It’s time to win more work

Feb 11, 2024

Prioritize building relationships with clients and potential clients to build trust, credibility, and alignment for better outcomes.

I talk to growing contractors every day. One of the most common complaints I hear from them is: “We drop everything to bid these GCs/owners and then they never call us back! What jerks.”

In my time as a vice president of pre-construction and sales, I used to think the same. Until I realized it’s not the GC/owner’s fault I dropped everything I was doing to bid their work! It was my fault.

I was expecting my dedication to somehow turn into calls back and project awards, but that doesn’t make sense. Our competitors were doing the same thing as me. I was a commodity. I finally realized I had to do a better job qualifying prospects.

You see, if you don’t really know a prospect, and they don’t really know you, then you shouldn’t ever expect a call back. Because before you can build a project together, you need to:

  • Build trust
  • Prove credibility
  • Make sure you align with each other

It’s really that simple. And you can’t do any of that simply by bidding a job. You can, however, do it by having a good “relationship meeting.”

I can pretty much guarantee that if you make a habit of holding relationship meetings before engaging with new clients – or even reengaging with existing clients – then, the results will speak for themselves: more sales, better win percentage, fewer “ghosted” bids.

Here are the four tenets of the relationship meeting:

  • Business alignment (market, size, geography). First things first: Do our businesses truly align? Some questions you should be asking the prospect are:
    • What markets do you work in? (Multi-family, institutional, higher education, etc.)
    • What are the typical project sizes you are performing? What is the typical contract size for our scope you usually award?
    • Where do you operate? What’s your strategy in that geographic area for the next five years?
  • Some questions you should be asking yourself are:
    • Do we work in the same market(s) as the prospect?
    • Does their typical project and contract size align with our typical project and contract size?
    • Do we operate in the same area(s)? Is there long-term growth potential with them in that area(s)?
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with the answers to these questions before ever bidding a project with a prospect. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.
  • If you don’t align, stop here. Say thanks for reaching out but don’t bid the job. If you do align, move to tenet No. 2.
  • Philosophical alignment (mutual relationship). Do you align philosophically? This is really simple:
    • What are your values?
    • Could you describe your last successful contractor partnership?
    • On your last project, how did your contractors fit into the project’s success story?
  • Basically, you want to ensure that if you work together, you will be treated fairly, with respect, and hopefully have such great cultural alignment that your teams do an awesome job working together! This is important because you’re setting yourself up to be treated like an equal rather than like a random bid.
  • Mutual agreement for how we will pursue opportunities (the rules of the relationship). To establish yourself as a true partner, you need to set some mutual ground rules for your relationship. The basic formula is: “If I do X, will you commit to doing Y?”
  • Here’s what that looks like:
    • If we bid this project, will you commit to giving us good, honest feedback?
    • Before we submit our bid, we like to schedule proposal review meetings. If we agree to bid this project, will you commit to having a proposal review meeting with us?
    • If we bid this project and knock it out of the park – even if we don’t get the award on this one – will you commit to giving us a hard look on the next one?
  • Your bid is your leverage. If you want to ensure you receive something in return for your bid – like a call back, a meeting, or really good feedback – then now is the time to do it.
  • And if they don’t keep up any agreements they commit to? Then you have to call them out on it (respectfully). If they don’t own up to it, then never bid them again. If they do, then you’ve established yourself as a partner and professional.
  • Picking a “project” to pursue together. If you’ve made it past the first three tenets, then you get to the fun part: picking a project to pursue together.
  • Maybe you already know which it will be, or maybe you realize the original job they reached out about isn’t right, but they have another one coming up that is. Either way, pick a project before ending the meeting, and then make sure everyone is clear on the commitments that go along with it.

Boom. You just showed that you are not like your competition, established yourself as a professional, got commitments for feedback and communication, and significantly increased your chances of winning this project, or future work.

Matt Verderamo, MS is a consultant at Well Built Construction Consulting. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.