Bridging the gap between sales and project management: Issue 1 of 6

Assess your client & project alignment

How to run a quick and effective client fit evaluation with your team.

As promised, this is the first instalment of our mini-series on Bridging the gap between sales and project management.

Issue 1: Assess your client & project alignment
Issue 2: From sales to project setup
Issue 3: Stakeholder types and their quirks
Issue 4: Stakeholder alignment
Issue 5: Tips for stakeholder onboarding
Issue 6: Wrap-up & resources

Let’s dig in:


You like your clients, right? And so does the whole team? All your projects start and finish elegantly like Charlize Theron killing it on Hot Ones?—If you started nodding at the first statement but ended up wiggling your head like a car bobble on a bumpy road by the third one, lend us an ear and let’s turn that wobble back into a nod.

First, though, let’s start with some questions to help you understand your current goals, values, and whether clients are taking you closer or further away…

Gut check

  • How many clients are actively helping you reach your company’s goals? How many are taking you further away?
  • What are those company goals? Does the team know? Every single person?
  • Are you running too many projects or the right amount? How do you know?
  • How would you begin to assess if you were aligned as a team? Why does it even matter?

Maintaining the right client and project mix is critical, not just for project success, but for your company’s survival, too. Folks often think this ‘choose wisely’ role falls onto the business developer, sales, or senior leadership: they bring in the work, so they’re in charge of the fit, right? But the truth is, the whole team creates and maintains that client experience. If you leave your teammates in the dark, you’re heaving a heavy boulder up a hill all on your own and that’s just a waste of your energy. Think of the sleep you could be getting if you had a little help. Think of the revenue you could be making if you had some internal alignment.

Whether you’re reading this as an owner or a project lead, one thing’s spit sure, the tighter that sales to project-start flow, the better your projects run, the happier your team, and the more profitable and sustainable your company will ultimately be. Here’s why.

Closer alignment is mutually beneficial

  • When the team likes the work, they can be more productive and cultivate a stronger, psychologically safer culture
  • Your team can offer up additional features and scalable ideas that can spin into ongoing projects after the first one launches (aka, customer lifetime value goes up)
  • Clients are excited about the relationship and outcomes and are willing to work harder with you
  • Clients become long-term partners because they learn how to prioritize with you
  • The work moves your org (and your clients) closer to defined goals
  • Both sides are mutually invested (aka, they share the risk)

Alignment prevents pain

  • You can avoid work that burns out your team and kills profitability
  • You’ll prevent project disasters by declining toxic Trojan horses that look too good from the outside (it’s common for shops to face 30–50% overages due to misalignment).
  • You’ll also avoid the dreaded cycle of posting work you hate that brings in more work you’ll hate but need to show off to fill that portfolio

Goals vs risk

When you’re assessing your client matrix, you’re really looking at how clients and their projects align with your goals compared to the risk involved in working with them.

Goals

Ask how the client will move your company forward:

  • Will we get to work with technology we want to continue to use in the future?
  • Is the client working in an industry we like where we can hone our craft?
  • Will we be proud to show this project off when we’re done?
  • Is the client the right size (and on the right trajectory) for our company?
  • Will this client help reinforce our unique position in the market?

Risk

Now think about the risks that could introduce complexity or jeopardize the relationship:

  • Does the client have enough money?
  • Are they rude, dismissive, or arrogant?
  • Will there be a complex approval process?
  • How aligned are your client stakeholders internally?
  • Are they using their brand or celebrity status to strong-arm a better deal?
  • Is it riddled with red flags and issues? A lack of clarity? Incongruent expectations?

Assess your client and project alignment

Duration: 30–60 min

Now that you’ve thought about your goals and any inherited risk, here’s how to begin plotting and evaluating the right client and project mix. We recommend you do the steps alone first and then together as a team. It gives you a great taste of how aligned your company really is. Here’s the step-by-step.

Step one: Review your organization’s goals. Use the list of questions above to help you frame them.

Step two: Evaluate each client and each project (active and/or new), as well as their goals against your own. You can mark clients with a circle and projects with a triangle if it helps.

Step three: Map them across the X-axis (alignment to goals) using the chart below (e.g., You want to get into VR, the client wants a VR app—closer to the right. You want to work with environmental companies, but the project is for a climate denial campaign closer to the left).

Step four: Next, evaluate the risk-level of the client or project. Sniff out any red flags to get a feel for how fun or painful they are/will be to work with. Trust your gut and refer to your red flags for a gut check.

Step five: Map and label your projects and clients along the Y-axis according to how risky you think the project will be (low-risk at the top, high-risk at the bottom).

Step six: Place the client or project in the corresponding quadrant to help determine the fit.

Step seven: Discuss and review as a team—why did you agree or disagree? What did you learn about your shared understanding of risk and value? What documentation/process do you need to create to support this?

The client fit matrix

A four-quantrant matrix with the horizontal axis reading alignment with company goals, and a vertical axis that reads quality of client.

Top left

High quality, but not quite aligned

These clients and projects aren’t always bad (and can often be a slice to work with). They may not be 100% aligned right now so think of ways you can bring them further to the right as soon as possible.

Top right

High quality, closely aligned

Great quality clients or great projects. Seek these out. Nurture them. Buy them flowers.

Bottom right

Low quality, but closely aligned

The most sinister trap. Clients and projects might appear to align with your company goals, but they’re riddled with red flags. Try to avoid the temptation of ignoring warning signs for a cool vanity project, unless it sits along the furthest edge of that X-axis. Oh, and be prepared to protect your team from the fallout if the risk is worthwhile and talk about how to mitigate issues up front.

Bottom left

Low quality, not aligned

Clients and projects that are full of red flags will not push your organization further. No matter how much you need the work, do not bring these in. Guaranteed project failure.

Once more with feeling

Neat, huh? You can run this alignment exercise each time a new client or project comes in (it gets quicker with practice) and it’s a good idea to get into the habit of doing a health check on all active projects and clients in the shop for good measure. You’ll get the giggles from all the insights you glean from your team when they have an opportunity to talk about risk and value related to the work they do. Even cooler, each teammate has a built-in blueprint for how to increase value and lower that risk, but more on that later. After all, the sales role is about bringing in profitable work and delivery is about keeping that work profitable.

Caio bébés. See you next week.

Up next

Keep your peepers on your inbox. Next week we’ll be covering the transition process from sales to project management and giving you some quick tips for ultra smooth alignment. That came out sounding like a shaving metaphor. It’s not.