By TOM WOODCOCK
I’ve worked with hundreds of people responsible for their company’s sales effort. I’ve seen some incredible individuals who seem to be in the mix on every deal they go after. They nail it and ask little in return, except for their bonus or commission check. Their companies thrive and their profit margins are strong. The economy – whether poor or booming – doesn’t affect them. They are producers, simple and true. They may not be the thriftiest among us, but who cares if they bring home the bacon? For those of you out there who fit in this category, I salute you.
Then there’s the other category – folks who complain about every aspect of sales, who blame the economy and who complain that everything is about price. They find fault with their own company and are seldomly proactive. They argue with you that sales work doesn’t make a difference, but when they get a deal, they’ll tell you how they learned the inside track on the project. It can drive a manager crazy. These responses are very simple to explain. They’re excuses.
I have contractor clients who are securing work in minimum or no-bid competition. They are winning without being the low number and are getting good margins and repeat business. Their clients call them first or keep them on a short list. These contractors set aside time in every work week specifically for sales work. They understand there is no more important aspect to their business than sales. They market properly and do the extras to develop relationships. These folks are networking and not qualifying away opportunity. They don’t discount those who are consultants regarding sales and marketing as less than valuable. They are regularly looking to grow and learn in relation to their sales skills.
Not all of them come by it naturally. Some of them were also excuse makers at one time. The change came for some when there was virtually nowhere else to go but sales work to gain profitable business. A few were sweating things out before they turned the corner.
The first step to excelling in the way you sell is to quit with the excuses.
When I begin working with a someone who is a sales agent for his or her company, the first place I start is to discover how that individual is using his or her time. Most of us get things thrown at us regularly that lure us off task. Having a plan in place that forces you to incorporate sales time can begin to stabilize your schedule. The more you learn and train your customers, the more control you have over your schedule. My next step is to find out why they feel they’re not enjoying the sales success they’d like. This flushes out the excuse. Trust me, there are only three to four excuses in total within the construction industry. These excuses might have slight variations, but really, they’re all very common – although they feel unique to each person. Setting a sales strategy for specific customers and targets is the next step. If you were to do only these few steps, you’d be doing more than most contractors, or for that matter, companies in general.
The pressure to perform in a construction environment as competitive as the current one is great. Many experience failures at a rate they’ve never seen before. The easiest explanation is to find fault in some other area besides one’s sales work. The more difficult response is to adjust your sales approach and focus the same level of attention on that effort as you would to finding profitability on a project. Refreshing marketing collateral, finding time to connect through business-oriented, physical social networking, establishing a strong digital footprint and setting an aggressive call schedule takes time when combined with planning. Finding excuses not to take that time will only result in the same pattern of sales. If that pattern is trending down, deeper it will go.
So many contractors are looking for ways to get an edge or find new opportunity. How do you propose to do this if you are continually excusing a weak or ineffective sales effort? Multitudes of contractors across the country are struggling with the challenge of getting business. Productivity for most contractors is at an all-time high. Field performance is at a premium. Many are working ridiculous hours and giving the operations aspect of their business everything they have. They’ve cut costs to the bone. Still, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. As we head into the winter, we are entering a prime sales season. Filling your pipeline with quality opportunities now will bring results in the spring.
Evaluate your sales work and determine if you need to make adjustments as opposed to excuses. If you are not an excuse maker but things aren’t where you want them, change your sales strategy. Find areas of weakness and correct them. Maximize your strengths and invest in the customer relationships you have. Expand your network and get out of the office because there aren’t a lot of customers there.
I’ve been watching the continued trend of reducing personal contact with customers. Technology has made it easier to do so. I’ve watched young, millennial sales personnel sit in front a potential customer and blast them with data and information. The data-driven sales processes coming into prominence will do nothing more than increase pricing focus. Unfortunately, in construction, price is a poor decision-making factor if the facility is poorly built or not built to the project owner’s wants and needs. Safety, quality of materials and skill of labor begin to become watered down in the quest for the lowest bid possible. If you don’t think that’s true, you’re not really looking very closely.
Construction lives and breathes with sales. The competitive differences are very real. With millennials becoming decision makers, sales agents need to realize they’re selling the value of relationship, skill and reputation, not simply the project.
Construction has never been black and white. Just ask the excavator who hits bedrock unexpectedly, the demo contractor who discovers an environmental hazard behind a wall or the masonry contractor who discovers the plans are an 1/8 of an inch off. There is still a lot of selling to do in construction, and it needs to be done effectively. One of my most consistent points is simply this: If sales is the most important part of your business, why in construction does it not get the same level of attention that it merits? Without sales, you have nothing else. Construction isn’t so unique that you don’t need to focus or improve in the area of sales. You must, just like in any other business.
Tom Woodcock, president of seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached via his website, www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com, or at (314) 775-9217.