Workshop focus

26 February 2008

Attendees compare notes between sessions

Attendees compare notes between sessions

This year, workshop organizers expanded into a new area of emphasis – marketing. Although there are plenty of astute, entertaining marketing consultants available for making presentations to associations, those specializing in the construction industry are considerably more difficult to find. It would be even harder to find one more qualified than Andy Patron, who enlightened attendees with two different presentations.

The talent development consultant based the sessions on his 20-year work history with private and public sector owners and contractors. As a production manager in the residential market, he was responsible for the day-to-day allocations of resources and learned to tackle the unique operational challenges of the construction industry.

He also was the first executive director for the North Carolina Home Inspector Licensure Board, and was responsible for managing the planning, design and construction of major medical facilities for a national healthcare provider. He holds a B.S. degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Patron is now a consultant with FMI. Founded in 1953, the company provides management consulting and investment banking for the construction industry worldwide.

Success through marketing

In a morning breakout session, on Friday, 21 September, Patron discussed how to leverage your success through marketing. He emphasized how to strike a balance between marketing and sales to stay competitive in today's market. To him, marketing can best be described as “everything that a company does as seen through the eyes of a customer.”

He explained that too often companies stress the features of their business rather than what those features mean to the customer in terms of specific benefits. As an example of how to drive value for customers, he cited the company that promoted the feature: “We have the greatest systems in the contracting world!” The company then needs to put forth a specific benefit: “These systems help us achieve 100% of our schedules on time.”

But that's still not enough. The customer must see the true value: “After reviewing the specifications, the schedule is your most important need. With our systems, we can manage the schedule more effectively and cut it by three weeks.”

Once businesses win over customers, they may soon forget the possibilities created during a courtship, Patron pointed out. Instead, they should develop healthy relationships by maintaining and, preferably, expanding the equity and those possibilities. “That requires a conscious and constant fight against the forces of atrophy,” he said.

He encouraged sellers to constantly ask, “How are we doing?”, “What can we do better?” , and “Are we neglecting anything?”

“Sellers should make it known from the start they expect to earn the next job, too,” he said.

He also outlined five steps of effective market planning, featuring two-way information flow between the customer and the seller rather than the traditional one-way flow from the seller to the customer:

Situational review This is where the company asks itself a series of questions. A few examples include: What does our work consist of, by customer and project type? Where did the jobs actually come from? Who and what did we spend our marketing dollars on? What results did these expenditures actually accomplish by customer? What competitive strategies will generate opportunities and threats on forthcoming efforts? How many jobs did we “decline to bid/budget” last year?

Increase Selectivity Start by defining your preferred customer criteria. Then increase the total number and quality of the opportunities you pursue – and work to increase your capture ratio. Learn to say no to less profitable opportunities.

Identify customers After defining your customer criteria, put them in order of relative importance to the organization. Among the potential sources are associations, trade publications, industry suppliers, economic development authorities/chambers of commerce, consultants targeting the market sector and service professionals. To learn more, use web sites and databases, existing network contacts and phone calls to contacts and the prospective customers themselves.

Define actions Determine what, when and who develops the schedules and determines the marketing tactics to be executed. Develop expectations and objectives for business development activities. Segment functions by market, and create a “mini-plan” for each target segment.

Communication plan Define a marketing budget; build the tools of communication; craft consistency, frequency and the message; and measure the results.

Long-term relationships

Patron's afternoon session examined the critical roles of operations in building long-term relationships. As testimony to his own ability to establish strong relationships, many of the attendees at this breakout session also attended his earlier session.

He said companies must view customers as assets and always remember it is cheaper to maintain and build a “lifetime” customer than to gain a new customer. Patron listed a number of ways to kill the relationship, including:

• Inattentive to client concerns

• Rude or discourteous behaviour

• Abrupt or unprofessional phone conversations

• Transferring blame to client

• Slow or unresponsive follow-up

• Failure to expand client value points.

Conversely, the principle of making happy customers included:

• Evaluate your commitment of resources and time

• Develop a strategy to deal with exceptionally demanding times

• Know your limits – calculate risks

• Always plan for the worst possible disaster.

Much of his presentation focused on retaining a quality workforce because “when a key person leaves, relationships suffer.” Look at every hire as a $100,000 to $500,000 investment, he recommended.

Today's employers needs to keep in mind generational considerations when building and retaining a quality workforce, noted Patron. When working with the Boomer Generation, ages 43 to 61, employers need to address opportunities for working in the organization and to explain how individuals are making a difference.

With Generation X, ages 27 to 42, employers should create opportunities for lateral and vertical movement in the organizations, allow an appropriate level of autonomy, provide a fair and balanced work schedule, and address how individual needs can be met.

For the Millennial Generations, ages 8 to 26, allow for multi-tasking, provide creative work assignments, offer challenging assignments, create stimulating learning opportunities, and provide an ability to take part in decision-making.

Patron explained in detail why some firms manage to keep better people. His basic formula involves creating a place where they want to stay, hiring them right, paying them well, helping them to succeed on the job, and getting rid of those who fail to perform.

“When people stay around and get better at what the do, they build long-term relationships and the company gets stronger,” he concluded.

The 43 booths at the Exhibit Center were busy throughout the full three hours of operation. Attendees also took advantage of networking opportunities during refreshment breaks, receptions, and breakfasts. Also popular were plant tours of Royal Tractor Company and Custom Mobile Equipment.

Begin making plans now to attend the next Crane & Rigging Workshop, 18-20 September 2008, at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Toronto, Canada.

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