How to go nuclear on subcontractors sales


At CMS we work with all kinds of clients across the construction industry. We’ve developed and delivered sales strategies for just about every trade in the business. And one of the things we’ve learned is that sales with main contractors is very different from sales for a subcontractor. 

When you’re working with main contractors, you’re looking for jobs that are usually large - £50k to a million or more. And you’re generally talking to one decision maker. There will be one architect, one client, and usually it’s the former that’s the key contact. You need to do a lot of follow up, and work hard to keep in contact and stay in the running, but it’s all going through one person.

With subcontractors, it’s a very different story. It’s multifaceted and it takes a lot more discipline to keep on top of it. A subcontractor can sometimes sell to a builder who has secured a job, which is the holy grail – you’re talking to a guaranteed source of work, and just one company. But most of the time you’re getting enquiries from builders who are themselves tendering. 

For example, just today I fielded an enquiry for the steelwork for a new school in Ascot. The job itself is worth £7-10 million, and the steelwork will be worth £80-£100,000 - a lovely job for someone. The company making the enquiry was a large construction firm, let’s call them ‘Firm A’, that is pitching for the school build.

Now, the simple thing to do is to submit a price and then hope that Firm A both gets the job, and chooses you to do the steelwork. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing a trick. Firm A will be one of three or four companies tendering. Each of those will be getting prices from four or five steel companies. If you only give one price to one builder on that project, you’ve only got a one in twenty chance of actually getting the work. Those are bad odds, considering all the work that goes into pricing up the quote on something as big as a school.

Here’s where it gets complicated, but rewarding. It’s also where Builder’s Conference comes in. What we do is use their database to hunt for other builders that are tendering for the same job, in this case that school in Ascot. I was able to come up with two more names in five minutes – Firms B and C. I spoke to the estimators in both of those companies, and both of them were happy to receive our price. 

So for ten minutes’ work, we’ve now got our steelwork client in the running on three on the tendering companies. And there’s more. Because the estimator at Firm B liked my proactive approach and thought we’d offered a good price, he let me know about another project they had coming up nearby – could we put in a price for that too?

There’s still more. Don’t be content with sitting back and waiting for a yes or no. When all the prices go back and the contract is awarded, follow up the job with the architect or surveyor and see who won it. If A, B or C won it, then they’ve already got your price. If Firm D or E wins it, and you didn’t know about them, then get in touch quickly and copy your price across. 

This is a lengthy process for one job! It might take three of four months to follow through. It’s a lot of work, but all the time we’re building relationships with companies, showing that we’re confident in our service and ready to go out and get work. As we talk to all these companies, each of them has multiple jobs that we can then pursue. One leads to four, leads to eight – like nuclear fission.
 
The biggest challenge in all of this is covering the data flow. I regularly find that I have ten or twelve of these sorts of conversations going on at any one time, and it’s a massive criss-crossing network of relationships. If you can’t order the process, it’s going to get tangled. What we’ve done is work out a system called an ‘online tender log’. It’s shared with everybody on Google Drive, and it tracks prices, dates, follow up and important milestones. It all goes into a colour-coded spreadsheet showing jobs won, lost, or in process. We can leave notes to each other on it so that others can follow things up, and all the information is in one place. 

We also have our bespoke contact management system, which has a huge database of construction contacts and tracks jobs and follow up calls for us. Between these two systems, we can keep on top of even the most complex spiders-web of tenders. 

Interested in our online tender log, or contact management system? Are you a subcontractor who isn’t using market intelligence to copy prices over yet, and isn’t sure where to start? Give us a call. 

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