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Raphael Jambalos for AWS Community ASEAN

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Lessons I wish I knew when I started dealing with clients as a Dev Solutions Architect

Back in 2019, I was employed as an Infrastructure Engineer in an e-commerce company. Our work was focused mainly on making features our business team believed would drive the most revenue. In a way, our clients were the business team. Working with them for a long time, our interactions became more predictable. As a technical person, this was ideal for me because I could focus on the code.

In 2020, I moved to eCloudValley, a tech consultancy that specializes in AWS. I am now the Team Lead for the Cloud Native Development Team. Aside from developing cloud-native applications, I also meet with clients and create proposals.

Coming from my previous job, this was all very new to me. At one point, I was meeting with three different companies in a week. In the first few months of the new role, this part of the job was mostly a hit or miss for me. Sometimes, the meeting goes well; sometimes, it goes south.

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But as I gained more experience, I learned a few things that can help boost my chances of landing that deal:

(1) It's about your customer and their problem. Listen first.

As a dev, I often get excited when I hear a problem. I almost couldn't contain myself—my head races to the solution. When I first started as an SA, I often interrupted the customer to:

  • ask a follow-up question even before they finish talking
  • gave a solution early that would have changed had I heard the full context

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When meeting a client for the first time, introduce yourself and your company briefly. Then, start asking the customer about their pain points. During this time, listen, take notes, and ask follow-up questions. This time is about the customer. You can suggest high-level solutions, but only as a way to scope out the problem. The more detailed bits should be saved for a later meeting.

(2) First impressions are essential. Prove your credibility without being a hard sell.

When a customer gets the service of a consultancy partner (like the one I'm working for), they would usually dish out lots of hard-earned cash. And of course, they'd want to spend it on someone who they can rely on. The first 10-15 minutes of your interactions set the entire tone of your relationship (at least until the deal gets signed).

Build your credibility. Before the meeting, study what business and industry the customer is in. Take a look at the LinkedIn of the people you are meeting. Do you have common industries or companies that you both worked in before? Or maybe know someone in those companies they worked in.

Customers also don't like to be the guinea pig for things. They want someone who's tried and tested, and ideally some who has solved problems for a company similar to theirs. Casually telling them about parallel experience you had would reassure them that you know what you are doing, since this is not your first time doing this. It also shows they can rely on you.

(3) People love to work with people they like. Find ways to "click" with the customer.

This took me a while to get. For some clients, we would be laughing like old friends in the initial meeting. It would be very formal for some, and we both couldn't wait for our allocated hour to end so we could get on with our days. While I haven't fully cracked the formula yet, here are some things I have tried (or seen others tried):

  • Mention people whom you that they might have worked.
  • Occasionally, share anecdotes from your own experience similar to the pain point the customer is sharing right now.
  • Meetings start in a professional tone. But like any other social interaction, it would have its ups and downs - times of excitement and boredom. It is helpful to "mirror" the customer's ups. When they are excited about something, probe deeper into it and find reasons to be genuinely excited with him.
  • Try to make your presentations engaging by occasionally mentioning your counterparts by name and asking them how it affects their group (i.e Ms. Allen, in leading the customer services team, what other pain points might you have which has not been addressed yet with the solution?).

(4) It's always more complex than they make it seem. Always pad your estimates.

When customers come to you, they only have a high-level idea of what they want. It is usually through the successive meetings during the pre-sales stage where you discover their needs in-depth. Don't cut corners when creating the scope of work. Ask the relevant questions. Think of all the miscellaneous expenses and out-of-scope items. At the proposal stage, it never hurt anybody to be as specific as possible.

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When you cut corners in creating the proposal, the implementation team suffers (which, unfortunately for me, is also my team). They have to bring to life everything you promised in the proposal in that short time. This means getting delayed or your team spending countless nights and weekends catching up. (Hint: It's usually the latter).

At the start, it would be hard to estimate the effort. Lean on the side of safe, and pad yourself. The key is to have at least 20% padding on the man-days you will give.

(5) Client obsession does not mean they can push you around.

They say, "Whoever Has the Gold Makes the Rules." That's true to a certain extent. The paying party gets to demand to the party being paid - they want to get their money's worth after all. But this shouldn't be an excuse to bully around the supplier. Learn to stand up for yourself and your team.

(6) Get used to rejection

Half the customers that I have pursued for months don't sign with us. And that's just the fact of life. Sometimes they decide not to push through with the project. Or sometimes they do, just with someone else who can do it cheaper. Rejection is a fact of life in this business.

At the start, these rejections would be rough. But dusting yourself off and getting up from each rejection will be critical to your survival (and you thriving in the company). And as they say, on to the next!

(7) Let your reputation bring your team forward

As you and your team deliver great work, word spreads around. Your clients, happy with your work, start availing you again or recommend you to their friends in other company subsidiaries. These "hot referrals" are gold. They make initial meetings easier since your credibility has been established even before you enter the room.

This tip is a long-game tactic. Keep doing great work, and you will have your job easier for you over time.

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This post is dedicated to a close friend of mine who is about to start a client-facing job. I hope this helps! And as always, a big thank you to Allen for being my editor

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Discussion (6)

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rammina profile image
Rammina

Thank you for sharing this article, very relatable and informative!

As a freelancer, I can definitely agree with points 3 and 6 the most.

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raphael_jambalos profile image
Raphael Jambalos Author

Thanks Rammina! Rejection really is a bummer especially when I started doing consulting work. But getting used to it is really part of the job :P

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rolfstreefkerk profile image
Rolf Streefkerk

Number 3 is so important, almost as important as the money side of things. It's not always about being the best.

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raphael_jambalos profile image
Raphael Jambalos Author

That's true! No matter how they say they decide on merit, if you don't "click" with the customer, there's no way they'd trust you with their business

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chatchaikomrangded profile image
Chatchai Komrangded (Bas)

Great one! Totally agree in #3 and #6

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raphael_jambalos profile image
Raphael Jambalos Author

Thanks Chatchai!