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Know your customers

At last the recession is over! But don’t just go back to the old ways of doing things.

The last five years have been tough and nearly every organisation has had to change to survive. That means customers have new expectations and competitors are sharper.

Make sure your organisation is changing, or risk being one of those unfortunate companies to fold coming out of the recession.

Last year in the US the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organisation similar to CIMCIG, conducted research among buyers and sellers of construction services representing clients, contractors, architects and engineers.

It published the findings in A/E/C Business Development, the decade ahead. Although looking at the North American market, what it reported is just as relevant in the UK.

New era

The message coming through was that the days of the non-technical salesman or business development manager offering standard solutions are numbered.

Organisations want to deal with technical people who understand their issues and can propose solutions. They want deep relationships where their suppliers can help to solve their problems and demonstrate expertise and understanding of their customer’s business.

This is not rocket science and leading clients have been quoted in the UK construction press for a number of years.

For example Nigel Crisp, who was head of the NHS from 2000 to 2006, said: “Construction companies need to approach clients. They need to come up with their own ideas, new innovations to support the NHS… by suggesting designs that require fewer staff.”

So here are three approaches to adopt in 2014:

Show customers you understand and can solve their problems

Do background research into a customer’s business, read their specialist press, not just those related to construction but the broader issues.

Understand what their problems and concerns are, then think how you can solve them.

Most important, when demonstrating a track record use relevant case studies and project stories. Don’t talk about a residential development if they want a school.

A technical sell is very important

Ideally customers want to meet the people who will be responsible for their project – not a salesman who will secure the project and then move on to the next one. Nor do they want to meet a senior manager who will then not be involved in the detail of delivery.

The old adage ‘People Buy from People’ is as true today as it has ever been.

But while the people you put in front of a customer need to be able to deliver a technical sell, they also need to understand the sales process; to have questioning skills so they can really understand the issues; to present relevant benefits; to identify customer concerns and address them; and to know when and how to close.

You need to be different from your competitors

There are many ways to do this. Understanding your customer’s business and using a technical sell are two examples, but consider other ways to stand out.

Manufacturers often use CPD seminars to do this. Contractors can also run seminars about their areas of expertise, write white papers or publish blogs.

In the world of social media it is the companies that give out useful information and advice that do best. While it is good to use social media in this way, you can also do it in more traditional ways such as face-to-face meetings.

So make sure you stand out by understanding really your customers issues, building relationships and putting the right people in front of customers

Chris Ashworth is founder of Competitive Advantage Consultancy which specialises in strategy, market research and sales training for the construction industry. He serves on the Promotional Working Group of the government’s Green Construction Board and is also a member of the organising committee for CIMCIG, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Construction Industry Group

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