Why Do You Like Us?

Posted on July 18, 2011


Currently I am reading Peter Drucker’s Managing for Results, an interesting book from the viewpoint of providing business input that is opposite of conventional wisdom.

In the chapter on knowing your customer, Drucker relates that many thoughts businesses have about their products and why clients hire them are likely inaccurate. According to Drucker, the points of differentiation from a company’s internal standpoint are not the same reasons a client hires them.  Similarly, the aspects a company touts as the most valued features of its services are not the ones valued by the customer. And the expertise a company feels it has is not the same expertise understood by the customer. In effect, Drucker argues a firm knows very little about why its clients select it for business.

This idea, although antithetical, rings true. How many times have you or your company discussed with a hospital why you were not selected, in the humbling “debrief”, and heard at least one negative thing oblivious to you or your team? If it is this difficult to identify negatives, when you know you did not perform well, how much more difficult is it to identify strengths when you are selected?

What does this mean for designers and builders? If true, how can design-builders most appropriately market themselves? How do they know where to focus energies to make buildings and services better?  How can success be replicated?

You can start by asking. Although for many reasons, it is incredibly difficult for the client to articulate why they hired you. For one, unless a single individual made the selection, there are multiple answers to the question. Some reasons are logical, such as ‘you scored high in the interview’, while others are subjective and not easily communicated:  ‘we liked your team’s energy’.  Keep in mind:  customers in all markets are notorious for both not knowing why they do things and also for not telling the truth. A client may not have a good answer for you, or they do not feel comfortable sharing it. On some level, reasons for selection will always remain a mystery.

However, it is important to get as much of the truth from your hospital director clients why you were selected as possible. Inevitably, it will get you closer to reality than your own assumptions because a firm’s collective impression of itself is, as Drucker writes, also not likely accurate. Design-builders assume they are hired for laudable reasons like ‘award-winning design’, ‘outstanding recommendations’ or a history of ‘impeccable budget management’. Yet, they might be chosen for crass or subjective reasons:  you are close by, good rapport, or maybe the price was right.

The lesson I suppose, is until you ask, you will never know why you are liked, how you can improve, or emphasize your best features. But be patient because in some cases, it may take years to reach a comfort level where you can ask:  why do you like us?