Winning New Business Starts in the Field
The pipeline of construction work is strong for many contractors across the country, which makes winning that next job an ongoing project itself. Business development never ceases for industry go-getters, who leverage their people, expertise and reputation to land additional jobs.
“Taking the long-haul approach to sales is what helps construction companies sustain,” asserts Curt Mulder, president of Wolverine Building Group, a general contractor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with 151 full-time employees. “Establish relationships that might turn into work three to seven years down the road. That’s what will carry you through the tough times.”
THE RIGHT PEOPLE SUPPORTED BY THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY
At Wolverine, project managers take responsibility for creating and developing client relationships.
“They understand they’ve got to deliver on what they sold, and they recognize how they perform on this job will likely determine whether they have an opportunity on a future job,” Mulder says.
Customer service—rooted in integrity—is paramount throughout the construction process. Wolverine tries to instill in employees that doing what’s best for the project is what’s best for the customer, which in turn is what’s best for the company. Eventually, it will come around and be what’s best for each of them as an individual.
“We talk a lot about understanding the longer-term effects of their actions and creating a culture of holding each other accountable,” Mulder says, noting that hard decisions can drift into a gray area (e.g., nobody will know if I cut corners). “If employees consistently pick the right (hard) decision, you’ll create a lasting reputation.”
Power Design, a national electrical contractor based in St. Petersburg, Florida, concurs that successful performance in the field is the biggest contributor to generating more work.
“We are busier than ever,” says Lauren Permuy, Power Design’s vice president of business development. “We make sure to get the right people in place, provide them with tools and extensive training to make them successful, and empower them to do the right thing and exceed expectations.”
The company relies on a proprietary in-house bid tracking system that organizes proposals and estimating information and serves as a customer relationship management tool to keep its more than 1,800 employees on the same page.
“Integrating both functions into one tool has improved communication and keeps all of our teams up to speed,” Permuy says.
THE EXPERTISE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT PROJECT PARTNERS NEED
Tracking past client interactions and project experiences is key to a healthy sales program.
R. L. Reppert, a commercial wall and ceiling contractor employing 75 people in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, uses a variety of internal and external programs—including On Center and Sage—to track bid invitations, estimates and job costs in order to streamline processes and create open communication among staff, customers and subcontractors.
“The ability to win projects is not solely based on what our estimators bid,” says Ric Reppert Jr., president of R. L. Reppert. “We work closely with our onsite supervisors, crew foremen and employees to instill that they must be focusing on the quality of work at all times.”
The 45-year-old company, which concentrates on the commercial and institutional markets, also prioritizes fair pricing, safety and productivity (i.e., shorter project durations) to satisfy customers. And when they come up short on winning a job, they investigate the reason for the loss and develop more efficient ways to do similar work in the future.
For example, Reppert recalls losing a job years ago because he didn’t pick up various items the general contractor wanted included in the bid. “At that time, we did not typically perform that scope of work,” he explains. “Since then, we have evolved to include more scope items in our proposals, such as metal composite wall panels, to provide a full package.”
Deep experience in particular markets has been a crucial driver of growth for Wolverine Building Group. Multifamily accounts for a large part of the company’s volume, as the sector remains strong amid low supply on the single-family home front. Couple that with 80 years of expertise on the means and methods of multifamily projects, and Wolverine is positioned for another strong year in this sector.
“We can display our expertise in short order,” Mulder says. “As soon as we meet with clients, we can ask questions they probably haven’t thought about yet. Knowing those questions is a quick way to show value.”
Keeping an eye on what’s coming next is another tactic for Wolverine in the cyclical fast food industry, where the company has built up a cadre of corporate owners and subcontractors that really understand how to do the work. For instance, as McDonald’s wraps up a series of remodels, attention turns to other retailers such as Wendy’s and Taco Bell.
“We keep a pulse on who hasn’t renovated in a few years and focus our marketing efforts there. We can show them our résumé and have almost instant credibility,” Mulder says.
The early bird gets the worm, so to speak. A client may require multiple bids, but the contractor that has been proactive in understanding the project’s needs will come out on top. As Mulder puts it: “It’s a safe estimate the customer can rely on so they don’t have to worry.
“If we can get an opportunity for a potential customer to experience how hard we work, they’ll fall in love with us,” he adds. “They sense our true dedication to the job. It may be a more passive way of selling, but it seems to be the most sustainable.”
A REPUTATION BUILT ON QUALITY, VALUE AND TRUST
Undoubtedly, industry reputation is the holy grail of earning new and repeat business. Only so much can be portrayed in a bid presentation; performance in the field is where firms can walk the talk.
“General contractors and owners want to hire a subcontractor they can rely on,” Reppert says. “With our proven history of 45 years in the business, they receive the stability to know their projects will be completed on time and with the quality they expect despite any changes, delays or obstacles.”
Many of R. L. Reppert’s relationships with general contractors date back 40 years, and more than 85 percent of the company’s work each year is repeat business. “Not only does it show our commitment to quality, but also that we have built a level of trust and respect with our customers,” Reppert says. “We know them well and they know us well, which allows us to work as a team to complete projects more efficiently.”
The benefit of longevity really takes hold when firms have systems in place to leverage historical data. Wolverine Building Group has worked on thousands of manufacturing facilities in western Michigan, and it still gets calls about projects built decades ago.
“They see us in the original plans and get in touch to do an expansion. After one meeting, we can show the value we bring to make their job easy,” Mulder says.
The company utilizes Salesforce to track business development opportunities and to log details on every single project and customer. “If we get a
call from a 20-year-old customer, we can go back to that info and quickly turn around and talk with confidence about their situation.”
Information-gathering is built into the closeout of every project. When a job finishes strong, Wolverine is well-positioned to ask what the future looks like for the client, and whether more work will be coming down the pike in six months versus five years.
“When they’re ready to go, they know to call us because we’ve got the notes,” Mulder says.
For Power Design, reputation extends beyond quality work product to the resources and financial stability that come with being a large national company—not to mention having a strong corporate culture. Attention to safety, training, employee benefits and community relations are big reasons the company has earned the Accredited Quality Contractor credential from Associated Builders and Contractors.
“Our clients feel good about partnering with Power Design because philanthropy is a big part of who we are. We donate time and resources to help those in the communities where we work and live,” Permuy says. “We’ve also worked hard to bring awareness to the trades, provide learning opportunities to youth and improve the apprentice licensing process to decrease dropout rates.”
Masterson, Joanna. 2019. Reprinted from Construction Executive. A publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Used with permission.