"Contractors need to understand their clients. Who they are and what their expectations are"
In most business it’s important to understand your client or customer. However, in construction it seems to be more important, and could make or break your construction project, or even your construction business!
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 construction project proceeds more smoothly.
So let’s consider how understanding your client can make your construction company more successful.
Understanding your client when pricing the construction project
Before pricing a construction project:
When pricing a project construction companies should understand:
1. Does the client have money to pay for the work?
2. Do they have a reputation for construction 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"
You don’t want to be working on a construction 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. what makes a good client?
Preparing your price submission (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 price submission or quotation how you will deliver the construction 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 price submission to stand out from your competitors. Steps to help you win your next construction project
Some clients may need a particular part of the construction project finished earlier. By understanding these requirements you may be able to structure your construction 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 pricing 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
"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."
Of course if you don’t believe you can meet the client’s expectations on the construction project then avoid pricing it. Why get into trouble if you can avoid it.
During the negotiation phase:
I have won construction projects from 2nd or 3rd place (with other contractors being cheaper, and perhaps even preferred) by demonstrating during the project price negotiation phase that we understand the client’s construction 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 construction 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. Construction bid clarification and negotiation meetings
Understanding your client when planning the construction 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 focussed on safety. (of course safety is important irrespective of the client's requirements.)
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 project manager and it won’t help the project. What you should consider when staffing your project
"If you know the client and their team is weak you may need a stronger construction team,"
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.
Knowing your client when managing your construction project
Remember to ensure your project manager 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 on construction projects. You don’t want to cause offence by an innocuous remark which the client takes the wrong way, which then sours the relationship
"many problems on construction projects could be avoided with a better understanding of your client and their team."
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. How clients accidentally sabotage construction projects, and how you can stop it
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 construction project managers and contractors 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.
"You don't want to work with a client who changes everyday."
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?
"What I personally liked about this book were the case studies; they were great. Also, the proper explanation of every thing talked about."
Their are benefits all through the construction process to knowing and understanding your clients. From pricing the construction project, planning the project, managing the project, negotiating variation claims or change orders, through to completing the project. Failure to understand your client could cause contractors to work for the wrong client, one that pays late, or perhaps not at all. A disorganised client will delay and disrupt the construction project. Failure to understand your client may even delay the hand over of the project, or even lead to problems after the project is completed.
Contractors must research their clients. They need to talk to them and develop relationships. Successful construction projects are built on sound relationships between the contractor and the client and their teams. They are built on mutual respect and understanding.
Contractors must understand their clients
Other useful articles
Construction is a people business. Employ the right people.
How do construction companies keep a good client?
(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.)
© 2022 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.
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The opinions expressed in the attached articles are those of the writer. It should be noted that projects are varied and different laws and restrictions apply which depend on the location of the contractor and the project. It's important that the reader uses the supplied information taking cognisance of their particular circumstances. The writer assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss of any kind arising from the reader using the information or advice contained herein.
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