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Strengthen GC Relationships

How to Build Long-Term GC Relationships that Drive Repeatable Revenue

Matt Verderamo gives a presentation on how to build profitable, repeatable GC relationships for construction subcontractors.

About the Contributor

Matt Verderamo

Matt Verderamo is an expert construction consultant who helps contractors build balanced businesses and people.

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GC relationships are the bedrock of success for subcontractors. That’s why Billd held a Subcontractor Meetup where Matt Verderamo, a strategic subcontractor consultant at Well Built and former VP of Preconstruction at an exterior sub, shared his tactics for building long-term, lucrative GC relationships. As a former VP of Precon at a leading exterior subcontractor turned sales consultant, he has developed key principles for creating effective customer experiences that pave the way for repeatable revenue.

The 4-Step Process to Build Relationships During Precon

According to Verderamo, precon is the best time to build GC relationships. Being relationship-minded, he says, is a constant process. But if you devote yourself to it, it increases your chances of success ten-fold. 

He proposed a 4-step process to support that goal, each step of which we’ll go over:

1. Identify Best-Fit Customers

Not unlike an interview with a job candidate, the first step in identifying the GCs you even want to invest in, is to hold a Relationship Alignment meeting. This is an opportunity to meet with the GC and determine if you two are suited for a relationship. 

Practice This Mindset Shift: Instead of focusing unilaterally on trying to win more work, hone in on whether they’re the kind of people who value your work. 

Use This Strategy: Ask thoughtful open-ended questions like these to learn more about what they value in a sub. The goal is to get them to tell stories.

  • Can you describe your last successful partnership with a sub?
    • If it’s easy for them to pull an awesome story off the top of their head, that’s a green flag. If they’re evasive or struggle to think of examples of successful partnerships, it may be a pretty massive red flag.
  • How would your subs describe working with you?
    • Asking the question this way forces them to be empathetic. They have to put themselves in the sub’s shoes. If they’re making subs wait years for retainage, don’t advocate for them to the owner, and try to lowball on change orders, you may be able to read that from how they answer – or struggle to answer – this question.
  • When you think of your annual goals, what will your subcontractors do to help you get there?
    • See how they incorporate subs into their long-term planning. 

Outcome: The conversation should feel easy. The goal here, in Verderamo’s words, is to “get the answers to the test,” finding out in advance what the GC really wants out of you and using stories of past subs to give you a model of how to behave on the job. He acknowledges that there’s often an impulse for subs in a meeting like this to pitch themselves and how they do business. By focusing on these questions instead, you gain clarity around what they’re looking for, so you know how to tailor your pitch and approach this relationship in the long term. 

Pro Tip: When you’re in the room with key people from the project for a precon meeting, be forward and try to find out who decision-makers in the room are. Ask if the person in charge of buying out the project is in the room, and ask to meet them so you can start establishing your credibility with them. GCs want to hire subs they can trust. Very few people want to work with someone sight unseen. If you have an opportunity to get to know the decision makers in the room, take it. 

2. Identify Best-Fit Projects

Once you’ve done the labor of identifying the best-fit customers, it’s important to remember that not every project they have coming up is the work you do best. It looks something like this venn diagram Verderamo sketched up:

Matt V venn diagram

Practice This Mindset Shift: Don’t bid just anything that comes your way just because it’s from a good customer. Hold out for best-fit projects. Those are, of course, the bread-and-butter jobs that you do well and, ideally, really enjoy doing. 

This isn’t a lesson in how to choose best-fit projects. Clay Young held a separate Subcontractor Meetup on that topic. However, your approach to choosing projects will affect the quality of your relationship with the GC. Take anything, regardless of how well you can actually execute it, and it will strain that relationship.

“There’s often this mindset that if you say no to a specific project, you will ruin the chance of ever winning work with that client again. That’s not the case. People love clarity.” He explains. If you can’t take a job, be forthcoming and explain why.

Use This Strategy: If, for example, you’re better set up to do institutional projects and they offer you a multifamily project, be upfront about that preference. Otherwise, you’re going to have had a wonderful meeting with them, and then awkwardly have to turn down the first project (or waste resources on a bid and come in high) they send your way because you didn’t lead with clarity around your preferences. Use the right language so you don’t pigeonhole yourself. You don’t have to say you “always” do X type of project, you can say “typically.”

Outcome: This way, you’ll end up doing more of the right projects with the right people, selecting projects with a strategic approach that actually serves you and your company.

Pro Tip: You have the most leverage you’re going to have on the project prior to submitting your bid. They want that number so they can show it to the owner; it’s valuable to them. Take advantage of that pre-bid leverage by making important asks or getting the information you’re after at this stage.

3. Eliminate Uncertainty in Your Bid

Practice This Mindset Shift: You’re not just submitting your bid to the GC, you’re preparing the GC to sell the project to the owner. You can do this by conducting a pre-bid scope review with the GC.

Use This Strategy: Your goal is to eliminate surprises on bid day. Make sure the GC is well-educated on the ins and outs of your scope, and give them the information they need to really make that sell to the owner. 

Cover:

  • Any qualifications to your scope
  • Clarifications you may need about the drawings/project at large
  • Any alternates or value engineering ideas you have

Go through the scope they gave you together. If they didn’t give you one, be proactive and build your own. Use that scope to communicate any exclusions you want the GC to know about. Things you’re used to excluding may not be kosher on this specific project. The earlier you can align on that and discuss it, the better. You want them to know this before bid day, not on it. 

Unfortunately, the scope review is usually on the GC’s terms; you’re lucky if you hear back from them. According to Verderamo, plenty of GCs skip scope reviews, even on complex multimillion dollar jobs, which “blows his mind.” It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still petition for it. 

Outcome: Protect against customer frustration when you submit your bid. You’re thinking ahead. You’re anticipating what they may have questions about and you’re providing clarity earlier. This is your opportunity to show the GC you care. You can also stand out by syncing on all this well in advance and giving your GC ample time to prepare their bid.

4. Demonstrate Your Expertise

Practice This Mindset Shift: You don’t need the project to start before you can demonstrate your expertise. There are plenty of opportunities to do so prior. 

Use This Strategy: Schedule a proposal review as a space to demonstrate your expertise to the GC. Verderamo recommends the proposal review because the scope review is so often skipped or undervalued.

Cover:

  • Deep dive into your vision for ensuring labor productivity and procurement efficiency for the project
  • Differentiate yourself with details about your schedule and how you will meet it
  • Discuss your constructability review and how you will overcome challenges
  • Offer more value engineering ideas
  • Make sure your bid isn’t misunderstood

If they’re still not willing to have this short meeting with you, you may have mismatched interests and not be the best fit to work together. If you have great qualifications, the right partner will recognize that added value.

Outcome: Build an ironclad perception of your value to the GC. Ideally, if your numbers are reasonable with just enough margin, you could come in as the second or third lowest price with the highest value (in their eyes). 

5 Client-Focused Wins You Can Try Tomorrow

Building stronger GC relationships is a long term initiative that requires intention and strategy, but there are quick wins on the table. Here are 5 easy wins you can put into action tomorrow.

  • Call the client when you have spare time and don’t need anything; touch base with the project executive just for the sake of building rapport.
  • Show up to a pre-bid meeting. Verderamo knows GCs who love when subs do this. It demonstrates you care about the job and client, and that you’re present throughout.
  • Set up a call to discuss this year’s goals with your key customers. Figure out what they’re excited about for the year and where you can support them.
  • Show up in person to meetings and offices. This used to happen more naturally in the pre-remote world, of course. Nowadays, you have to be intentional about it, but those in-person connections tend to have more staying power than those built entirely over the phone and computer. 
  • Build relationships at multiple levels, regardless of the status of the person you’re building that relationship with. Some PMs are going to be project executives one day. 

The unifying theme of Verderamo’s approach is to center the client in all that you do. He wants you to chase long term partners, deliver excellent customer experiences, eliminate uncertainty and demonstrate professionalism. When you do, your entire business will benefit. 

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