I originally wrote an article on the need to stop producing capability statements, way back in 2016. That’s four years ago and it is still very much an issue alive on the floors of many professional services firms. Credentials statements, Capability Statements or Cap Stats, they just keep on being produced. It may even be a fact that if you printed all the cap stats produced annually by professional services firms, they would reach to the moon and back! Okay I made that fact up, but you get the point, they are still being produced, but why? Do we think our clients read them?
Imagine your client has had a meeting with you. It was a nice and polite chat. You know if they are in a relationship or not, if they have any children, any pets and what sports and hobbies they like. Outside of that, not much else. They asked what you did, so you gave them the old elevator pitch. They didn’t really respond. So now what do you do?
This is what you’ll most likely say.
“Can I give you a brochure?”
Or even more likely.
“Can I send you a capability statement?”
Now, we’re a polite bunch in this part of the world. So, your client will say “yes”. Why wouldn’t they, it closes that part of the conversation and it’s no effort on their part. They’ll receive your capability statement, and then file it. Which means either bin it, if you’re old school and have posted it to them, or they’ll delete your email, or just ignore it.
When you think about it, what else would they do with it? Do we really think that our client is sitting in their office, looking at their emails thinking:
“I need something generic and all about you”
Of course they aren’t, but we send them our capability statements anyway. If we have a BD and marketing team, we get them to waste their time on it as well, making it look super slick. Again, just to be ignored.
Some people even turn up to the first meeting with their capability statements in tow. A pre-printed brochure of them and all the work they have done. It’s the equivalent of carrying around the junk mail you get in your letter box with you. This is even worse than sending one post meeting. It can only be generic.
So why should you stop producing capability statements?
- Too self-focused. They are inevitably all about you and your company. What you do, how great you are, how many employees you have, how many offices or even better, how global you are! There is danger that you can come across as arrogant or only interested in yourself. Even if you send it after the first meeting, surely it is still too early in the relationship. While the client may have some interest in learning more about your company, in a first meeting they really want you to get to understand them more and find out what their main issues are. Which leads to my 2nd point:
- Too assumptive. We all know that assumptions aren’t a good thing. So why produce a document ahead of time which assumes you know what service or product the client is looking for? You need to have invested time in understanding them fully before you can think of providing them with relevant information.
- Too salesy. Since you have nice glossy capability statements, and probably because you have invested time and money in producing them, you’ll feel inclined to use them. The moment you whip it out of your bag and slide it across the desk in a meeting, whatever has happened before, you are now selling yourself and your company to the client. They will feel like you have probably asked some questions as lip-service for the moment when you can strike and start pitching at them.
- Too pushy. Even sent post meeting this document is invariably you pushing your messages to the client. They have just met you for the first time, you may have built some rapport. They are not looking for your big sales pitch yet. Your aim should be securing meeting two, not pushing your company credentials.
- They already googled you. Yes, you will have done some research ahead of your meeting. So did your client. When they looked you up online, they either looked at your bio on your website, or more likely these days, your LinkedIn profile. Therefore, make sure it’s up to date.
- Too wasteful! Most generic material gets binned (hopefully recycled at least). So do your bit for our planet – don’t produce it.
So what should you do instead?
- Prepare for the meeting. Rather than produce a document based on assumptions, why not prepare some really good questions that will: a) Help you understand your prospect even better, and b) even more importantly, will help them unpack some of their thinking on whatever it is they are working on.
- Understand your case studies / stories. I’ve often heard people say, “I need a document so the client can see what we have done.” While this is important, it is your job to understand yours and your colleagues’ stories, so if required you can tell these in the meeting, at a point which is appropriate. Rather than producing glossy brochures, you’d be better investing in collecting and storing your case studies effectively. This will also help you with your proposal responses.
- Change your focus for the meeting. Don’t go to the meeting aiming to promote your product or services. Instead go with an open and inquisitive mind, and seek to understand and help the person you’re meeting with, whatever’s important to them. Do this and you’re on the path to starting to build a long term business relationship.
- Look to agree next steps in the meeting. Long term, if you both come out of your meeting with actions, that is great. Try to get the client to articulate what they would like to see next. If they do ask for a cap stat, and some do, ask them what they would like to see in this document. When asked, they usually think about it and often, they just want some contact details or links to relevant parts of your website. They may just want an idea on hourly rates, which you can give them in the meeting. Either way, if they do want a document, asking them what they want to see in it, makes them more likely to read it.
- Introduce your colleague rather than offering a capability statement. When your client expresses an interest in one of the services your firm or company offers outside of your particular expertise, the logical thing is to suggest that your colleague will give them a call, if they need in depth details. It is way more effective. Don’t say you’ll send a cap stat with the info.
- Deliver some value in the meeting. If you ask the right questions you should learn something about what’s important to the other person you’re meeting with. It may be that you know someone in your network that can help them with that. Great, introduce them. That one valuable connection you shared is something they will value and appreciate. You’ve created a ‘moment’ that they will remember. They will most likely call you when they need help. That’s way better than sending them something they will never read.
What you should do instead of producing capability statements
While it may feel like you are doing some BD work through producing these and firing them off, the reality is they are mostly not read. Re-assess your approach to client meetings. Think about how you can build rapport. Focus on getting to know the person you’re meeting, and what’s important to them.
“Getting to know someone else involves curiosity about where they have come from, who they are.”Penelope Lively
So be curious, aim to share connections and insights with your clients in your meetings. And remember, a great goal is securing a second meeting, as opposed to sending across your capability statements.