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On Construction, Dogs and Ponies

Once you’ve been in construction
awhile, particularly in commercial,
you’ll no doubt find yourself going
after larger, more complex building
projects. This is only natural
evolution, for in most cases these
projects offer the potential of larger
sales revenue, greater volume
and enhanced prestige, which never
hurts a company on the rise.
Sure, remodeling local clinics,
small offices and occasional storeroom
additions were nice after
all, it got you established, but now
the company has matured, you’ve
matured and confidence is on the
rise. The office and field are in tow,
and you feel comfortable that you
have the right people in the right
places. And your bonding company didn’t faint (a very good sign) when
you told them your plans to upscale. So
you decide it’s time to move from
remodeling Joe’s Quickmart to constructing
IBM boardrooms.

Dogs and Ponies

With larger clients comes greater protocol,
greater formality and sooner or later,
you’ll come across a construction
opportunity where you’ll be asked to
perform a customer presentation. These
presentations normally happen as a Presentation Tips
result of one particular client interviewing
a handful of selected contractors for
a project that the client has in the planning
stages. The goal of the presentations is to choose one contractor with
whom that client will partner the job.
Since this may be your best (only?)
chance to make your impression, it
becomes well within your best interest
to learn how to create, present and even
excel in giving effective sales presentations.

Where I’m from (contrary to opinion,
not Mars), we lovingly refer to these presentations
as “dog and pony shows.”
This is because these performances tend
to take most of us nuts and bolts kind of
guys out of our natural element (building
and construction) and recast us into
the comparably unnatural and circus like
world of speaker/presenter. Of
course the problem is that most of us are
still shell-shocked from 10th grade
speech class and can still recall the horror
of standing up in front of the class,
stumbling and stuttering our way
through “How I Spent My Summer
Vacation.” The last thing in the world
we want to do is be the sole focus of
attention for two (very) long hours in
front of a group of stern, discerning curmudgeons.
Sweat forms on your forehead
just thinking about it.

Presentation Tips

But take heart. There are a number of
techniques and tricks (No, I’m not going
to tell you to picture them naked. I’ve
seen some of these clients and the image
is just too horrifying) you can employ to
make the chore less taxing and less
frightening. And since knowledge builds
confidence, and confidence wins you
work, let’s see if we can calm our nerves.
Let’s develop our skills by examining a
few tips that can help you better build
your customer presentation. Here we go.

Unless you’re an orator on par with
Winston Churchill, some type of
audio/visual aide is always a good idea
for your presentation. It simply breaks
up the monotony of having to listen to
one lone voice for the entire duration of
the presentation. You can use different
elements to add variety: slides, charts,
graphs, photos, renderings or anything
else that might help you bolster your
case and get your point across. It also
shows you have the computer capabilities
to create such multi-media, which
simply makes you look more professional.
And the good news is that there
are many products out there to help you
out, such as presentation software packages
like Microsoft PowerPoint<®>. These
packages with their array of features
and graphical acrobatics can make
even novice presenters look far more
polished and professional than they really

One caution: Be sure these enhancements
really do propel your message forward.
Don’t include that color, 3-D, full animation,
exploding pie-chart simply
because you possess the technology to
do so. Every part of your presentation verbal, written or multimedia should
directly bolster your argument. Too
much flash can distract from the mission.
Remember, the message is the

As uneasy as you may feel standing
up in front of the crowd, don’t show it.
Even if you have to fake it, the cheer is
“Confidence, Confidence, Confidence!”

Remember this: You know what you’re
talking about. You’ve been a contractor
for years, and there’s absolutely no one
in the world more qualified to present
your case than you. The customer is
about to invest a lot of money and effort
into an important project, and he’s not
about to hand it over to someone who
appears unsure of himself:

Bring along the key people of your
team. The estimator, project manager,
even the safety officer (if it applies)
should be in attendance. After introductions,
tell a little something (not too
much) about these people and give a
brief history of your company’s successes.
Your potential clients have a marked
interest in knowing with whom they’d be dealing should they choose your firm. They want to know
their money and project is in safe, competent hands.

Research your competitors (if you already haven’t done so),
and attempt to offer something unique something singular to
your services and company that separates you from the pack.
For example, if you’re giving a presentation for the new local
school construction, offer to assist them with prereferendum
services, such as flyer creation/distribution, database name collection,
or offer to attend the school board meetings. Find anything
(legal) to convey to the audience that your company is
innovative. Remember: Most of these clients have sat through
these presentations
before. Try to give
them something
they don’t expect.

Regarding the
itself: the “KISS
Rule” applies—
Keep It Simple Stupid. If there’s a choice, brevity is best,
Don’t cram tons of jargon into slides or
frames, and don’t regale longwindedly
over your company’s accounting department.
All you do is tire and/or confuse
your audience. Your presentation’s photos,
graphics and charts should visually
be easy and quick to comprehend. You
will fill in the details with your talk.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse! Confidence
is great, but take it from someone
who’s been there: There’s nothing
more frustrating then wishing you’d client will be
brought out an important or crucial
piece of information, after the presentation
is over. Rehearsing also helps build
confidence. Yes, there are some people
who’ve been blessed with the natural gift
of oration, but most of the polished
speakers who make it look so easy
weren’t born with the gift. They
worked hard to get there.

Get the crowd involved. Ask
them questions. Get responses.
Basically, get them talking. It
calms the atmosphere, knocks down
the walls, and builds a bond between
speaker and audience. It also allows you
to discern more precisely the needs
and concerns of the client. This
you can adjust on the fly as to where
to place focus of your talk. impressed with your

Take time beforehand to learn the
customer’s business. Know their history,
their principals and their product. The
knowledge and appreciate
that you took the time to better understand
their background and motivation.
More importantly, it simply allows you both to move more quickly to the heart
of the deal.

The construction industry offers unique
considerations when marketing to our
clients. Construction is a different animal
in that our product is (normally)
inordinately expensive; sometimes
obscenely expensive. In our day-to-day
travails, we often forget that. Therefore,
decisions to buy aren’t made overnight.

Once the presentation is complete, don’t
give up, and don’t dismiss prospects
from which you see no activity. The
client’s decision to go ahead is often
affected by things that have absolutely
nothing to do with your company or
presentation, and much more to do with
internal matters such as financing or
searching for the perfect location. Follow
up as any good salesperson would
do, and be patient. In the end, the best
company will win, and by having delivered
a solid, professional, effective presentation,
you’ve already shown them
who’s best.

About the Author

S.S. Saucerman retired last year after 26
years in the construction industry. He
also taught part-time in the Building
construction Technology program at
Rock Valley college in Rockford, Ill., for
11 years. Today he is writing, speaking
and consulting on a full-time basis.

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