Sales | by Tom Woodcock | 11/12/2008
It doesn't matter if I'm in New York, Atlanta, Dallas or good ol' St. Louis, I hear contractors regularly say: "I just want to keep the business I have." This is so common a mentality I can only assume it has been passed down through the generations. Well, there's a bit of a problem with this line of thinking, times have changed. Business and opportunity has transitioned to a highly competitive, global animal.
Advancements in technology can make a system or building technique obsolete in a short period of time, rendering a provider dated. By sitting tight you run the risk of moving backwards. In an economy that is getting more intense everyday, you cannot afford to rest on your laurels. This position can result in disaster in a relatively short period of time. Several contractors in markets I serve have gone down with this ship.
The second common action is the abrupt, quick ramp up. This often occurs when a contractor begins to realize he is in a bit of trouble if he or she doesn't pull in a bunch of work. This kind of crisis sales effort is easily seen by the customer and erodes any trust factor that may exist. Currently many project owners and managers are fearful of hiring contractors that will be gone either after the job is finished, or worse, in the middle of the project. Sudden pushing to get business serves as a red flag to a potential customer that all your ducks are not in a row.
Both of these mentalities have put a lot of good contractors in a bind. They're scrambling to get their footing and some are in danger of losing everything. Tight times separate the good sales disciplines from the poor. Quick fixes usually just delay the inevitable. What's the proper way of correcting this? What's a healthy view of business development? How do you shift from a poor sales dynamic to strong? All great questions deserving an answer.
First of all, get educated. Do you understand the basics of selling? Start with branding. Do you know what is important about having a brand? Can your customers lock into your brand? Do you have a brand. Secondly, how have you gone to market? Have you analyzed and qualified your marketplace? What is your approach to that market? Lastly, how are you going to present yourself and your firm to the customer base? Do you have a network generating opportunity for you?
You may be thinking that I'm simply raising a bunch of questions, you're right! Only you can answer these in relation to your business. The biggest problem in regards to these questions is that most contractors have asked themselves very few of them. When I run into a contractor that has, they usually have a very healthy business and may be feeling a bit of a pinch but in reality are still going strong. I know contractors that are having record years in the midst of a very competitive marketplace. Stepping back and honestly evaluating where you stand in these areas can help begin to solve the issue. The good news is that contractors which haven't given these points enough attention can begin seeing results fairly soon after beginning to get them right. Many are realizing the importance of these business dimensions where in the past they were written off as excess or unnecessary.
There are fundamental elements that will make these efforts successful. One of the first will be dispelling with old mentalities that subscribe to the excuse machine that justifies poor performance. Any of these ring a bell; "It's always low bid.", "My competitor will just hit them with change orders.", or "The economy is just too tough."? These are the common statements from the excuse mill. Good, strong and aggressive owners as well as sales personnel go after the business. They make no excuses while striving to win more and lose less opportunities. They seek out innovative methods of customer contact and appreciation. They have staffs that are in sync with the corporate brand and sales effort. They manage the back side of the business to facilitate and reinforce the sales effort. They treat the customer base as honored guests as opposed to meal tickets. Let me ask you honestly, of the thought processes described; stay put, quick ramp up or healthy sales practices, which do you really perform?
Seriously, be hard on yourself here. The only method I know to increase a businesses profitability or market share is to work "on" your business. If you were honest with yourself, either you need to begin instituting change or you're having a great year!