Last issue, we talked about how the process of planning a show has moved from being one of meetings to one of disjointed email and phone calls. Accordingly, a number of people have asked how we compensate for the fact that the client is a disembodied thumb tapping out cryptic messages on a Blackberry, and the committee is meeting in a web forum.
Well, proverbially, when you can't beat them you're supposed to join them. One of the great truisms in sales is that you work to remove barriers to the client doing business with you, and incompatible communications methods are among the biggest barriers.
So, personally, I believe in taking the communications load on myself. I develop methods of communication that leave the client feeling confident in my plan - or, perish the thought, I might have to use theirs. One of my first bosses told me that when you're the only one with a documented plan, default accepts your plan. So I've always tried to be the guy who had one.
So I start with a proposal, or at least a scope of work statement. Always. Even when I already have the job. Why? Because it details my understanding of the client's expectations. It defines our scope of work, and what's included in our plan. It covers my posterior in the event that a client makes unfortunate assumptions about what I'm supposed to do. When plans change, I update it and email copies to everyone concerned. If there were ever any issues, it gives me a documentation trail. CYA. Plus, as I'm constantly pointing out, a show is more than the sum of its gear, and "quotes" that are really just equipment lists scare me.
Second, I use the technology myself. I'm a mobile PDA user that answers emails all day long, just like the people I get so frustrated with (do as I say, not as I do). On top of that, there are a lot of connected technologies I like to use that draw people in. For instance, I videoconference constantly. Even when I'm in the field, I carry a MacBook Pro with built-in camera and XMeeting software, so I can connect to a client's traditional videoconference room equipment (like Tandberg or Polycom) from my hotel room. Sometimes this is for CYA purposes, sometimes just because I think that using the technology we represent is confidence building for the client. When the client has no videoconferencing capability, I use Quicktime Broadcaster or Skype to send them one-way video of myself or my plans and drawings. While this is going on, I usually use Quicktime to record the entire meeting with two-way audio so that I can reference it later.
Another great method of drawing the client who is at a remote location into the planning process is audio-graphics conferencing. Those of you who work with me frequently know that I'm crazy about EFI's E-Beam system. It's an electronic whiteboard system that lets you share whiteboards over the internet quickly, easily, and free. You can write over a blank screen or over electronic documents in many formats, like a PDF or a CAD plan. I carry a receiver and pens in my briefcase, and can stick the receiver on any whiteboard and start sharing. They don't even need a whiteboard at their end, just a computer and web browser. You can then easily email PDFs or even Quicktime of the entire meeting. Again, I think it accomplishes documentation of the meeting while building the client's impression of your capability with technology.
In the end, these processes give me even more and better quality documentation than I got from the old-style meetings, and a complete record of who has received what information and when. Not only does this protect me from any discrepancies between my understanding and the client's, these kinds of notes would be very useful to my staff if a bus hit me.
So, the long and the short of it is that I now assemble my own show books, and it involves more work than it used to. But the advantage of adapting to a client's communications methods (or lack of them) is that you remove barriers to doing business with your company, and add barriers to doing business with somebody else. And that's always worth doing.