The ability to establish and then nurture connections is a valuable skill that makes for a happy and well-rounded life — and a happy and secure company! And all the market research in the world – while quite valuable — can’t match the power of genuine human chemistry.
As a managing director of business development at Columbia, I focus every day on our relationships with prospective and existing clients. But helping to identify and develop new ones and strengthening those that already exist isn’t something a successful business development manager does alone: in fact, business development and retainment is much more successful when your entire team is empowered to contribute.
In our business, ‘sellers’ and ‘doers’ are familiar shorthand for those who generate new business (the sellers) and those who then build projects on behalf of those clients (the doers). Some of my colleagues are both sellers and doers; others don’t really fit either description, but almost all will at some point play a role in delivering and achieving project work. We believe that every effort has many different fingerprints on it, and that no person brings in a project alone.
From the marketing team to admin, jobsite workers, project managers, estimators and more, every prospect or project succeeds thanks to a wide variety of expertise and skills. But there’s nothing quite as important to our success as the ability to build and maintain relationships.
Among the doers that I rely most upon to establish these connections are Columbia’s sector leaders, the talented individuals who oversee projects in our academic, commercial, interiors, life sciences, healthcare, hospitality, energy, and other sectors, as well as the project managers who work alongside them. These people are experts in the markets that they serve, and essential players in assisting our goals of securing desirable clients and establishing long-term client partnerships. They have to bring the work in and then perform, which can be extremely challenging.
In order to help them stay focused on the current workload and identify new clients, I meet with these leaders individually each week, in part to develop and grow my own understanding of each of the market areas that Columbia services, but also to brainstorm and discuss potential clients, and bring myself up to speed on client news. Together, we leverage our existing partners to identify and vet potential clients and determine whether we will be good long-term collaborators. We lean on our partners to help us determine key decision makers, who they use as consultants, and which firms might be potential competition. If we are going to invest time and money in a pursuit, we must have a clear and detailed picture of who we are chasing. It’s all about mitigating risk and knowing who is a good fit for Columbia.
I addition to our “doer seller” sector leaders, we rely on the input and advice of Columbia’s estimating professionals. Estimators are also ‘doers,’ and they are among the very first team members to work with our project partners, designing and establishing efficient and cost-effective construction road maps. The trust that they establish early in the process, while they are working in the trenches with clients and project partners, provides a fertile base for developing long-lasting client relationships. We encourage them to maintain these relationships and provide value wherever and whenever needed.
To bring in new business, we look for any opportunity to put these Columbia team members in the right room at the right time. Their knowledge, understanding, and ability to forecast looming sector trends and identify issues and pinpoint solutions are invaluable when interacting with potential clients. These settings also give our ‘doers’ a chance to assess potential project partners on a personal level, which is essential feedback if we will be working through challenges together every day for months or even years.
Although there are no negatives to opening the business development process to your colleagues, I do offer one caution: success will require careful coordination. We develop client specific ‘cheat sheets’ to allow multiple team members to review news and changes, share general market assessments and opportunities, build better understanding of key decision makers and consultants, and ensure smooth and professional outreach to all client contacts. This allows everyone to be on the same page and understand who is “accountable“ for outreach.
Ultimately, by empowering our people to maintain relationships, I’ve seen them become stronger, as the ‘doers’ on our team create their own important and enduring links with those clients. I’ve also found that by opening up the business development process, I have more time and energy to devote to identifying new prospects, securing new projects, and in forging the relationships that will last and contribute to Columbia’s continued growth and success.
Finally, there has been no better time than this past year to realize the value of close and lasting relationships. While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the in-person lunches, meetings, and other ‘check-in’ events that we’d grown accustomed to, we encourage our team to connect with client friends on a very human level: just touching base to see how they’re doing, offering our support and encouragement. Winning work is our goal but keeping our friends close and engaged is just as important. If we target the right relationships, build trust, then the work will come. As the finish line of the pandemic approaches, I am looking forward to seeing you all again, at coffee, at lunch, at events, and in person. Until then, let’s all stay safe and stay connected!
About the Author: As Managing Director of Business Development at Columbia Construction, Matt Chardavoyne's primary focus is to develop new business opportunities across the firm’s six different market sectors. Since he joined the team in 2011, Matt has been a leading force in developing new business initiatives and he now works closely with the company’s principals to guide Columbia’s long term growth.