Client Communications: Building Presence of Mind

Below is an email exchange (redacted version) between one of our team members and a prospective client, as a follow up to a recent sales presentation:

From: Bob

To: Project sales team

Subject: Our presentation follow up


When I returned from our sales presentation, I wrote hand notes on our Austin cards and thanked all we met with for the opportunity to present. See one of the responses below.

Thanks, Bob

From: Current prospect

To: Bob

Subject: Your presentation


Thanks for the follow-up note. I personally thought your team did well. You did a lot of the things I try to do and #1 on the list is get the client talking.

The firm prior to you did a (very) poor job at this, opting instead to simply point out how terrific they are. If you can get the client to engage in a conversation, that in my book is a winning strategy.

Regards, Bill

There is so much to be learned from this little exchange that I felt compelled to share my perspectives on it.

First, the hand written note sent by Bob. Old fashioned, perhaps. But when you are competing, you are contending for presence of mind. As sterile and objective as a procurement process might be, when you’re picking a design-build firm with whom you’re going to spend the next 18 months building a critical project for your company, you are at least going to want to make sure you’ll be working with people you like.

What Bob did may have been second nature to him, but it differentiated him and us in the mind of the prospect and created the presence of mind that we will be the kind of firm with whom they want to partner with to create their next plant.

Now, think of all the effort that has gone into this sales process: sales calls, letters, brochures, meetings, travel, hours spent preparing and rehearsing a presentation. The thing that motivated the Owner’s consultant to share with Bob what a competitor did was a simple note that took no more than five minutes to write and mail. It’s a very cost effective weapon in the competition for the presence of mind of the prospect.

Next, let’s turn our attention to the prospect’s response. Bill, the responder, is a third party consultant to the Owner assisting with the review and procurement process. This is what he does for a living. Now, Bob wasn’t the lead person in this sales process, so the response from Bill wasn’t him reaching out to the business development leader. His response was triggered by the note card sent by Bob. And, it wasn’t just a thank you for the note! Bill took the time and made a subjective comment regarding our performance, reinforcing in his own mind the positive impression we left with the client. Another victory won in the competition for presence of mind. And an important victory at that!

Lastly, the differentiation between our performance and that of a competitor. We engaged the client and got them discussing their project, whereas the competitor did not use their ears and mouths in the proportion that God gave them. A mistake we often make is to reinforce why we’re there in the first place, instead of moving on to the next step.

If we have been prequalified, we shouldn’t be spending too much time reinforcing their reason for shortlisting us. Rather, we need to create a collaborative understanding of what is next. Create the anticipation to get started with us, the vision, and hopefully, excitement of working with the team that was interested in hearing what the Owner was interested in.

It is about differentiation. Differentiation begins with being different. In the big things and in the small ones.

“America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered.”

Louis D. Brandeis

“I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Thomas Jefferson