Build Alliances with Your Competitors

Most concrete contractors realize they cannot do it all. As a small business gains in reputation and builds a strong customer base, it becomes more critical that scheduled work gets done on time.

While having more work than you can handle is a nice problem to have, it requires creativity in meeting customer needs and work schedules. That might include building alliances with other contractors, both companies that complement your concrete efforts and your competitors.

Find the right partners

Building alliances with other contractors should begin long before you are overbooked. Developing a professional relationship with other contractors allows you the opportunity to assess the work ethic, customer focus, and attention to quality that competitors and other contractors possess. While you may find it difficult to talk openly with competitors, your effort will pay huge dividends later when you are engaged in meeting all of your customers’ demands.

Here are four tips to help you build an alliance with other contractors.

Tip #1: Keep a running log of competitors who perform professional work. In your daily travels and interactions within your market area, take note of the work done by competitors and performance results. Most good contractors already do this informally, but you should write it down.

Tip #2: Invite your competitor to breakfast or lunch. Initiating this effort sends a message to your competitor that you are not threatened by them and do not view them as “the enemy.” You might be surprised at how open and honest your conversation can be. Often, owners can exchange viewpoints with each other that might be impossible to get from an employee.

Tip #3: Ask your competitor about his commitment to quality, customer satisfaction and accountability. While every contractor can talk quality, ask your competitor what he has done internally to accomplish such results. Share your own struggles to improve your organization’s approach to quality, the customer and accountability. If you do not get an aggressive response initially, don’t fret; it may take your competitor awhile to realize he can trust you.

Tip #4: Ask your competitor if his company would be interested in fulfilling some of your work under your company’s name. Ask this question only after you establish a relationship with your competitor. Remember that some contractors are not especially gifted in marketing or selling. Such a contractor could be a perfect match for you if you are strong in such areas.

The ground rules

Building alliances with competitors can be good for a growing business. Such relationships can strengthen your strategies for growth while also meeting your customers’ needs. However, several items need to be understood between you and your competitor for a strong alliance.

  • Your competitor may have equipment on the job with his company name stenciled on it, but his workers must realize that it is your company’s reputation on the line and act accordingly.
  • Your competitor must agree to avoid soliciting additional work from your client behind your back. Likewise, you must abstain from talking negatively about your competitor to a customer.
  • You must be crystal clear about instructions and requirements that will be met in order to fulfill the job. You must personally take full responsibility to ensure every piece of information about the job is made clear to your competitor and his workers. You may need to spend extra time monitoring the first few jobs with your competitor until both parties reach a comfort level.
  • Both parties must realize that even with great communication, problems and mistakes can occur. As tempting as it may be to hold payment for the completion of a job over the competitor’s head, this tactic will not build positive and trusting relationships.

When approached carefully, building alliances can be a positive experience for you and your competitors. Such relationships can help you grow your business, take on a greater diversity of work, or strengthen a weakness within your company.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm specializing in assisting contractors in the United States and Canada. Join Brad’s weekly column by signing up at www.thecontractorsbestfriend.com.

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