Whether you are trying to convince your GC, the owner or the engineer of a change, “you need to talk directly to your audience and understand who you are trying to sell an idea to,” explains Long. “We tailor our suggestions to what audience we are talking to.”
Long uses the example of suggesting a specification change for steel fiber reinforcement instead of welded wire or rebar. In certain situations this specification change carries a host of benefits — it’s faster and requires less labor costs because the contractor doesn’t have to install reinforcement; it’s safer because it eliminates trip-and-fall issues that can occur with welded wire and rebar; it doesn’t require jobsite storage of reinforcing materials; with steel fibers the reinforcement is evenly distributed throughout the slab; and depending on slab thickness, there could be material cost savings associated with using the steel fiber reinforcement.
If Long is talking to an owner about switching to steel fibers, he will emphasize the better end product, because that’s what an owner wants. If he needs to convince a GC of the change, he will emphasize the faster construction, less jobsite storage requirements and a safer jobsite.
For Long, working with an engineer might take a little more finesse. “There’s an old saying, ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.’ That holds true for engineers. Instead of telling them they were wrong about something, we tell them this is a better way or a new way to do it so they think about it in a new light,” he says. “We try to build relationships with designers by calling them up and running an idea by them before we send an RFI to give him a chance to think about it. If you don’t have the engineer in your corner, it can be hard to get changes made because it makes him look like he didn’t do his job.”
Reed adds another angle to a convincing argument can come from past experience with a similar specification change. “If we can connect an engineer with one of our past clients where the proposed change was used successfully on a project, he or she will be more inclined to accept that change,” he explains.
Build relationships with owners and designers
Your willingness to share your expertise in construction and knowledge about the latest building trends and products can help differentiate your company from your competition. It will also build trust with your customers.
Long emphasizes the importance of positioning yourself as a concrete expert to your clients, and educating them on the new trends and practices in concrete construction before a project. His company and its suppliers run topic-specific “lunch and learns” for engineers and routinely set up appointments with engineers and designers to talk about new trends and topics without a specific project in mind.
At T.B. Penick & Sons, Inc., San Diego, Calif., Chris Klemaske is a project development specialist for the Innovative Concrete Systems division, which specializes in decorative concrete, architectural surface applications and pervious concrete. Klemaske is most often involved with a project one to two years before it goes out to bid, working with the architect and owner on design intent and consulting on construction. The nature of these relationships allows her to be proactive with specifications.
Over the years, the engineering and design team at T.B. Penick compiled a library of specifications for the various systems they offer. Klemaske shares these specifications with her clients. “That architect or engineer owns that spec. It’s something we give them that is a place for them to start, at least on design. Instead of cutting and pasting from somewhere else and possibly including information that is out of date or doesn’t work, they have something that has been tested and works,” she explains.
This specifications library helps T.B. Penick build relationships with its customers and positions the company as an industry expert. “People welcome our specs. They don’t have to worry about writing them. They don’t have to guess on psi or admixtures,” Klemaske adds.