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It’s just too tempting not to make a few inferences from a recent sports spectacular to assist contractors trying to make that winning sales presentation. No, not the Olympics…the Super Bowl! This one-day, billion-dollar juggernaut is a perfect example of how teamwork, preparation and execution can all come together.
What better presentation than the NFL Super Bowl where two teams, competing for one prize and each committed to the same amount of pre-game prep-work to present to the world what their team is all about? Certainly the amount of preparation that both the Seahawks and Broncos completed was over the top. Yet one team – the Seahawks – presented a truer reflection of what their preparation had readied their players and coaches to accomplish…and they prevailed.
The preparation of a disciplined champion in sports provides an apt comparison for contractors competing to win work. In football you will often hear of coaches preaching that their team must prepare for three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. Similarly, there are three “phases” to winning more work that championship construction companies execute.
During the first phase, the contractor must commit to a flawless “pre-presentation” regimen of studying schematics, drawings, specifications, personalities, needs, expectations, tendencies etc. In the second phase, the “pre-work” effort must specifically address exactly what the customer needs, culminating in a winning presentation through a clear and realistic estimate, a seamless and believable presentation – or both! In the third and final phase, and in order to punctuate their preparation and presentation, the winning contractor performs a “post-presentation” follow-up to reinforce their commitment to their proposal, their brand and their company’s confidence in performing the work.
Let’s take each of the three phases separately and examine what you can do to turn each phase into a stronger contributor to winning work.
Phase I. Building the Presentation “Game Plan”
The turnaround time involved with bidding a job, much less planning for a presentation, is often very brief. The urgency projected by the customer for our “best shot” today can move contractors to use template-based costs, resulting in a fast-assembled bid that overlooks critical details – details that might have made the difference in winning the project.
Estimating software has become a staple for many growing contractors…as it should be. However, the creativity of the “game plan” that a contractor must develop, perhaps in a written estimate only or in conjunction with a live sales presentation, is still a human-inspired contribution. Let’s explore some of the more human aspects of preparing a winning presentation.
1. Look First to General Scope of Project. This first aspect is for the contractor and estimators to gain an overall picture of the project. Often, how the project is laid out, where important boundaries are noted, where the site is located, what sort of visibility the project affords etc. are all visuals important to the contractor really interested in nailing their presentation. Getting a visual of the overall scope of the project provides greater clarity of what is at stake, what is at risk, and what the final successful project will look like. Too often the contractor who is just wanting to turn the bid around quickly will immediately begin doing take-offs, calculating the numbers, throwing a few extra profit points on top and sending the bid on its way.
Another brief, but important aspect of this first consideration is the possibility that the contractor might choose not to prepare a bid and/or presentation. Gaining a general scope of work, especially for those most intimate with preparing a bid and presentation, can add clarity and confidence if the project is to be pursued. Too many examples exist of contractors who prepared their bids and presentations for work that realistically they should have never attempted to win.
2. Understand the Owner & the Owner’s Needs (Without Disregarding Wants). This aspect recognizes the drawings or jobsite limitations and allowances for the project but it also recognizes that customers might need something that isn’t always spelled out on a drawing or captured in the RFQ. Understanding the owner requires having some relationship with the owner. Questions that might enter into the relationship building might include questions such as:
- What do you really want to see on this project?
- How would you like to see the work completed by a contractor?
- Are there any unique traits or characteristics about this project that you would like to see in place?
- Is there anything currently on the site that you would like to see maintained or removed?
- Do you have some overall look that you want to establish or maintain?
In many cases, contractors really can help themselves out by doing a little homework on the owner, their reputation, their current site (or other sites owned), and their area of industry. For example, making the winning presentation to a health care owner might differ slightly from making a presentation to an industrial owner, and still differ to a residential owner. The learning point here is to know something of value about the owner who will be receiving the presentation. Tailoring to the owner’s personal as well as professional tastes can often separate the winning contractor from the competition. Such tailoring, especially when preparing for a presentation, should also pay attention to the owner’s personality, personal and professional interests, and the owner’s company record, performance and projected future.
3. Stringent Review of the Project’s known Facts. “Facts” represents every detail on a drawing, number on a specification sheet or requirement provided by the owner. Don’t be surprised if gathering all of the “facts” is harder than you think. I’m still amazed how many projects are completed without the contractor ever having a complete and accurate set of drawings! While this is quite common in the General Contractor’s world, it’s not that uncommon in the specialty sub-trade field either.
Here is where the “devil in the details” pays off: A quick skim (as opposed to a detailed analysis) for such facts can result in a contractor losing a job – or worse, winning the job but still losing in the end when they perform the project at a financial loss. Cost codes, accuracy of square footage, linear take-offs, crew productivity rates, material needs and costs etc. are all facts contractors regularly draw on to pull together the perfect bid, leading to the winning presentation.
4. Developing the Winning “Game Plan.” While the third aspect of preparation might represent the “Xs & Os” of the facts, this fourth aspect requires the human element. The estimating software will provide fast calculations for our final numbers; however, this fourth aspect demands the creative and intuitive side of the contractor’s “brain trust” of advisors. In short, this is where the final “game plan” is prepared for presentation.
While watching the Super Bowl, it was not uncommon for the network cameras moving their perspective from the field action to showing offensive and defensive coaches pouring over their “game plan,” making comparisons to what they had prepared for and what they might need to adjust to strengthen their players’ execution. (How many times did you see Peyton Manning studying the most recent aerial photos of the opponent’s defensive alignments?)
In similar fashion, contractors need to create a bit of a “game plan” for every project they bid. While an actual and formal presentation might not be required, successful contractors still prepare to verbally walk their customers through their bid, ensuring greater understanding and taking advantage of every opportunity to promote their company’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
If a contractor is to make a live presentation, here is what the “game plan” must include for the contractor to maximize preparation and to demonstrate the contractor’s real advantages and command of the customer’s needs in the project:
- Known facts about the site, constructability issues & requirements
- Knowledge of what the owner’s company or industry is experiencing
- “Big picture” of finished project descriptions
- Constructability sequences that prioritize the organization of the jobsite and how the job will be completed
- Detailed yet brief response to known customer needs and wants
- Definition of how the contractor proves quality workmanship
- Discussion of start and end times; list of what the owner will be expected to prepare
- Identification of the project leader and brief description of his/her experience
5. Conducting the Dress Rehearsal. As crazy as this might sound, every successful contractor I know who is serious about landing work conducts a dress rehearsal. It is in the dress rehearsal that the “bugs” of inconsistency are worked out. This is the opportunity to hear how the presenters actually sound when they try to voice important building terms and phrases. Often, what we think might sound right sounds much different when we are actually saying the words out loud.
Just as the Seahawks and Broncos practiced their game plans in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, so too do contractors need to rehearse their presentation game plan. While we can’t match the actual “live” experience of the real presentation, we can improve our efforts by making rehearsing part of our pre-presentation efforts.
And when you’re conducting your dress rehearsal don’t be afraid to capture it on video for review. I have found that reviewing video of practice presentation can greatly improve your preparation efforts. Taping football practices has been common practice in the NFL, college and even high school for years. Taping your rehearsal gives you the advantage of reviewing the effort, seeing for yourself “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
6. Final Touches & Edits. Conducting the dress rehearsal affords you the chance to see the positives as well as areas for improvement before making the real presentation to the customer. After assessing your rehearsal, be honest about the adjustments or edits you can make to strengthen the presentation. In some cases the adjustments might be small things such as simply adding a timeline to your discussion of the building phases; edits can be as easy as deleting your discussion of the composition of the concrete that will be used.
Larger adjustments might include determining the actual order of who is presenting, maybe even realizing that another employee be considered or added due to his or her familiarity with the construction process. Or perhaps the dress rehearsal will reveal you need to switch out a presenter. Not everyone is comfortable standing up and presenting to a customer, and while we all can improve our presentation skills, not everyone will be ready or experienced enough to make a positive impression for your presentation efforts. Remember, the goal of any sales presentation is to win the work.
One final touch to consider involves recognizing where the actual presentation will take place. Assuming most presentations will take place at the customer’s location, it is important to know if you will be in a boardroom or a smaller office area. Will the presentation require a Power Point and screen? Will you be using handouts? How many people will be in your audience?
Getting answers to these questions, and others, can better prepare your presenters so they are more confident and relaxed. Again, most contractors and their teams are not professional speakers. Therefore, making changes on the day of the presentation can throw some people off, making them more nervous or uncomfortable. It’s important that those presenting are confident, relaxed and positive.
Making the “winning presentation” requires much preparation. While not every presentation will result in victory, it is critical that a contractor prepare to win every project. Even the development of the bid that is e-mailed or hand-delivered requires a great preparation effort. My experience has taught me that even though a bid might have been written initially, at some point the contractor will be asked to explain their formal proposal. Thus a presentation is often required -- albeit a spontaneous one.
Preparing “the winning presentation” isn’t only for the larger contractor. Even the smaller contractor who makes a living completing residential driveways will experience greater results by applying the pre-presentation efforts I’ve outlined. And, as a matter of good “risk management,” any size job can result in breakdowns, failures and dissatisfied customers. The better prepared a contractor is to address the process, terms, conditions, needs etc. of proposed work the better chance that contractor will have in winning work, winning profitable work, and winning work that yields the lowest level of problems.
Be sure to win this first of three phases of work. Without it your chances of winning profitable work are greatly reduced. Win this first phase and the second phase becomes easier and more effective at scoring the right plays to win the project. We’ll look at the second phase of making the winning presentation in our next article.
© 2014 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™