August 22, 2023

Architect Client Relationship: Client Secrets Revealed!

Shhh… Did you know? Your clients are talking. About you. Yes, you. And the architect client relationship. I’m not here to pass judgment or name names, but to lend you a perspective you may not have considered – the client.

You see, I talk with your clients. I call to gather architect testimonials for you and… I get information. Their exact words and the opportunity to clarify and probe a bit deeper is what makes a testimonial come to life. And on occasion, I hear about something we can nip in the bud without anyone being any the wiser.

In this post we’re going to talk about:

  • Off-the-cuff feedback I’ve received – and opportunities to do things another way
  • Solving a problem before it’s a problem
  • The impact of ego on architect client communication
  • The simple resolution

Wanna know what your clients had to say??

If architects weren’t arrogant, they wouldn’t be architects. I don’t know a modest good architect.

Philip Johnson

Testimonials and the architect client relationship

When the right person calls your client for a testimonial – vs sending an email – you have an opportunity to not just get the amazing language you want, but to really learn about the architect client relationship – from the client side. Not scripted – it’s about THEM.

minneapolis architect firm marketing consultant barbara gates working out of her home office

It comes down to the basics – to get good feedback, your client has to be comfortable. I’m another non-architect who works with architects. I’m someone who understands. So they talk. Some discoveries? Intriguing. Some? Enlightening. And then there’s the juicy gossip. Irresistible.

I get the big picture of what’s really in their heads.

Striking GOLD in hearing your clients

We get the most authentic, insightful, and yes, sometimes raw feedback from your clients. The result? Detailed, engaging architect testimonials full of the language your clients use and understand. That makes them see themselves in the words. that make your prospects say, “Yes! This is the architect for me!”

By incorporating these into your marketing materials, you’re speaking directly to them in a language they understand. And just like there is value in the good, there is value in the other…

The architect’s accidental ego trip

I’ve worked with you for 20 years. I know you genuinely want to help your clients, and you’re not rubbing your clients the wrong way intentionally, but the truth is, you might unknowingly be causing friction.

So stick with me. This may not have been written about you – but I’m guessing there’s somewhere you can incorporate it. No one wants that strain on the client architect relationship.

Architect client relationship ProTip

In this LinkedIn video, I share a story of a client who asked, “Why can’t you just call a window a window!” It may seem trivial to you, and it’s likely something you hadn’t considered, but feeling respected and understood in their own right is a reality your clients grapple with. And that makes it a reality for you.

Confronting the Ego, the architect and client relationship killer

And that brings us to (not so) surprising insight number two. The elephant in the room – EGO. It is more prominent in your client’s narratives than you might like to admit. Paired often with another term: “self-serving”. Ouch. But… it’s reality.

No worries – there is something you can use to offset this, starting today. EMPATHY.

Keep reading to find out exactly how to implement it.

This applies to everyone

Many architects are accidentally damaging relationships with their clients. It doesn’t have to be you.

Many times don’t even realize anything is wrong. Either you get so caught up in your work that you don’t pause to check in and see how things are with the client – or you start talking over their head in the excitement of sharing what you’re doing.

OR – you may be a person that naturally has a more intense expressin, which only grows under stress. You know who you are. Your clients may not know you well enough to understand it’s just your face – and they can be intimidated or misunderstand what you are saying based on their perception of your facial expression. Everyone knows someone like that, so as soon as they know that’s you – you’re set.

And many architects fall into the trap of believing their work is amazing enough – or just being an architect is enough – to get a free pass. The reality is, your project photos, no matter how amazing, won’t secure a win solely on their merit. Here’s why:

  • Your competition has a compelling portfolio, too.
  • Your clients aren’t architects. They need to see what matters to THEM.

How you act is absolutely factored in. Unchecked ego or getting lost in your part of the work can steer clients away and prompt name-dropping you’d rather avoid.

So here’s your golden opportunity. To “fix” an issue before it even registers as a problem on your client’s radar. Clients WILL take note. And voila – client architect relationship improved. You’ll be among the few firms that “actually listens” and “doesn’t make it all about themselves.” (their words, not mine)

Still skeptical? Check out this LinkedIn video, where I share what your clients have said about EGO…

And check out this post about ego and empathy. This was also offered as an event with AIA Pennsylvania. A little more insight on who is saying what.

What does the industry say?

Okay, now let’s see what people in the industry thing. AIA Dallas put together a fantastic piece called “Ego: The Good, The Bad, and the Unexpected” where architects and others in the AEC share specific situations where it was impactful – and they DO include good, bad, and unexpected. It ranges from learning a VERY humbling lesson at an early age and being grateful for it now to decorating a Christmas tree was a very important lesson. Here’s a teaser for one called “Ego and Humility—Equal Parts of a Learning Process” by Kevin Sloan:

In a somewhat loud and deliberate voice, he said, “How can you call yourself a landscape architect if you don’t know the diagram of the most influential garden in Western civilization?

Kevin Sloan, Hon. AIA Dallas, ASLA

Read the rest at “Ego: The Good, The Bad, and the Unexpected” – this is a FANTASTIC piece with really interesting perspectives and life experiences.

The tyrant, defined
(no naming names)

The stereotype of the ‘tyrant’ architect is nothing new. This tyrant can be a creative genius and at the same time as welcoming as a cactus, imposing their brilliance on anyone brave enough to express an opinion. They consider their vision as being above all and feedback as a personal insult.

Was the author in that quote a tyrant? I would say he’s likely a (ahem) difficult personality but is BRILLIANT so everyone lets him get away with everything. A situation where as long as you KNOW certain things and grow a few (dozen) extra layers of thick skin, you should be fine.

I’ve been in architectural marketing for 20 years so I would say no – not a tyrant. But difficult, yes. Would someone outside the industry agree? No – they would say tyrant (based on actual discussions) and that it is crazy to put up with all this. “Yeah, but you know the uber-creative type…” – but the thing is, no. They don’t. And your CLIENTS may not be as well-acquainted as I am, either. And perception is reality.

(so let’s put an end to the tyrant, shall we?)

The fine line to watch for

Being assertive and having a clear vision are not shortcomings, nor are they the issue here. It’s when these characteristics overshadow your ability to listen to clients when things can get dicey.

ProTip: Architectural marketing is not a one-sided conversation about your big idea or a long list of services you provide. It’s about understanding and addressing client needs, wants, and worries – both apparent and concealed. To accomplish this – the relationship between architect and client – effective communication with everyone involved is crucial.

Expert advice

How you work with and engage with clients greatly influences their choices. They assess your demeanor and the quality of your service every day they work with you. The impact you make is crucial – even if your work is exceptional.

A difficult attitude can and does prevent clients from collaborating with you in the future. I can confirm this from my own direct client interactions.

Like most things, clear communication is the key. And here, it comes down to one thing:

Empathy.

Ego vs empathy: The simple solution

There is no reason for the relationship between architect and client or the architect client and contractor relationship to be strained at all. The remedy is an easy one – and one I know you have a lot of practice in. Treat clients as peers, make sure they feel heard, and connect with them on their level – in other words, meet them where they are, talk like a regular person, and listen when you need to. The secret is to personalize the client architect relationship, one interaction at a time.

ProTip: Remember that they are not architects. We all like you better when you ditch the industry language around us. We know you’re brilliant. Don’t make us stop working with you and miss out on your world for something you can easily adjust.

Next steps

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I'm Barb
I’m a 20-year architectural marketing veteran sharing resources and insights from my architect-adjacent life. Useful information with stories and humor.
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I'm Barb
I’m a 20-year architectural marketing veteran sharing resources and insights from my architect-adjacent life. Useful information with stories and humor.
learn about barb

hey there!

Ready to be the only architect clients think of?
 The ULTIMATE marketing solution - The EDGE helps you stand out, build better client relationships FASTER, and WIN.
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what iconic building

ARE YOU?

See what sets you apart from 
everyone + get strategies for YOUR UNIQUE PERSONALITY to stand out and win more!


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I'm Barb
I’m a 20-year architectural marketing veteran sharing resources and insights from my architect-adjacent life. Useful information with stories and humor.
learn about barb

hey there!

Ready to be the only architect clients think of?
 The ULTIMATE marketing solution - The EDGE helps you stand out, build better client relationships FASTER, and WIN.
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what iconic building

ARE YOU?

See what sets you apart from 
everyone + get strategies for YOUR UNIQUE PERSONALITY to stand out and win more!


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