Whether you use full-time business development staff or seller-doers, creating a sense of culture and teamwork in your get-work team is essential for keeping them motivated and focused. Most contractors inadvertently knock the wind out of the team’s sails without ever realizing it.
Customers inherently know that it takes a team of well-coordinated professionals to make their project a success. They are looking for the best talent for their job, but that talent is more than one lone sailor adrift on the currents of the ocean. So why do so many contractors make relationship building an individual sport?
CREATING A SENSE OF CULTURE
Creating a positive culture necessitates a foundation of shared experiences and good feelings to take hold and grow. It requires everyone engaged to have a clear vision of the future, expected results and an understanding of the resources available to them as well as to current and future customers. It does not happen by accident, and it takes time. Culture unifies a team of people; it brings them together and sets the stage for achievement.
The old adage, “You find time to do the things you find important” holds true when building relationships with customers. Not everyone in your company has the responsibility of targeting and winning new customers. All of the people in your firm are responsible for making sure customers get the outcomes they hired your company to achieve, with the fewest number of hassles possible. How do you rate the time your team invests in customers’ relationships on and off projects? If 1 = a terrible job and 5 = is fantastic and sets the standard for the industry, what score would you give your people:
What would it take to get each area of the company to a level 5?
WHO REALLY IS THE CUSTOMER?
Getting clear on the definition of a customer is a great place to start the conversation. Too often, our thoughts go to the economic customer, the one person that has the authority to select you or sign a pay request.
Hard-bid selection is established as a strategy to streamline the decision-making process and get the best price for construction. Common in many public markets, decision-making is frequently at arm’s length and focused on price. Not all public buyers use hard bid as a way of picking contractors, nor do all private customers use non hard-bid methods for selecting contractors.
It is arguable if hard bid is the best way to secure final job costs. It does, however, set the stage for getting competitive early job costs.
Price is always a factor in contractor selection —sometimes it is a very small factor, but many times, it can be a gigantic element of the selection. Regardless, let’s focus first on the definition of a customer as the basis for how contractors build relationships with current and new clients.
Customers are individuals that can choose to either use you or set the stage for picking someone else. Some customers have the authority to say “yes,” but many more only have the ability to say “no.” Both are customers and need to be treated well. Clearly setting the expectation of how to work with customers is an important first step to ensure they consistently are treated well. You might even have a couple of different strategies on how certain categories of customers are treated (e.g., key customers, economic buyers, preferred customers, etc.)
Let’s focus on customers where price is only a part of what they are using to select the right construction team.
CUSTOMERS BUY DIFFERENTLY TODAY
The recession changed a number of things in the industry, including how customers select and contract with contractors. Two key changes have occurred in how customers “buy.” First, senior executives are reluctant to recommend a contractor to their team if the team does not already know the contractor. Second, more selection decisions are being made by committees. If nothing else changed, your team now needs to spend more time with more individuals just to keep in contact with that one customer organization. Both of these have a huge effect on how you target customers and build relationships.
Have you successfully changed your strategy and approach accordingly? Are you generating the results you should be?
BUILDING A GET-WORK TEAM
Here are a few ideas to improve your team by giving them the tools and strategies they need to be successful in this new world of customer expectations:
- Vision. Create a clear vision of the type and depth of relationship that you want to create with new and existing customers.
- Priorities. Invest your time and effort by identifying the right customers and projects for your company.
- Tools and Strategies. Provide the tools and strategies your team will need to be successful in relationship building over the long haul. If the team only has a basic message to share with customers, what will it talk about on its second, third or 12th visit with the same customer organization?
- Roles. Understand the roles that each of your people will play. Who will be the lead contact, who needs to meet the customer before the next project opportunity, etc.? Build those roles based on the skills of the individual. Some of your people are best at talking about technical elements of the job, some conceptual design and estimating, some are great door openers —play to their individual strengths.
- Team meetings. Meet regularly with your entire get-work team and share current successes and lessons learned on recent projects. That gives them a rich foundation of information to share when in customer meetings and helps inform the conversations that are needed.
- Resources. Compile a list of current resources to call upon. Some can be marketing collateral, certainly. But key resources will revolve around people, experiences and results achieved on past and current projects.
- Customer groups. Classify your customers into groups —A’s, B’s and C’s or Bronze, Silver and Gold. Regardless, identify which customers should get what kind of time and attention. All customers are important, and all should be treated well, but not necessarily the same.
- Skills and knowledge. Give the team the skills and knowledge that each member needs to be successful.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
If you liberate the talent of your organization to spend the time to build customer relationships, you will become positioned for both current and future work. Take the time to make everyone in your company understand that the impact they can have on lasting customer relationships is significant.
Give them the tools, skills and insights needed to have multiple conversations with customers. Create a customer-focused culture in support of their efforts and you will find you have plenty of people willing and able to help you build lasting relationships with both new and potential clients.
Cynthia Paul is a managing director with FMI. She can be reached at 303.398.7291 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.