In a previous article we looked at the tension at the heart of any new sales strategy: the pull between patient relationship-building, and the need to deliver quick wins. It takes time to develop contacts and to follow sales leads through the planning process, but sales agents are under pressure to deliver results – and maybe to justify their fees too! So there’s a delicate balance to strike between the two, particularly at the start.
I write a lot about the patient and strategic approach to marketing, because long experience has taught me that this is where real success lies. But in response to that tension that inevitably comes with a new client, let’s look at the other side of the coin: delivering the quick win.
The first thing to say is that there’s no magic formula for this. There’s a degree of luck to any easy win, and it’s not something that should ever be promised. The construction industry moves slowly and fast results are outside our power to guarantee, but there are a few things that can improve the odds.
When one of our sales agents starts with a company, we always ask for a list of previous clients – people the company has worked for in the past who have since gone quiet. They’re often one of the best routes to that elusive quick win.
If clients can give us ten, fifteen, maybe twenty past contacts, then there’s a sporting chance that one or two of them may have something immediate. They will already know the client, so they’re often open to giving them something else. Interestingly, you can go back a long way and reactivate old contacts. With one company I worked with recently, I revisited contacts from as far as seven or eight years before, architects the client had tendered for and such, and got a positive response. A good relationship leaves a residue of goodwill that lasts a long time.
Another way to improve the chances is to get the targeting right. There’s a huge amount of work out there to be had. In the construction industry all the data on upcoming work is available to marketers, because it’s all publicly available through the planning system. Services such as Glenigan and Barbour ABI are a good source of sales leads, but the amount of information can be overwhelming. It’s vital to narrow it down.
When we start with a client, in most cases there will be a type of work that they want to go for, something that they enjoy or an area they want to move into as the business grows. But if you’re after fast results, you have to put aside the ideal. Forget the client’s perfect job or where they want to be in three or four years’ time. Look for demonstrable expertise now, and marry that up to a knowledge of the market – where can we go hunting for a quick win?
There’ll be a time to build for the future and go after those more ideal jobs, the blue-sky work. But if you’re looking to pull in cash, you have to be pragmatic and commercial. Where is your cutting edge most sharp? That could be jobs close to home, where architects will see you as local. It could be areas where there is a lot of work available, but at lower cost - around the £50k to £250k mark. There are ten times as many jobs in that price bracket than in the next band. Pitch for those first, and then come back to the higher value contracts later.
If we’re working for a builder, another tip is to look at which architects will be most likely to provide new work. A one-person practice will be easier to talk to. A job handled by a big London practice might be higher profile, but it will be much harder to get a foot in the door. Select your targets carefully, and speak to those most likely to respond.
Finally, and this is obvious really - the more time you put in, the better. The more calls you make, the more ‘lucky’ you’re going to be. So at the beginning of a sales strategy, it’s worth putting in a few extra hours and increase the likelihood of an early goal.
As I say, there are no guarantees, and you’ll want to move on to more long term potential and higher value contracts sooner rather than later. But in the start-up phase of a new sales initiative, or if money is tight, there are things you can try to bring in work faster.