No Manpower, No Materials, No Sales: Get Back Out There and Stay Out There


Tom Woodcock

Well, here we are. Cargo ships floating outside ports, labor sitting in their basements eating potato chips and funding for projects slowing down.

What’s a company to do?

Throw in inflationary pricing, and you have a recipe for a significant construction slowdown. Oh, you may only see a trickle of a slowdown at this point, but it’s coming, my friend. I’ve seen this movie before. The question is: Will you survive it or even thrive in it?

The last economic downturn around 2006, 2007 and 2008 produced a construction vacuum that caused many contractors to downsize or even go completely out of business. The bid volume decreased dramatically, and owners realized they’d better get to selling.

Business for me, however, was great! Those were some of our best revenue years. I loved getting the calls saying, “Please come teach my people how to sell” and “How soon can you get here?” Problem being, it was too late.

I sounded the alarm then as I am sounding it now. Feel free to go back into the St. Louis CNR archives and you can find my warning pieces. The point is this: You should never stop selling and improving in your sales approach. Tied to this is the absolute necessity of staying relevant with your marketing. Remember: Marketing is NOT sales and sales is NOT marketing. They are twin siblings, but with different personalities. Simply increasing your marketing spend without a defined sales strategy can be extremely wasteful.

As I work with clients, I’m putting a strong emphasis on sales activity – especially now that things are opening up post-pandemic. See as many customers and potential customers as possible. Go to association events as they are beginning to become scheduled. Go to happy hours, coffee meetings and awards programs. To maintain your current revenue levels, you’ll need to add a targeted number of new customers. It’s a mistake to assume you’ll repeat a good performance year when all economic indicators suggest there’s a brick wall ahead.

For those of you who think I’m crying wolf, why risk it? You should be working a continuous sales strategy anyway. The biggest indicator is what is happening in the funding world. See, without funds projects don’t happen. If investors feel it’s not economical to build a facility because material costs are too high, lead times are too long or ROI won’t be strong enough, they won’t invest. You may have even received a bid package or been assured the project is going to go, then poof! On hold. By widening your customer base, you can head off a slowing economy. If you have an extremely high sales effort, you may even grow. Waiting for government spending to kick in is wishful thinking. Also, the competitive nature of those projects – combined with the red tape – don’t exactly make them home-run jobs.

Positioning yourself with customers in a way that gains you awareness of viable projects and inside information on winning the deal can spell the difference between success and failure. Now is the time to set an aggressive sales schedule, select customer targets and develop your strategy. If you’ve never done this before, you need help. Having a true sales structure is not simply figuring out how to get people to lunch.

There’s much more to it. The one constant in the construction industry is the fact that very few companies put together a consistent sales effort. Those who take the time to do so will reap the reward. The harder you work at sales, the more you’re in the right place at the right time. That doesn’t happen by accident. There’s a reason successful people just seem to fall into projects or appear to be everywhere. It’ simply because they are everywhere! A lot of what I do is push clients to get out there and stay out there amongst their clientele.

Not all of them are excited about doing sales work, but the ones who stick with it see the results. These are those individuals and companies who don’t tend to focus on cutting costs to stay profitable. Eventually you can’t cut anymore, and your customer will start to see a decline in your ability to perform. I think a better description of that is a sales death spiral.

Tom Woodcock, president of seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached via his website,, or at 314.775.9217.

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