Addressing a client with little experience in building is very different from talking to an architect. David Crick from CMS shares his tips for getting the tone right.
In a previous article I wrote about how to work out who you should be contacting about a job – the client or the architect. If you’ve asked around, identified the decision maker and know you need to be talking to the client, it’s time to write a letter.
Why a letter? Because professionals are there to be rung, and private people aren’t. Nobody likes to be bothered by nuisance phone calls, and although it breaks the usual rules of sales, we don’t call domestic clients unless we have a very good reason to (such as a direct referral from an architect). Letters are the best approach.
The first thing to remember here is that you’re not dealing with professional people, you’re addressing yourself to Mr and Mrs Smith, who may know little about construction. They won’t know anything about the technical stuff you want to mention. You may have various accreditations, CHAS, CIOB, ISO 9001, you may be Achilles or ConstructionLine approved. Perhaps you do design and build, or major on ‘lean’ construction. All of that is fine for an architect, but it may mean nothing to a client. In fact it may be off-putting jargon.
Point number one is critical: put yourself in the shoes of the client and ask yourself: what kind of language will actually get my attention? What sort of letter would encourage me to get in touch or arrange a meeting?
Detach yourself from your professional background. Imagine a builder writing to you. What would you want to hear if this was someone working in your own home? Ask the average person what matters to them, and there’s a stack of basic things they will be looking for. In no particular order, they’ll want to know that their builder:
- Won’t use bad language on site
- Is considerate about noise, including loud radios on site
- Will take good care of your home, including protecting the floors, taping up windows and doors, controlling dust, etc
- Takes care in the garden, protecting grass and not trampling in flower beds
- Promises to explain everything
- Turns up on time – or if not, gives advance warning and a good reason for any delay
- Communicates well, and will be easy to get hold of
- Is friendly and courteous
The last of those is very important. One of the companies we work with missed out on a job this week, but the architect told us that the client had been hugely impressed with how friendly the director had been. He was positive and can-do, and had suggestions to improve the building process. They went with a local builder in the end, but he made such an impression that they put him straight through to another job worth £80,000. Even though they came second on the first tender, a friendly and positive approach still led to a contract.
Point number two, structure your letter well so that it’s clear to read and answers their questions. We use a simple framework that we refer to as AIDA.
- Attention – engage their interest by introducing yourself in a friendly tone. Say why you’re getting in touch and why they’ll want to read this letter.
- Interest – Keep their interest by making your case. Explain why you’re a good candidate for the job.
- Desire – how can you make your company the desirable choice? Have you got a customer charter? Can you give examples of similar jobs you’ve done successfully nearby?
- Action – what action is required from the client? Give your contact details, mention your website. Give them a clear way to follow up their interest.
Beyond those two things, all the usual advice about good letter writing applies. Use short paragraphs, five lines or so. Keep sentences short. Use white space and keep it easy to read. Use a first class stamp and present the whole thing nicely - make it look like you care. Don’t overdo it, but use warm language: ‘we’d love the opportunity to quote’, ‘we’d be delighted to meet’.
Talk about them and their needs rather than yourself. At least 50% of the letter should be ‘you’ and ‘your’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘we’. (As a boss of mine used to say, ‘stop we-ing all over the letter’). Address people directly: ‘You can have confidence....’, or ‘you will appreciate that...’ Hold off on the sales talk. Watch out for jargon. If in doubt, ask a friend or family member who’s not in construction to read it through for you.
There’s a certain amount of discipline to writing a good letter, but it’s worth taking the time. You should write every letter with care, but once you’ve done it a few times you can save time by making a template or sample letter.
In fact, if you’d like one of our example letters to give you a bit of a headstart, we’d be happy to pass one on for you to consider. Just email ... or phone ... to request one.
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