Expertise + Listening = Success

Years ago when our company transitioned from just a design firm to a residential design/build firm, we did it because we believed we had the expertise to be successful. Happily, we did succeed, and I have a clear understanding of how and why we can differentiate ourselves from firms that do not provide both services. But I have often wondered why other design/build firms with talented and creative people have not fared as well as we have.

A recent experience in winning a kitchen project and then delighting our clients demonstrates both the advantages of being a design/build firm and what it takes to be successful as such a firm.

When we first met Sue and Jim (not their real names), they were very uptight and nervous. After probing, I discovered they had already met with a few contractors and had been very disappointed. It seems that when the couple wanted to talk about their vision for the project, all the contractors wanted to talk about was price. When they asked for expertise, they got budgets and promises to deliver something the clients really did not want. The clients perceived that the contractors did not listen to them, did not possess the necessary expertise and only were interested in price and delivering something that could be as profitable for them as possible.

Two things struck me during our initial conversations with Sue and Jim. First, the contractors did not have the expertise to discuss anything other than price. Our firm has architects who eat, breathe and sleep design; the contractors did not. In the market space we occupy, this is a must.

But even more important, the contractors clearly did not listen to the clients. This is a must, no matter what market you serve, no matter your level of expertise. You have to listen.

From that point forward my focus was on listening to Sue and Jim. We started by discussing what they wanted — not what features they wanted, but what their end vision was. Their end vision was they wanted a kitchen they could enjoy when their children and grandchildren visited, because they live for the moments they spend with their family. At the same time, Sue wanted to be the “queen of the kitchen,” taking the lead role in preparing the meals. But she also wanted to be involved in the conversations in the dining room while she was in the kitchen.

We then used our expertise and determined that we needed to open the kitchen to the dining area and the four-seasons room addition.

When we originally started, Sue’s main “gotta have” was an island. She thought that was how she could meet her goals. That is where our expertise came in. Rather than just quote them a price for an island, we prepared several design schemes. Eventually, we determined that an island would not work, but a peninsula would work and was within their budget parameters.

We accomplished this by situating the peninsula to form a “cockpit” for Sue to manage the cooking and opening up the entire wall between the kitchen and dining area. By creating a half height wall between the kitchen and dining area, we provided a visual barrier for people sitting at the dining room table so they would not see the activity going on in the kitchen. It also provided a place to stand and talk to Sue while she cooks. The ledge is 8 ft. wide and can be used to set drinks on. The wood flooring currently in the living and dining rooms was extended through the kitchen for a seamless transition around the entire first floor.

So ask yourself these questions: Do you have the expertise to come up with creative solutions to delight your clients? And if you have that expertise, do you actively listen to your clients?

Expertise – Listening ? Success
Listening – Expertise ? Success
Expertise + Listening = Success

“Many of us have reaped the riches of being mentored and brought into the fold of the home building industry. We discovered new business opportunities we never thought possible. It took someone who believed in us, saw beyond our self-doubts and led us to succeed by their example. In today’s technological age we can (within seconds) access information. None of us really lacks for information with quick and easy access, which is very valuable and has its merits.” — Philip Calinda Jr.