1. Set a Designated Relationship Manager: One subcontractor noted how remote work has undeniably hurt his ability to visit client offices and forge key relationships in person. He recalled a rep from a painting company who used to come by offices just to share donuts and talk to people, and how beneficial it was to his portfolio of business relationships.
In a remote-first world, Verderamo says it’s still possible to build old-fashioned relationships by turning it into a job function, or at least a duty of an existing and well-suited employee. He recommended taking stock of your employees and determining who had the best people skills. That person might be the one to tap as your designated relationship manager.
Alternatively, you can hire someone whose sole job is to strengthen relationships with customers, scheduling in-person meetings and staying close to their phone and email. This person would contribute to your overhead, but Verderamo likens a business without relationships to an engine without oil. It will always run smoother with it. Although some might say this is the owner’s job, one of the subs in attendance pointed out that plenty of subcontractors may be better at building structures than relationships. It’s yet another aspect of your business that is sometimes perfectly fine to delegate.
2. Learn Their Communication Preferences: One subcontractor mentioned that learning the communication preferences of his points of contact at the GC does wonders for their relationship. Everyone says it’s important to communicate, but find out specifically what they absolutely want to be in the loop on, and how they want to be informed of it. Between phone, email, meetings and presentations, different GCs may display different preferences that are useful for you to know.
3. Schedule an In-Person Meeting at the Start: Whether you have a pre-bid meeting or wait til you’ve been awarded the job, it can be useful to get as many important people from the GC in one room. This not only provides a space to discuss the project and confirm alignment on its different pieces, it helps you learn the hierarchy of the GC’s team, and get facetime with the people you’re going to need to know as you go about the project.
4. Get Familiar with Anyone, No Matter Their Status at the GC: Project executives aren’t the only people who can yield a valuable connection. Build relationships with anyone. And encourage the employees in different roles at your company to build relationships with their counterparts at the GC. Even people in more small-time roles can help you get jobs, it doesn’t always need to be a meeting with the VP.
5. Invest in Scope Reviews: Whether pre-bid or at the proposal stage or both, these are a massive opportunity to build trust with GCs. They need to be able to trust your number, and these meetings are how you get there. One participant said that setting up these meetings has worked extremely well for getting them noticed and winning bids.
6. Join GC-Centric Organizations: One attendee mentioned joining their local ABC chapter. This is not only a great way to get face-to-face, but also allows you to better understand your customer. What are they talking about? What keeps them up at night? How are they talking about the role of subcontractors?
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7. Vet the GC Before Investing Relationship Capital in Them: Andee Hidalgo and the subs she spoke to compiled a list of the most important things they value in a GC.
Before you go trying to forge meaningful relationships, make sure you can find out if they satisfy most, if not all, of these requirements:
- Pays on time
- Has reliable project schedules
- Has realistic project schedules
- Are doing work within their core competency/”bread and butter”
- Offers consistent work
- Makes plans and documents entirely available
- Gives you enough time to bid
- Is an advocate to the owner on your behalf
- Doesn’t only go with low bids
- Cares about safety
- Helpful with little things, like helping you/your team find parking
8. Own Your Mistakes: When you get down to brass taxes, the most important thing is that you do what you say you’re going to do. But due to any number of reasons, we don’t always live up to our promises. In these situations, it’s important to own your mistakes and come to your GC with solutions before the problem escalates. This can be an incredibly powerful relationship-building opportunity when done correctly.
9. Communicate Proactively: Another tactic is to have extremely proactive team members who make the GC feel safe and secure in the work you’re doing. Hidalgo says one GC called her super “the reason I can sleep at night,” because he’s always looking ahead and safeguarding against what could awry. When your GC doesn’t feel like they have to check up on you because you’re always in touch with them, you feel more like a partner to them.