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Patience, Persistence and `Who You Know’ are the Keys to Getting in front of GCs
By Bari Faye Siegel

The economy is on the upswing and there are more construction jobs – both public and private – out to bid in the NJ-NY area than anytime in past two years. More jobs mean more work for subcontractors because GCs are always on the lookout for subs who are experienced, efficient, cost effective and well-vetted.

So, how does a sub-contractor, who may be the very best estimator on the block, get in front of GCs in an effort to win new business and become a go-to resource? The answer is simple, but it’s not an easy process. It takes patience and persistence.

Jim Barnoski, owner of Sandler Training in Somerset, is an expert on teaching people how to sell themselves – and their companies – better. “You may be the best at what you do but you have little to no experience selling yourself. You need to get in front of GCs, but have no clue how to get in the door. You aren’t alone,” said Barnoski. “It’s a question of behavior – yours. To get in front of someone who normally wouldn’t give you the time of day, you must be respectfully persistent.”

Patience is the key to getting that foot in the door with a GC. At some point, the current sub is going to make a mistake. If you are top of mind though patience and persistence and a consistent message, when they are looking, you’ll be there waiting in the wings.

Some people steer away from the idea of persistence because they think it means being tireless and irritating. Barnoski said that kind of thinking can mean the difference between a sub who gets the meeting with the GC and one who doesn’t.

“Stalking someone is irritating, even frightening. Being respectfully persistent means touching base and letting them know you are here when they need you. Periodically remind them that you are a resource they can count on. Essentially you are saying, `You may never need me. But, just in case, you should know who I am so you can be active instead of reactive when the need arises.”

Whatever you do, Barnoski said, don’t give up! Did you know that the average sales person gives up on a prospect after four attempts in three months? On the other hand, 50 percent of the buying opportunities generally occur after eight attempts in over a year of contact.

Of course, if you are going to put your best foot forward in a sales situation, you better have what it takes to get the job done. For Sean Finn, president of Rockmore Contracting Corp. of Ronkonkoma N.Y. being VENDEX approved is a key component to getting your bid to the top of his pile.

New York City is legally required to use the Vendor Information Exchange System (VENDEX), a computerized data system, to help it make decisions regarding vendor responsibility. According to Finn, the system essentially “vets” subs, making it easier for GCs to trust subs’ ethics and capabilities.

“If you are a sub that has gone through the VENDEX process, we know you are on the up and up,” Finn said. “We know you don’t owe city or state tax and that you are not a criminal. The process is one of overall due diligence that makes it so much easier to choose subs.” In addition to being vetted, make sure you are rated and approved to do work in the state you want to work in.

People Talk. Period.

Face it, if you are a sub with a bad rep in your market, others – including hiring GCs — will hear stories.

Barnoski advised subs to use their good reputations proactively. “If you know people have great things to say about you and your company, use your network to be referred in to a GC. Talk to the people you know and find out who knows the guy you want to meet. Use your own network to get your credibility validated by someone they know.”

Glenn Sweeney, senior procurement manager and small business liaison officer for The Conti Group, Edison, N.J., said that having a good reputation in the field is one of the quickest ways for a sub to get his attention. “When we get close to choosing an unfamiliar vendor, we will interview them, check out their quality and do background checks,” Sweeney explained. “We make sure to do our due diligence before hiring. Experience tells me that the process will run smoother, be on time and on budget, when we are working with the right subs.”

Be Clear. Be Concise. Be Complete.

George Danielson, chief estimator at Towaco-based Brockwell & Carrington Contractors, said the best way to get in front of him is to give him all the information he needs in a clear, concise fashion. As a GC, he said, he has to be perfect with his paperwork. Subs looking to work with him must be comprehensive and complete with their bids.

Danielson said he tends to use the same subs because he knows how they operate. “But, often, we are looking for new people. Sometimes it’s to save costs, get better quality or maybe I’m just looking to replace the guy I’ve been using. Act like you are someone I want to work with.”

Conclusion

“It takes time to develop trust. If you stop connecting after four to six months, you have lost your opportunity,” Barnoski said. “If you are trying to be on a GC’s list, understand up front that you might be kept waiting in the wings for up to two years. But, if you hang in and don’t give up, you can earn their trust and get the meeting.”

Indeed, patience is the key to getting that foot in the door with a GC. At some point, the current sub is going to make a mistake. If you are top of mind – through patience, persistence and a consistent message — when they are looking, you’ll be there waiting in the wings.

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