants to treat wastewater – a system that cost a town a fourth of what a mechanical system costs and that just gets better every year, as the plants grow.

I wonder why more firms aren’t looking for ways to help municipal clients slash their maintenance costs.  It seems we too often wait for clients come up with some new strategies, find funding, and then send us an RFP.  That model is changing.  It’s time to work with our clients to develop new strategies for solving their problems.

It’s a true challenge for us, as problem solvers.  The systems upon which we’ve depended – for lifetimes – just aren’t working.  The shift we’re undergoing means we need to create systems that work totally with Earth’s natural resources, with our clients, and with the needs of people in our communities.  If we don’t do it, who will?

Mandeville: The Next Generation

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips



Until the economy took its drop a couple of years ago, work – for the most part – walked in the door.  Clients had plenty of needs.  The funding was attainable.  And consultants were reasonably busy.  Now, the situation has clearly changed.  The supply of consultants is greater than the amount of available work.  Competition has stiffened.  And the need to go out and identify early leads and build relationships – prior to RFPs coming out – is essential again.  However …

The leaders in firms – most having had Mandeville training before – now want their project managers to go out and help bring in new business.  But the new generation has never had training in how to do that.  Their comfort is low, so they’ll resist doing marketing activities that are uncomfortable – such as going out to meet new clients, rather than email them – which is comfortable … but ineffective.

How do you bring them up to speed, so you have a new cadre of skillful marketers?

First:  Skill Development

The easiest option, of course, is a workshop.  And firms seem eager to do that.  Last fall and early this spring, the Portland, OR ACEC chapter sponsored a simple one-day Mandeville workshop, which fills at 24.  It filled in a few days.  So we added a second day – which took almost a week to fill.  Then we added a third day, which also filled.  And we went back early this year for a fourth group.  Portland isn’t a small town, but it’s not the largest city.  That rapid response suggests that firms – and their next generation of people – are eager to develop their marketing skills.

Some firms with sufficient numbers are setting up workshops just for their people.  All include basic Mandeville skills.  Many also include skills in presentations and proposal writing.  And many use weekends, to drop the downtime cost.  However …

What if you don’t have enough people to warrant having a workshop?

Begin with “Mandeville, the Video, 2.0.”  You may have a copy.  If not, order one via our web site in either VHS or DVD format.  Have people view the first tape/DVD and then one of the demonstrations on Tape/DVD 2 or 3, so people can see what the process looks like.  Then – and this is critical – set up your skill practice.  Make copies of the forms, and have people practice doing it … just as you did in your initial workshop.  It’s the best way for people to “internalize” the skills, get a feeling for what the process is like, in action, and realize the comfort it creates for clients.

Firm leaders who had the training “many moons ago” may also wish to participate in the skill practice exercises.  You accomplish two additional outcomes …

  1. The practice refreshes their thinking and re-sharpens their skills;  some workshop alumni become a bit lax in some aspects – such as their summaries, or the depth to which they pursue Mystery Words.
  2. The video has a few twists that were not in early Mandeville workshops.  For example, non-physical follow-on questions … or summarizing without your notes, and beginning with the client’s project goal … are “twists” that have noticeable affects on client comfort.
  3. Having senior firm members involved says that it’s how everyone is supposed to do their marketing, top to bottom, in your firm.

If you have two professionals interviewing one client, team a younger professional with a firm leader.  They get comfortable with one another and use the same system.

Second:  On-the-Job-Coaching

Virtually every firm leader with whom I’ve worked has said that when they were young professionals in the firm, one of the senior principals put their arm around their shoulder and guided them through marketing activity.  I remember one saying,

“Now when we go up to that town next week, we want to get there two hours before the Council meeting and have supper at this one diner.  That’s where all the key players meet before each meeting.  If we want to keep working for that town, we need to know those people.”

I tell senior people to always take one of their younger people (who have had the training) with them when they call on a client.  It may cost a little more, but after a few such team efforts, your younger people will be sufficiently comfortable to carry the ball themselves … to maintain current clients and to help you secure new ones.

Third:  Recognition

I’m not big on awarding cash bonuses to people who help bring in a big project – although their value to your firm does go up … and that will likely be reflected in their next salary review.  But overt recognition is important.  Some I’ve seen …

  • An email to everyone who went through the training, announcing the success and citing the people who contributed to it.
  • Gathering everyone in the office, near day’s end, and announcing your new success and publicly citing those who helped win the job.
  • Ringing a bell when word of a win comes in – or a gong for a bigger win – and announcing the success and citing those who won the job.

The first method is lowest key and most common.  But regardless of method, when people see overt praise given to those contributions, they’ll all want to be a part of it.  The work is there, but you have to go get it.  You’ll now have a team that can!
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Many of you know of the Net Zero sustainable housing development I’m completing, and of the new book, “Sustainability,” that fostered.  I’ve also been encouraged to do a blog,;  visit if it’s of interest.