The tension at the heart of a new sales strategy

As construction sales consultants, the tension between patience and the desire for a quick win is something we have to address with every new client.

Anyone setting out on a dedicated sales strategy will encounter this too. If you’re developing your marketing or investing in sales, it’s worth considering ahead of time. It could save a lot of stress along the way – both for managers and for sales and marketing staff.

Let’s look at each side of that tug-of-war in turn. The first part is that the sales process in construction is almost always medium to long term in its effectiveness. Building projects can be quite slow moving. We might identify a promising sales lead for a new client, but then with planning applications it can be two or three or four months before that gets approval. Then you add on another month for building regs, and you’re looking at five months down the line before you can even start talking about tendering.

All this time, we’re acutely aware that the client is paying us a day rate for weeks or months before anything seems to happen!

We’re experienced enough to know that it will come good, of course. Take one building client I work for. I’ve been working with them for five years, and my two days a month have delivered £2.5 million a year for the last four years. It’s working beautifully and they’re winning some really good residential and remodelling work worth half a million a shot. Naturally, it’s taken a while to get to that point where returns are consistent. When you’re only doing two days a month that’s only 24 days a year, and no matter how good you are, there’s a degree of luck and being in the right place at the right time as well as putting in the hard work. 

That’s the first part of the tension. There has to be an acceptance that marketing has to be a medium to long term commitment. 

Pulling against that is the reality that money can be limited, especially in smaller companies. They may come to us short of money in the first place, and we have to go out of our way to reassure them that what we do works. We’ve been here a long time, we’re getting CIOB accredited, we have a lot of clients who are winning a lot of work – we know they’ll see results, but we know we have to pull out all the stops to make things happen quickly.

So with a new client, there’s a very high level of attention on our side to getting quick wins. Those can come in a number of different ways. Sometimes you’re just plain lucky. We’ve had clients where on the very first day we’ve pulled in a tender or two – but that’s far from usual. Normally it happens the hard way. We try to embed ourselves into the organisation as fast as possible, invest in the client relationship and understand their business inside out. Often we’ll give a special rate for the first couple of months as a way of putting our money where our mouth is. Other times we’ll offer an extra day for free in the first month. It’s an unexpected gift, and that impresses clients. But it gives us a better chance of getting that quick win tender, which is of course what they’re looking for too.

By way of example, we’re hoping to begin with a new client next week. Talking to them this morning, I was aware that their manager is totally on board with what we do, but the directors are more cautious. We will probably introduce a carefully judged sweetener that demonstrates our confidence that we can bring in the business that they want. Fortunately they are a specialist contractor in a field that is usually much more responsive than general building, so we would expect results to be faster. 

We deal with this tension all the time, and you’ll be familiar with it too if you’re doing construction marketing. Successful sales depend on relationships and that takes time, but managers also want to know that the sales strategy is working. If money is short, time may feel like a luxury. It’s applied common sense really, but the job of the sales agent is to maintain the balance, working with the long term in mind, but looking out for quick wins too.