The Risk of Selling on Cruise Control

Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock, Seal The Deal

As companies in the construction industry begin to see life in their sales, they take a big sigh of relief. Finally they have some breathing room. No more stressing on every bid opportunity. Contractors are filling to the brim with work and the insane pricing war is coming to an end. They feel they can sit back and wait for the phone to ring. To be honest, it is ringing more.

Not so fast! Thinking you can put your sales effort on cruise control can be a tragic mistake, a quick way to declining revenues and shrinking profitability. The concept that a sales effort can simply be turned on and off is a flawed philosophy. Any true sales forward company will tell you they are always selling.

Opportunity can be elusive. When it’s plentiful, everyone’s happy. When it’s not, panic can ensue. I regularly challenge my clients to keep pushing the envelope on their sales efforts.

Don’t become lax in approach, financial commitment, or time commitment. It’s easy to do and it is extremely commonplace in the construction industry. Why does it occur? There are some very common causes:

Tangibility: Sales has many intangibles. Sales work often seems fruitless. Most people don’t understand the cumulative aspect of sales work. The construction industry is notorious for wanting A to B results. I put A effort in therefore, I should get B result. You’re fooling yourself if you believe this is the reality of selling. Much of the fruit of a strong sales effort is difficult to trace to a specific action. That can drive owners nuts. They want to try and justify a sales event, lunch, or ballgame.

The sales agent states that the investment was worthwhile, but the bid or order is a long time in coming. This is where I see many companies back off on their efforts and shift into cruise control to handle what simply comes to them. A couple months pass then the well is dry. I’ll have clients that will stop working with me and feel they’ve got it. Then, a month or two down the road, sales are down and the bid requests aren’t flying in at the same high rate. Since sales is far from black and white, contractors struggle with the lack of tangible results.

Fatigue:  Sales work takes effort, such as going to events you’ve been to before or meeting with clients and tracking customer data, to name a few practices. Consistently practicing these disciplines, along with repetitive presentations of competitive differentiation, can sometimes border on monotonous. That can tire even the most enthusiastic of sales personnel. Losing occasional evenings or weekends can be a challenge, especially if you can’t immediately see the results of your efforts. It’s much easier to rest and handle what you have. The more tired you are of selling, the easier it is to stop doing it.

Buy In: Having a staff that doesn’t buy into the effectiveness of sales work can produce pressure that makes that effort even more challenging. People that don’t sell for a living, and are in a support position, can kill the sales drive by challenging the need for a strong selling effort. Selling is a team effort. Getting each department or staff member in lock step is important to maintaining a continuous sales plan. Then all members work together to keep each other accountable in pursuing quality opportunities.

Simply coasting along and not looking to be innovative and consistent in your sales approach can result in a severe drop off in business, especially if the market shifts or competitors target you specifically. Trust me, it will happen, usually before you can get a handle on it. The key is to create a sales culture that permeates the company front to back.

Thinking you’ve locked in your sales direction and believing you can back off on your effort is not a beneficial mentality. Whether done consciously or not, it can result in a deficiency in future sales direction. Panic is no foundation for going after business. Customers sense it and it causes companies to do crazy things, like bidding at cost just to have activity. I’ve seen this happen on many occasions.

Thinking you can slow down or stop selling and fly on cruise control may seem okay, but in reality it is a bad decision. Keeping a good, consistent sales plan based in customer engagement will prevail. Even if you don’t have the capacity to take on more projects, you’re communicating with your client base about exactly where you are. This makes you a desirable option. When you have the room to do so, you can grab the opportunities. The last thing you want to do is disengage with the customer base. Reengaging can be a difficult proposition, which is all the more reason to avoid hitting cruise control.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.