Oftentimes, when there is a significant problem, and it is quickly and efficiently solved (especially if accomplished with a lot of extra effort), the result will be a much stronger relationship than if the job had gone perfectly.

You’ve been successful in estimating a commercial job, presenting your proposal, and selling the job. You’ve rightly earned a sip or two of champagne to celebrate. Now comes the hard part: Deliver the job at the right profit and have a happy client. In so many cases, selling the job turns out to be the easy part; the problems arise when it comes time to perform.

To avoid significant problems and outright disaster, here are three keys for successful performance:

Review the scope of the project and the agreed upon time schedule for delivery. Arrange a meeting with all personnel involved, including sales, purchasing, warehouse operations, project management and the installation manager.  

Sales and the project manager/coordinator may not be the same person so there needs to be a clear understanding of what the client is expecting insofar as coordination of installation and over what time period. When will the work be performed: during normal working hours or at night? Will different products be installed concurrently or consecutively and will this be done in segments, area by area? Once the terms of the scope of work/performance are reviewed, it is critical to set a meeting with the installation manager.

Frequently, only sales and upper management are aware of the project, its scope, and requirements for completion. Purchasing needs to have some idea of ordering and delivery times and any unusual requirements such as extended terms or a required deposit. Warehouse operations needs to know how much space is going to be required, within what time slot, and how long products will have to be stored. You can only imagine the frustration of a warehouse manager when a 40’ trailer filled with pallets of carpet tile shows up at his dock unannounced.   

In one extreme case, two trailer loads of carpet arrived 60 days ahead of schedule because the salesperson forgot to specify the proper ship date. So, when the order was placed by purchasing with the mill, no date was specified; the mill order acknowledgement stated, “Ship when complete,” with a projected delivery time of five weeks. However, the project was not due to start for 90 days.

The end result was that the carpet arrived with virtually no notice. The warehouse had to scramble to find room to store the carpet. Delivery had to be accepted at least seven weeks ahead of schedule, and because the project ended up being delayed, the warehouse was cramped for space for an additional five weeks. Cash flow was hurt because the bill had to be paid much earlier than would have been required.  All of these problems were because the salesperson didn’t provide complete information when turning in the order.

An experienced, calm, and competent installation manager is critical to the success of a commercial project. The quicker you can involve this member of the team in setting up the delivery of your sale, the better off you’ll be. My suggestion is that the salesperson, project coordinator, and project manager schedule a meeting to outline the details of the project. Be prepared to discuss products to be installed, number of types, site challenges, hours of work, what the client is expecting to see in an installation schedule, staging product deliveries, and any special job requirements such as hours of work, nationality of the installers, and security. A job once went completely off track because the crew members were not U.S. citizens; in another case, only union labor could be used.  

While the installation manager is being briefed on your project, he is thinking about what crews will be available, the duration of the project and other scheduled jobs, and which crew will be most technically adept and can maintain production requirements. A key part of his decision-making centers around crew selection and the technical expertise, training, and certification on particular products.  

Additional criteria will be how he expects the crew to perform given expected job site conditions. Here we are talking about their emotional makeup and how they handle frustration. I have seen many cases where a master installer who had great technical expertise was an absolute failure in some jobs because he couldn’t control his temper and let his frustration severely damage the relationship with client personnel. One became so incensed with the job superintendent’s inability to control the work area with other trades that he launched a tirade complete with hand gestures, foul language and a child-like attitude when he pulled his four-man crew off the job.

One potential horror story was avoided by the quick thinking of a great installation manager who knew exactly what to do. A large, quick-turn project was headed for disaster when a new crew with great credentials, but a short history with the company, left the job and could not be found.

The installation manager, who understood the parameters of the project, swung into action and reviewed the company’s entire list of ongoing projects. By careful coordination, and asking for help from various other installation teams, he was able to pull in a number of different crews on short notice.

He also used up a favor or two from other competitors and borrowed a couple of crews. In addition, he put a superb foreman on the job to coordinate the ensuing chaos of a number of different crews who had not worked together before. Instead of a financial catastrophe from liquidated damages, the end result was a project delivered on time.  

To guarantee success, the salesperson or project manager needs to assume the role of a team coach. No one understands what it will take to please the client more than the person that sold the job. He knows what the client expects, the particular requirements of the project, and the hot buttons that exist in pulling together the components of the job.

When I have seen outright failures in a commercial job, it almost always has been a litany of mistakes in customer service rather than a product or installation defect. When there have been product defects or challenges or installation hiccups, most have been satisfactorily handled by an astute salesperson or a great project coordinator.  

Once, when doing a large installation in another state, the project coordinator got a call from an irate client. “I am ready to pull the plug on this project. Your on-site foreman is not keeping up the pace of installation and I have people moving into the areas within two days. What’s worse, he came in late today, was drunk, and then pulled the crew off early this afternoon. What are you going to do?”  

You can only imagine the frustration the project coordinator felt. She immediately got in touch with the salesperson, who happened to be the overall project manager and discussed the pending disaster.

Within 30 minutes, and after consultation with the service team, he was back in touch with the angry client. “I sincerely apologize for the mistakes we’ve made. We have already notified the team foreman that he has been terminated and the crew is going to be replaced. I am catching a plane tonight and will be on-site personally at 8 a.m. tomorrow; I am pulling in a crew from another location to finish the job on schedule. I promise you we will make this right. Okay?”

The client was mollified, and the salesperson did as he said and the job was finished on schedule. The client was pleased, recommended the company for other projects, and continued the business relationship.

Oftentimes, when there is a significant problem, and it is quickly and efficiently solved (especially if accomplished with a lot of extra effort), the result will be a much stronger relationship than if the job had gone perfectly. Clients always want to know what you are going to do when there are problems; extreme customer service can cement those bonds.  

Want to ensure success on your next commercial project and make the profit you expected when you priced the job? Prepare for the delivery with a review of what your client will expect, make sure you communicate with everyone involved, and be there to do your part.

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