8 Essential Criteria for Winning a Big Contract from Me
by Mike Schultz
Smoking a cigar in the Adirondack chair as the red sun goes down over the lake on a warm summer evening. Between this and me is a major remodel of the fixer-upper lake house my wife and I just bought.
Since I inherited from my father special skills like hammering a nail into a wall such that I ruin the wall, I realize I’m about to spend a lot of time with architects and contractors. All I’ve heard from friends and colleagues is, “Be careful!”
The cliché digs on architects are that they are artists with no attention to detail and no grounding in reality. The digs on contractors are that they’ll take any opening you give them to cut corners, pad their fees, and drop you and your project at the first sign they have to work more than they thought or something better comes along.
I don’t believe any of it. I can dis doctors (quacks), consultants (here to fire people, read their watch, and tell me what time it is), lawyers (ambulance chasing naysayers), and accountants (boring bean counters). It’s simply the reality that the great service providers in these (and all other) areas are mixed in with the rest of the average to rotten bunch.
The reality is I want to trust right away, but I’ve been burned in the past. We all have. And I’ve got my future hopes and dreams for my family and me wrapped up in turning this 70s wood-paneled, purple-shag-carpeted, water-damaged dwelling into our home. Thus I’ve got fear, uncertainty, and doubt about my ‘partners’ in this major renovation.
That’s a good dose of emotion, and I’m not a very emotional guy. Even the very special episodes of Blossom didn’t get to me (much). But I bought this house to raise a family and while away the next several decades, and so a lot of feelings are tied up in getting this renovation right.
Now I’ve got to find service providers to help me. For both the architect and the contractor, here are my buying criteria:
Be very good at your craft. Do I need you to be the best? I wouldn’t even know how to define that. I’ll probably look at your past work to get a sense of whether or not you’ve got the chops to do what I need done.
Deal with us fairly. We’ll both make sure the contract is clear and fair so we know our roles and responsibilities, but you can’t contract for every eventuality. I’ll probably get a sense of your client focus by speaking with you and listening for cues, by speaking to your references, and by asking around.
Meet mutually set commitments. Whether it’s in the contract, or whether it’s something we discussed, do what you say you’re going to do.
Understand our needs. I’ll give you overviews, answer your questions, and show you examples, but it’s got to register with you.
Anticipate our needs. Let’s say we lay out a room a particular way. Did we forget something? Let’s say you’re just about to put hammer to nail and you see that we might not have left enough room for the chairs to go back from the table. Call us.
Add to the conversation. Don’t just take our ideas and implement them. Take them and make them better.
Be responsive to us. Don’t return calls or disappear and we’ll have big problems.
Stick to the budget.
What I don’t care about is what your tagline is, whether or not you’re a “different kind of design/build firm,” or that you’ve got a unique methodology for designing and building houses. I don’t care about how good the schools, hospitals, or hotels are that you’ve built.
What can I say, buyers buy parochially, and that includes me. I’m trying to figure out if you’ll be good at serving people like us in a situation like ours. As much as you think the other examples might be good proxies for how much you can help us, they simply won’t be as good for us as ones that look just like us.
If everything comes together as we hope, the remodel and our relationship will go swimmingly. But will it all come together like this? Let’s hope contractors read marketing blogs.
Mike Schultz, President of Wellesley Hills Group, is world-renowned as a consultant and expert in services marketing, branding, and rainmaking. Co-author of the book Professional Services Marketing (Wiley, 2009), Mike is an engaging and thought-provoking speaker, delivering dozens of keynotes each year in-house for clients and at leading industry conferences. Mike is also Publisher of RainToday.com, the world’s foremost publication and membership site for insight, advice, and tools for growing a service business.
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