How architects can learn to love marketing

Recently I’ve been involved in writing proposals for architecture firms, and have gathered that architects can be quite dismissive of the value of marketing.

“We’d prefer our work to speak for itself,” one architect told me the other day, “rather than having to schmooze potential clients and jump through hoops to prove our worth.”

Which is fine when the work’s rolling in. But not so good if there are no new projects on the horizon.

At a fascinating Archiboo event last month, Roger Zogolovitch, creative director of Solidspace, and his son Gus, chairman of Inhabit Homes, talked about what architects can learn from entrepreneurs about passion, persistence and why the customer is king.

Solidspace designs and builds contemporary eco-homes

Solidspace designs and builds
contemporary eco-homes

Here are a few highlights from the discussion.

Discover the joy of selling

Architects are wrong to think that they have a big hill to climb in order to embrace the joy of selling, according to Roger. We’ve all experienced the fun of selling, whether it’s a car, something you’ve offloaded on ebay or – in his case – a consignment of white buckskin shoes. He adds: “The best bit is putting your hand in your pocket and find you’re holding the folding.”

Be multi-lingual

As an architect who’s also a developer, Roger has discovered he has to be able to talk many different languages. “In one day, I might need to speak to a banker in the morning, interview a mechanical and electrical supplier, then talk to lawyers, and buy land at an auction. Whoever I’m talking to, I have to wash away the previous conversation and immerse myself in the area of expertise of the people on the other side of the table.”

Love your clients

“For me, it’s all about the clients,” says Gus. “I find it amazing when architects tell me they hate private clients. They are the customer, and if you’re not fascinated by your customers, it’s going to be very hard to have a successful business.”

Develop your bedside manner

Roger takes up the theme, suggesting that: “The most successful firms of architects have a great ‘bedside’ manner. You need to make your client feel important and make them feel their project is important to you, whether you’re talking about a £100 million development or a £500,000 house.” Like it or not, flattery is an essential skill for architects. “We’re all open to flattery,” says Roger. “And if architects are arrogant and look like they don’t care, it’s no surprise that clients don’t give them the work.”

Listening comes first

Gus told a story about his aunt calling in a couple of firms of architects recently to get a quote for some work. “One company came in, didn’t listen and didn’t show any warmth or love.” Quite simply, the firm that took the trouble to listen and show they cared got the work. He advises: “Put yourself in your client’s shoes and try to understand what they want.”

Dare to be different

Roger discussed his love of infill as an opportunity to reshape the city in a new way. For a site on Cambridge Heath Road, he collaborated with an artist, Peter Whiley. “It’s unusual for developers to work with artists, but to me it adds a new understanding of the way you can engage with the context by adding beauty.” He also cited Gus’ idea of letting clients ‘test drive’ a property by letting them sleep in it overnight.

Fine tune your sales and marketing

“Are you getting your sales and marketing right?” asks Roger. “If you’re talking to a client about building a kitchen, do you then send them a brochure about a town centre development you’ve built? Sales and marketing should be a fundamental part of your business plan. It’s not a threat to our creativity. It’s the mechanism by which we become successful.”

Don’t expect customers to find you

Gus challenged the notion that a website is a proxy for marketing. “Think of your website as a doorway to a basement in a side street in a small town in a small country with a very small population. People won’t find your website unless you tell them about it.” He argued that a business should never expect customers to find it via its website alone. “Find where your customers hang out. Go to those places and you’ll be successful.”

Put roofs over people’s heads

Roger’s final point was that there’s only room for about six star architects in every generation. On the downside, you’re probably not going to be one of those six. But on the upside, there are a lot of people who need a roof over their head. As he put it: “In 1950 there were 730 million people living in cities. In 2014, there are 3.5 billion people. In 2050, there are likely to be 6.5 billion people. The one thing we’re in the business of is providing roofs over people’s heads. That’s a lot of heads. And a lot of roofs.”