I’m tellin’ yah gang, my colleagues and I are getting less and less interested in the projects. The one-offs. The, here today, gone tomorrow, gigs. I suppose until we can afford that summer place in Tuscany, we’ll still accept project work, but to tell the truth, I don’t entirely dislike them, but I will confess that they hold far less appeal now, than they once did. Let me explain.
When I first began consulting, I enjoyed any work I got and not because I was desperate, but because I enjoyed the progression. I met the prospect, I sell the prospect, the prospects become a client. It’s quite an exhilarating experience actually.
But after a few years of project business, I began to wonder when I was going to win that golden goose, that return gift: the retainer. That’s the point of all this after all, isn’t it? We want the loyalist; that inconsolably enthusiastic army of followers that seek your abilities so frequently that a retainer is the only logical formula for getting their needs met efficiently. That’s the prize.
Well I thought it might be fun to explore 10 reasons why project work should never be the consultancy’s primary sales objective. This is by no means a comprehensive list of course. Consider it my contribution to a dialogue I hope you contribute to. OK, so let’s dig in. Here are 10 reasons why scoring project work should never be the focus of your sales goals.
10. Project work rarely, if ever, creates brand loyalty.
You’re filling an order, nothing more. Where’s the chance for the client to get emotional about you or how you do that voodoo, that you do, so well?
09. Project work doesn’t make the gig yours in any way.
Most projects dictate that we satisfy the client’s goals exclusively. These goals are typically vetted in advance by the client – often before we’ve even met. Like #10, there’s little opportunity for us to shine and subsequently, we likewise have no shot at conveying our own goals for the client because these goals typically expand on or worse, step entirely outside the client’s preordained ideas.
08. You and your client remain strangers to one another.
Your knowledge of each other is often limited to talks dealing with the project. There are very few opportunities to get to know one another when your interactions are always addressing the project’s needs. And I am a firm believer that people buy from people, not strangers. If we’re always talking about pixels and PHP, how would I ever learn of your pride for your son’s recent success in the individual medley, for exmaple?
07. No chance to generate buzz.
This one’s tied somewhat to #8. For example, if we had a chance to get to know one another, you’d have learned that doing so matters to me for reasons that stretch beyond the inherent business benefits. As we got cozy as people, not just business associates, we’d ideally like each other and that would lead me, at least, to talk about you in other circles. The idea here is that maybe my client would do similarly. Buzz. It’s irreplaceable.
06. Project work keeps you focused on the payday.
When is the last time you did something you were deeply passionate about purely because it brought you cash? People are not inspired to do amazing things because money is in play. They do them because they are inspired – pure and simple. Can’t buy me love, as the prophets John and Paul once put it. One of my favorite quotes in recent years sums this tenet up nicely. Says leadership mentor Patty Azzarello, “Money doesn’t buy loyalty, it only rents effort.”
05. Doing project work, we never improve how well we engage others.
This one’s a favorite of mine. If I’m always just filling orders, if I’m always making with the, “Just the facts, ma’am,” what, am I learning? I’ve worked with prideful CEOs, cocky salespeople and a host of other self-insulting professionals and they’re not learning a thing about how to engage, influence or shape the conversations they have with buyers. This is critical because the sales process has lots of built-in negative perceptions and connotations. The selling process needs no additional obstacles. It’s already tough enough. We learn from experience and nothing gives us more experience doing a thing than does repetition. Retainers give us unlimited tries at a thing. Project work? No way. They’re all one-and-done.
04. Projects rarely require much listening.
Oh sure, I need to know what you want me to do – what order to fill. But short of collecting a big ole to-do list from the client, there’s not much listening required. Retainer work is all listening. Listening to my clients, listening to my clients’ buyers, listening to my mentors, listening to the markets. Retainer work is pure listening. Project work, is largely an exercise in cutting cookies.
03. Project work leaves you feeling unfulfilled.
If we remember that money can’t buy me love, #3 should then be easy to wrap our heads around. I do what I do because I honestly enjoy it. I get emotional about my work and it is my untamable zeal that drives my success and thrills my clients. Projects are dictations of expectations. I have no room to get emotional about what I’m doing because most projects are the creation of someone other than me. I’ll still deliver what you asked for, but I won’t feel very satisfied doing it. If you’re ever unclear on how that feels, take the 6:54AM train into Penn Station in New York City any day, Monday thru Friday. I’ll point you in the direction of a few hundred thousand people who know a thing or two about being paid well, while feeling totally unfulfilled.
02. Project work fails the client and that reflects on you.
I’m a Web guy. So, when a client asks me to build their company Web site, I always begin by asking a variety of questions centered on the why of it all. If it’s a project, the client usually responds swiftly with some version of, “just shush, and do it.” So I stop asking exploratory questions and start building a Web site. And when the site ultimately underperforms, and it will, the client is disenchanted by all they’ve been hearing the power of the democratic Web. In my line, many small business owners think the Web site is the goal. So they set the mandate, I raise the caution flags, they set the mandate again – only this time a little louder and I – well I just launch their site. The client wastes their money, but has a Web site and the project fails. Worst of all, you might get blamed by the client even though you did your job as directed. I mean hey, you’re the Web guy. It didn’t work and well again, you’re the Web guy.
01. Project work has no lifespan.
I know plenty of companies that never groomed themselves to deliver stellar retainer-based services, but rather sought the quick gigs because of constant cash flow panics. The paradox is that the focus on winning the project work is precisely why these businesses struggle financially. Winning the retainer ensures cash flow is reliable. But that’s the inevitable part. The real juicy stuff is in the learning, the grooming and the polishing your company to score the retainer every time. Again, I’m a Web guy, so I want to know more every day about what we missed the last go around. How can we improve how and what we deliver? What did we overlook that last time that this time, we’ll incorporate? Project work is done and gone. That’s the very nature of it. The retainer is an incomparable teaching tool, always diligently watching how you operate and steadily shaping how you exceed the clients (and your) expectations. Do this without exception and cash flow won’t be a panic.
So this is my list. I spent a good bit of time considering what reasons there are to avoid making your sales goals deal heavily in winning project work. But as I said earlier, this list could use your feedback. So what do you think? What would you add or subtract?