The start of a client relationship is the riskiest phase, according to Dana Hutchins, president and creative director of Image Works, a multimedia production company, located in Portland, Maine. Because mismatched expectations are common, communicating with prospective customers to understand their needs and to set expectations is critical. Hutchins makes sure to let the customers ask the questions rather than the other way around.

When pitching new clients, most companies lead the conversation, asking questions to identify client needs. Image Works uses a different approach in its pitch. It starts by creating a customized Web page for each prospective customer. To get the customer thinking, the site highlights previously created multimedia projects that are relevant to the customer's industry. Prospective customers are invited to ask the company questions once they've seen the Web site. The results are phenomenal. Questions flow freely: "How did you do that?" "How does this type of media fit into our strategy?" "What are the bottom-line results of this endeavor?" "Can you complete something like this for me in a month?"

"Customer-led dialogue generates an understanding of the client's needs and sets clear expectations," says Hutchins. "The up-front effort to get customers talking certainly results in a smoother project start and a shorter project completion time."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing