The dangers of assumptions in construction marketing

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St. Helena airport
The unfortunate story about the St. Helena airport construction project shows the dangers of assumptions -- or forgetting to check key facts. After a massive investment to connect the remote island to the res of the world, the airport has turned into a white elephant because of wind shear; at the moment, it is unsafe to use for larger commercial airlines.

While there are some things that can be predicted with certainty, I don’t think there are many if any “absolutes” in construction marketing. You can do everything right, and things still end up wrong. And you can do everything wrong, and still end up winning.

These observations are important because when you embark on a change or marketing strategy decision, it is important to be careful about how you assert your success based on very small sample sizes. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from your successes and failures, but you should be cautious in assuming and extrapolating from a single experience, no matter how much it is easy to do that.

Consider these observations in a recent post from Matt Handal, where he described some of the reasons your first impressions/assumptions could be wrong (and often you don’t know the truth until some time after the marketing opportunity has concluded.)

You Might Not Know The Client’s Misconceptions

We held a $1M contract with a state agency that was essentially a four-year contract. Four months after we signed this contract an RFP hit the street that was exactly like our contract’s RFP except for two additional lines of scope. These two lines were, of course, right up our alley. As soon as we saw this, we went into panic mode. Why is this happening? Have we done a bad job?

We talked to our teaming partner which was a large engineering firm. They told us that they had heard that the original contract was meant to be earmarked for a specific firm (not us), but that firm went one page over the page limit and was completely disqualified. Therefore, this new contract was a way to give this favored firm the contract.

When we asked our teaming partner whether they would propose with us on this new contract, they simply said “no.” Why would they say “no?” They explained that it was in their best interest for another firm to have this contract as well.

We finally got a hold of our client. He indicated that the reason they were advertising another RFP with virtually the same scope of work as was in our contract, was that his boss had talked to someone (he thought from our firm) who was teaming with XYZ Construction Company on an upcoming project.

In my firm’s line of business, that would be considered, by many, a direct “conflict of interest.”

Therefore, to eliminate the possible conflict of interest, the client quickly advertised another RFP. Just to satisfy our own curiosity, we contacted the XYZ Construction Company. It turns out that they were teaming with a firm that had a similar name, but was clearly not us.

You May Be Relying on Unreliable Intel

Teaming partners can be a great source of client intelligence. But be careful not to take intel received by a third party as gospel.

Many people, including me, have been burned by intel, from teaming partners, that ended up being inaccurate.

I remember one specific instance where two different sources told me that a particular client was “fed up” and “had a lot of problems” with the incumbent. Based on this intel, I decided to “go” a proposal effort I normally wouldn’t have.

In the end, we lost to the incumbent. Upon post-debrief analysis, I realized it was mathematically impossible for us to beat the incumbent because the intel was wrong.

Is It Really Wired?

During my go/no go evaluation of an RFP, I decided to contact a mentor of mine who was working for a direct competitor.

She knew about the RFP. She then let me in on a secret. This contract was “wired” for her firm. In fact, her engineers had written the RFP.

I decided that the pursuit wasn’t the right fit for us. We were missing a key ingredient. And this new intel helped solidify my decision.

Did my mentor’s firm win the contract? No.

And years later, we went on to not only beat her firm but also beat the incumbent.

The bottom line is, even if you’ve written the RFP, there is no guarantee that anything is wired for you.

Handal says “don’ assume” and act on information only when you have all the facts; but I think that can lead to decision paralysis. Quite often you don’t have all the information you need and must rely on your gut or your best interpretation on what you know. Obviously if you are given information that seems to contradict what you see elsewhere, or the information source is either unreliable or untested, you should add a layer of caution in your interpretations.

Over time, if you observe the basic rules: Focus on your niche, build your business on solid ethical values, remember the experience, develop a great website and online presence, and build a measurable marketing plan; you should succeed. But if you think things will go right all the time, you are dreaming.

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