Many construction companies are purely focussed on their construction projects and don’t actually understand their client. Construction companies and Project Managers need to be more sensitive to their clients, understanding who they are and what’s important to them. Not only can this assist construction companies avoid projects that are destined to go bad, but it can also make winning a good project easier, and ensure the execution of the project proceeds more smoothly.
So let’s consider how understanding your client can make your construction company more successful.
Before pricing a construction project:
At bidding stage construction companies should understand:
1. Does the client have money to pay for the work?
2. Do they have a reputation for projects which end in disputes and litigation?
3. Do they pay their contractors fairly and on time?
4. Do they engage in dishonest practices?
You don’t want to be working on a project where you might not be paid or with a client that engages in dishonest practices which might have implications for the project or your business.
Preparing your bid (tender or quotation):
By understanding what the client is looking for you can ensure that you are capable of giving them what they are asking for, and also ensure you emphasise in your bid how you will deliver the project in such a way that their needs and expectations will be met.
For instance, some clients may be particularly concerned about the safety of the construction works. By emphasising your past safety achievements and highlighting how you will deliver their project safely, it could be possible for your bid to stand out from your competitors.
Some clients may need a particular part of the project finished earlier. By understanding these requirements you may be able to structure your schedule/program in such a manner as to ensure their requirements are met and emphasise this in your presentation.
Some of this is written in the tender documentation – but so are many other things. It is about understanding what really is most important to your client, so you ensure you tell them how you will deliver this.
Of course if you don’t believe you can meet the client’s expectations on the project then avoid pricing it. Why get into trouble if you can avoid it.
During the negotiation phase:
I have won tenders from 2nd or 3rd place by demonstrating during the tender negotiation phase that we understand the client’s project and concerns. Remember it is their project, so treat any concerns they have seriously. It doesn’t make a good impression to criticise their team, design or project.
By understanding the client’s needs also means you can take the right team to the negotiations. For instance if safety is the priority take your proposed project safety manager as well as the head of your safety department. With quality, safety and scheduling there is almost a special language and relationship that these fraternities seem to have with each other, and if you can find the right bond the battle is almost won.
Planning the project:
When selecting the team to build the project it pays to understand the client. If the client sees safety as the most important priority then it’s important to select a Project Manager that takes safety seriously. A PM who isn’t safety conscious will face an uphill battle with a client that is.
Knowing the client and their team may also mean you can select a Project Manager who is more likely to get on with them. Unfortunately some problems on construction sites are caused, or exacerbated, by a clash of personalities. Occasionally there are clients who are bigoted, or may discriminate against certain people – why start a project with a problem if it can be avoided. It will be unpleasant for your PM and it won’t help the project.
If you know the client and their team is weak you may need a stronger construction team, as well as a team with good contractual knowledge so they can lodge claims and variations that may arise.
Managing the project:
Remember to ensure your PM understands the client’s needs so they can deliver them. It’s pointless the company has done all the hard work to impress the client at the pricing stage, only for the PM not to get the message.
Misunderstanding cultural differences can lead to problems and misunderstandings. You don’t want to cause offence by an innocuous remark which the client takes the wrong way, which then sours the relationship.
The best negotiators have an instinct for the personal dimension. Build relationships with your client, learn about them, understand their strengths and their weaknesses and use these to your company’s advantage. So many problems on construction projects could be avoided with a better understanding of your client and their team.
Some clients can be particularly pedantic regarding some minor things that can seem inconsequential to the contractor. These may be how the client wants a report done, when they want things presented or what they particularly look for when they walk the construction works. Often these have only minor costs, yet some PM’s will fight and resist the client, often leading to an unhappy client with consequential problems. Yet, satisfying these requests can make the relationship much easier. I don’t mean give in to every demand or be bullied, rather pick your battles, which you can do more affectively if you understand your client.
Of course there are some clients that you may never understand. They change their mind on a daily basis. One day they are friendly, the next, whatever you do is wrong. Well do you really want to work for a client like that?
Thank you for reading this article. I hope it is useful. Add your comments so we can all share your knowledge and experience. Please share or like the article so others in your network can read it.
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(Paul Netscher is the author of the acclaimed books ‘Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide’ [a required text for Bachelor of Construction Management at some universities] and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide’. Both books are available in paperback and e-book from Amazon and other retail outlets. This article is adapted from information included in these books.)