Roger Martin, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, shared in a 2023 discussion:

“If you plan, that’s a way to guarantee losing. A comprehensive plan—with goals, initiatives, and budgets–is comforting. But starting with a plan is a terrible way to make strategy. If you do strategy, that gives you the best possible chance of winning. Developing strategy means going outside an organization’s comfort zone and escaping the common traps of planning. Strategy is an integrative set of choices that positions you on a playing field of your choice in a way that you win.”

How does this profound statement by one of the global business school intelligentsia apply to the world of a commercial flooring contractor?  

Bidding is Planning

In the world of Starnet commercial flooring contractors, they have taken the bidding process to a level of art. According to our State of the Group Survey for the 2022 business, they use well-developed planning processes to move over one hundred thousand bids and proposals through their internal systems. The sheer volume of data they process, currently with extraordinarily little technological intervention, is stunning. Bidding work is a form of planning. Planning involves managing costs. A commercial flooring contractor has endless decision options to control costs, but they often conflict with a strategy of happy clients.  

Selling is Strategy

Our industry creates management glass ceilings focused on market share. Market share discussions are a planning activity. It is comfortable to plan to take a few percent of market share, achieve the bonus, and repeat the next year. It is rare and powerful to develop a strategy that creates a market. If you create the market, you have 100% share, until the competitor planners come to shave away share from the approach you have created.  

Most commercial flooring companies do not have internal meetings to determine where they will play in the market, how they will win in that market, the capabilities needed, the management systems to support the approach. To provide organizational clarity, the associates in the business must agree on what must be true for the strategy to be successful. This is the danger zone for a leader. Evaluation of assumptions often creates a trap that moves a strategy discussion into planning. This active management trap can be described as working in the business (planning) rather than on the business (strategy.)

Sales Process Execution Creates Desired Outcomes

Most commercial contractors drive planning as fundamental to project management execution and this approach to the business is exceedingly difficult to escape. The schedule gravity around dates, documentation requirements, approval protocols, and field productivity metrics create a planning gravity reinforced by the weight of the backlog and multi-year sales cycles in bid work.

How does one escape this orbit for a small part of the revenue? One must have a strategy. For example, “Our company will focus on clients who own their buildings, prefer soft-surface flooring, and experience high employee or brand change rates.” This strategy may create the internal outcome desired, the shortest timeline from proposal delivery to project completion and invoicing.

Strategy to support that new market for ideal revenue requires a series of assumptions to be true. For example, “Those strategically targeted clients will appreciate capabilities to manage occupied space during service, value a vast product offering, and leverage soft surface reclamation for maximum internal political credibility.”

Developing the assumptions requires investing the energy to get feedback from the team and clients. Many flooring contractors do not allocate the time and talent to the effort.  

At Starnet this huge opportunity to create markets was addressed and published by our Specifier and Business Development Committee. The result was an internal STARS Sales Training Program which lives in Starnet University, the members-only online learning management system.

However, any flooring contractor can follow the basics of a business-to-business (B2B) process, but it requires active management. Our industry operates on passive management, allowing incentives and penalties such as commission drive behavior. Active management includes developing a strategy, setting clear expectations for behavior, strategic compensation (sliding scale commission is not the answer here), and key performance indicators focused on client success.

A simple summary of the B2B process used to support a commercial flooring contractor strategy with revenue generation includes:

  1. Research and connection with targeted clients.
  2. Asking sincere and open-ended questions.
  3. Educate in a way that will benefit the client.
  4. Provide value driven proposals.
  5. Execute and follow up.


Reality Check

After reviewing these steps, if you’re thinking, “I don’t have time for that.  I just need to bid more work,” you should return to the quote from Roger Martin at the top of the article. A B2B sales process supporting your strategy is a scary proposition for most leaders. Clients cannot be controlled. Clients decide, not the flooring business owner, and one cannot prove the strategy will work in advance. It is much easier to plan to show a new product, hire another crew, bid more work, lower the number. These activities are noble plans, but eventually the products are no longer new, the crew capacity changes, and the close rates on bids are not high enough, and the number is too low.

When you are planning, a competitor is figuring out how to win. They are thinking about an outcome and putting the STARS/B2B sales process to work in order to test strategies with customers, not bid documents.