By H. Kent Craig
Special to CONTRACTOR
WITH THE WEAK economy and difficulty of acquiring new customers, many mechanical contractors are looking to expand the scope of services offered to their existing customers.
This strategy is known as “suite selling,” “total market marketing,” “complete customer service lifecycle” or “aftermarket selling.” Although it’s not a new concept, branching into new areas of work to satisfy customers’ needs is not necessarily easy. It’s one thing to be world-class in the hard bid or negotiated bid market where the bottom line is always money; it’s another thing to be successful in selling foundation-to-amortization services that are limited only by a customer’s desires, imagination and pocketbook.
Contractors and customers interviewed by CONTRACTOR offered their own advice to companies that want to expand their services.
Dan MacNeil is pre-construction director for the Morrisville, N.C., branch of Indianapolis-based Duke Construction, a design/build general contracting firm that specializes in creating client-based concept-to-occupancy commercial buildings.
“Beware of trying to transition too fast from a service firm into an installation firm or vice-versa,” MacNeil said. “Screw up some early installation, and it will hurt your reputation on the service side; don’t follow through with your service and you might not make as many short lists for new work.”
Still, the potential upside for cross-marketing a suite of services that most clients need is huge, even if a contractor has to make its initial efforts a loss leader to get a foot in the door.
“For good upsells, you must sell integrity, craftsmanship and professionalism instead of just price,” said David K. Brese Jr., executive vice president of Lee Air Conditioners Inc. in Durham, N.C. “In new relationships, price alone often determines if you get the job or not, but quality of installation and professional integrity become leading factors after the sale.”
Contractors that haven’t tried knocking on unfamiliar doors to try to drum up new business must beware of unintentionally violating unwritten protocols and common sense in their eagerness to sell and generate income for their company.
Juan R. Martinez is North Carolina regional maintenance supervisor for Palms Associates Real Estate Management, which manages individual apartments in multiple complexes in the Southeast.
“Consistency of quality and genuine concern for product quality and customer satisfaction is what generates sales,” he said. “When it’s genuine you can tell; you can’t fake honesty or a labor of love.”
Applying The Golden Rule to relationships with customers is well and good, but how does a contractor deal with the potential customer who is concerned almost exclusively with true bottom-line price points and not much else?
“I know what variances of price I’m expecting before the service or installation contractor even speaks to me,” Martinez said. “I believe the contractor should present top-quality products in their proposals and then, if needed, we can negotiate down depending on the immediacy of my need and my budget.”
Duke Construction’s MacNeil added: “Make sure you’re marketing to the right person; i.e., just because someone is in charge doesn’t mean they have preferred or final-buy authority. The buyer of the installation will not be necessarily the buyer of the aftermarket service.”
In other words, MacNeil said, contractors must do their homework on each client with whom they are attempting to create a new relationship or to whom they are marketing a new line of services. While that may sound as if it’s an obvious point to make, many service firms apparently think they can become a quick player in the new construction market simply by offering cutthroat prices on bid day. Similarly, many new construction firms think all they have to do is buy a service van or two and hire a service tech or two and that puts them in the service business. Both notions couldn’t be any more wrong, MacNeil said.
Using his own firm as an example, MacNeil said that most of his competitors don’t exhibit the same commitment to customer care as Duke Construction does. “We, however, maintain a close relationship through the building’s lifecycle,” he said.
That perhaps is the key to the concept of suite selling: All successful businesses succeed not because they are sales-driven but because they are customer relationship-driven. Those firms that concentrated on building a business instead of simply getting more business when times were good are now reaping the rewards of being in a more survivable position than their competitors now that times are bad.