How good are you at putting yourself in your clients’ shoes? What about putting yourself in the shoes of their customers?
It sounds simple, but it’s dangerously easy to lose sight of the ultimate customer amid the expectations the client is placing on you or the pressures of fending off competing bids.
Nonetheless, the directors who took part in our roundtable discussion on margins were absolutely clear: if you want to protect your profits and make sure you win work, there’s no substitute for imagining yourself as the user of a road, a hospital, a station or whatever you’re building and making sure your client knows how much you’ve thought about it.
And there’s no better time to do it. For the first time in years, we are experiencing a genuine shift in industry sentiment. We’ve got so used to doom and gloom that every time I hear the word ‘optimism’ or ‘positivity’ I have to remember not to get too carried away.
We are certainly not out of the woods yet. But, with the Construction Products Association predicting growth of 2.2 per cent in 2014 and GDP output showing growth in Q2 for the first time since mid-2011, it’s understandable that the industry is allowing itself to feel a degree of cautious optimism.
The National Specialist Contractors Council State of Trade Survey this week reports that its members have seen an increase in enquiries for the third quarter in a row to a six-year high.
As a result, nearly a third of them are planning to expand their businesses in the next three months; 41 per cent intend to do so over the next year.
At the other end of the scale, Morgan Sindall chief executive John Morgan says the contractor’s focus – after suffering shrinking margins and profits in recent times – has now shifted from cost cutting to preparing for growt.
There is a balance to be struck – we must not get carried away. This is growth, but from a very low base. Still, the importance of confidence should not be underestimated either.
We need confidence for growth, and we need to feel optimistic to fuel that confidence.
This is about planning ahead; investing in skills, apprentices and other new staff. It’s also about working together to make sure we are unearthing innovation right across the supply chain.
Going back to the Construction News roundtable, it’s clear that everyone has a responsibility here, from the largest contractors to the smallest. Shout about your innovation and tell your clients: it will make life better for their customers - and the customer is always right.