Last week we hosted a private meet and greet for The Bluebook at Construction Connection’s Coaching Center, the SHED, which stands for Sharing Education. The out of town contractor was Life Time Construction, the Construction Management division of Life Time Clubs. Bluebook prepares these special events when the timing of the Who’s Who in Building and Construction Showcase does not align with the timing of the clients need for sub-coverage.
The meet and greet was to introduce the subcontractor community to Minnesota-based Life Time’s upcoming projects in Palm Beach Gardens and Coral Gables, along with offering the sub-contracting community an opportunity to answer any questions or concerns they would have regarding bidding projects in South Florida or nationally for Life Time. This included the process and timing for the opportunity to bid those projects. In addition, The Construction Industry Relations Manager for Life Time took time to explain their financial model and how they pay their contractors.
After the initial presentation, I was able to listen to some of the sub-contractors take-away on the event which turned into more of a session in which I listened to the challenges they are having with bidding projects in general.
In April of last year, we did an article titled “When to Hold Them, Fold Them and Especially When to Walk Away”, to assist both General and Sub-contractors on how to create a formal Go no Go process when bidding projects. Although the subs I spoke with that day had some form of Go no Go in place, they were having challenges simply obtaining the information from the Construction Management team of the representing projects in order to determine if they should or should not delegate time and resources to bid on the project. They all expressed how busy the industry is, yet how difficult it is to obtain qualified personnel and manage the labor burden costs associated with obtaining new work. The goal being to improve on their project award rate while maintaining cash flow to allow them to attract and keep top management and trade staff to perform the jobs.
Here are some of the items we heard and the solution to improve from both the subcontractor and general contractor side.
Clarify the Bid Process and Communication Person and Protocol
People in our industry, want a live contact versus someone hiding behind email or bid systems, to bid to. Often, the person working for the sub-contractor or the general contractor doing business development may attend networking events and attend the initial bid meeting yet will not be the contact you will work with in estimating that will decide whether to bid your project or not. If you contact that person you met at an event call them to ask if they are bidding your project, they may not get back to you. Often, their job is to gain exposure and brand recognition for the company they represent. That exposure and brand recognition is not just to attract sub-contractors and suppliers, but for obtaining new clients and projects and personnel to work for their firm.
In regards to the General Contractor Showcases and the larger convention setting meet and greets; the subs felt the people working the show often were just handing them a generic qualification form and their card, but offered little information as to specifics on projects, the right contact after the showcase along with how to learn the company’s prequal and payment process, so the sub could determine if they are a trade partner match with the contractor. They went on to say they would leave the show and often go back to “drinking out of a fire hose” with the work already on their plate, never getting the time to even explore further the potential new opportunities. Whether it is right or not, reality is “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and our industry gravitates towards “the devil they know versus they devil they don’t know”.
Other challenges expressed by the subcontractors were, when receiving bid requests through an internet plan room, often the information entered by the contractor requesting the sub to bid was so minimal they again could not determine whether they wanted to pursue it or not. They said they would even call the contact listed to ask a specific question, but the person listed was clueless about the specifics of the project itself even though they were listed as the contact for questions regarding the project.
The other item brought up by the sub-contractors was how often they get a call from an estimating coordinator from a contractor asking if they are going to be submitting a bid on a specific project, only to ask when it is due to hear within the next 48 hours. They stated even if they were going to consider rushing to get the bid in, that coordinator is clueless about the project and unable to immediately get them to someone knowledgeable to get the full information needed to submit a complete bid. The General Contractor’s goal might be to get a minimum of three bids at the table for a particular trade, but the solid subs typically aren’t just going to throw a number.
Zig Ziglar says “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.
We all have twenty-four-hour days.”
Here are a few suggestions to provide your team direction:
First, the leader of the bid process for your company should be able to identify to others what, a match looks like, for you to align yourself with whether they are sub-contractors, suppliers or general contractors. This happens with some form of a Go no Go, but with one that provides clear direction for the person put in the role of determining if a project and company is right for you to take on. Not only do you accept to award a bid to a company for the work on the project, you take on the culture of their people, their processes, procedures and resources all the way to final payment and close-out of a project. Depending on the qualification level of your staff, your billing/AR person may need to have your client’s AP person assist them with learning the payment process and procedure in the beginning of the project. If the client does it all electronically and doesn’t provide a helpful contact, it may cause cash flow within your organization. This also works in reverse. There is nothing more frustrating to many AP professionals when they deal with an unqualified billing person that can’t get it right month after month throughout a project, sometimes even with help.
Clearly identify your staff and the process through the bidding process and lifecycle of the project.
Ensure the right staff is assigned to a project or event that is knowledgeable to answer questions along with willing and available to do so for the situation at hand.
Don’t have your subs call an estimating coordinator that can’t even read plans other than to schedule mutual time for the right person to speak with them. If that person is an executive or estimator who can’t take subcontractor calls at random throughout the day, utilize your estimating coordinator to schedule daily appointments for the knowledgeable person to answer the subcontractor and supplier questions. Your responsibility as owner or managing executive is to train and hold the people accountable to returning those calls. The training can be as simple as teaching your administrator or coordinator to follow a script like this:
This is (name of coordinator). Who am I speaking with? (They get name, title, phone and project they are calling in regards to.) Response of coordinator: We appreciate your interest in bidding the XYZ project. John Smith, Lead Estimator on that project, has availability today at (state time) or tomorrow at (state time) to go over the project with you. Would you be available and if so, what number should he call you at?
You can even have them provide a calendar invite or send them a confirmation text to the subcontractor client. They definitely want to confirm with the person they are scheduling for and also have a way to follow up and ensure the subcontractor received what they were looking for.
Communication, time management and customer service are key to building contractor relations. Providing better information on your website, other than just a download for prequalification, making sure anyone answering the telephone at your company is trained to serve an industry caller’s needs and teaching those “out and about” how to appropriately direct inquiries can make or break the choices and coverage you have on projects.
If you take the time and put forth the effort to make it easier for others, I promise you it will make it more professional for your personnel in the long run, equating to better profits. We are always here to help if you need us to help you with implementing the right program
To the Right Relationship Matches,