Construction marketing: Building edifices, building dreams (and facing the facts)

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Yesterday afternoon, I had a heated discussion with one of our sales representatives.  We were alone in the office. His personality (and mine) invite this sort of banter.  For some reason, with him, I sometimes am less than civil, especially when I think he is doing something dumb.  Maybe it’s me.  Maybe it’s him.  (When we hired him, on reference checking, we found that there had been issues with relationships with previous employers but I shudder to think what I would experience if someone could check my own references.)

I would never fire anyone just because of the personality dynamics unless they suck.  That is, they are either trying too hard to be “nice” to me (because I am the boss), or they are burning every bridge they know with subordinates, colleagues and (worse) clients.  If the person is a sales representative, I’ll allow the numbers to speak — considering the forward projections and how they match to actual performance.  (We ask our sales representatives to give a quick projection of performance expectations for the current and next issue in our weekly meetings.  The problems arise when the projections are consistently off — by being lower than promised.)

Yesterday, our sales representative hit two nerves.  He wanted to defer an appointment for a major initiative set for Monday (requiring some travel) because the weather would be a little cold.  I told him, bluntly, “are you nuts?”  I mean, this is January and we are in Canada (and the weather conditions won’t be so severe to make travel unsafe.)  Turns out, as well, he had failed to communicate with our designer some materials that would help the relationship-process — stuff that he had considered important for several weeks.  He sent the request through after our meeting and the designer rightfully responded, “heck it’s the weekend and you are asking for this on Friday afternoon — I’ll see if I can get it to you Sunday night!, but why didn’t you ask me earlier?”)

The other nerve he hit was when he started a conversation with an observation that he was about to turn an inquiry into a major sale.  This set up the red flag to me, so I waited for the other shoe to drop.  A project for which he had counted on a third of his projected revenue this month had collapsed.  He had built a small lead into a much bigger initiative, but the people he had been dealing with in the company were junior officers.  As the project’s scope increased, it ended up being bumped upstairs, and nixed by a person with whom our representative had failed to build a direct relationship.  Ouch.

The closest thing I can associate with this experience is the image here of someone struggling to push a rock up a mountain.

So, why carry on?  Well, one of this representative’s “big dream” ideas is actually quite good in my opinion, if executed properly.  The challenge is to build the structure without forcing ourselves up a big hill.  Several colleagues have contributed worthy ideas and initiatives in expanding the project.  I’m hoping to master the initiative so that no one carries the entire ball and that it obtains a natural momentum.  We aren’t staking our entire business on this project of course and our capital implementation budget is close to zero.  It is exciting to see projects turn from little ideas into something much larger — but when they get large, it needs to be a team not single person’s effort and here, I am facing leadership tests; allowing others to take ownership and credit while making sure that no one person or situation derails the overall project.

These observations, I hope, invite you to think about your own business, your sales and marketing strategies and your relationships with colleagues, bosses, subordinates, suppliers and clients.  When you start a project, consider whether you are pushing a rock up hill.  Could one single slip-up or error (or unknown decision-maker) blow it?  Can you field a team who can see the idea through several levels and alternative strategies to achieve the overall goal, without risking all of their resources?  Is the initiative or project worthy of exceptional risk, if only for a short time?  (Yes, for example, I could have been beheaded and strung up on a pole in Liberia in May 1980, but I’m glad for that wild week ending 18 months in Africa.  Dreams can come true.)

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