‘Unlevel’ the Playing Field to Gain a Competitive Advantage

Originally written for ABC’s Construction Executive – September 3, 2014

People generally want to compete on a level playing field in sports and in business. But when marketing a construction company, don’t strive to be equal to everyone else. Strive to stand out. One way a contractor can do this is by “unleveling” the playing field to its advantage. Of course, this does not mean cheating to win new business, which ruins reputations, and karma (or the law) always catches up.

Imagine playing football on a field that is angled at 15 degrees. Think how much easier it is for a team to run downhill for a touchdown, while the competition has to run uphill. That is what happens when a contractor positions the company to attract the right clients and employees. It becomes easy to succeed, while simultaneously making it harder for other businesses to compete.

Focus on what the company does best; it can be a highly specific trade or, more likely, working within specific industries. Prospective buyers are looking for experts in the field and will pay more to get access to the specialized knowledge these experts have to offer. Why? Because they want a “safe bet.”

However, most construction companies do not do a good job of telling prospective clients they are that safe bet. In fact, most construction companies stay generic and say vanilla things like, “We deliver projects on time and on budget.” Guess what? Everyone is stating that too as part of their pitch. If you weren’t on time and on budget, then you’d be out of business. That’s just the baseline.

Clients want and need more specific information to help them decide to choose a company over others that claim to be as qualified and possible less costly. If no one offers them more, they settle for the lowest price, because price is the only thing that differentiates the dozens of construction companies bidding on their work.

As a buyer or decision-maker, wouldn’t something more specific like, “We renovate hospitals while keeping them open, and we minimize infections with our proprietary infection control methods,” sway your decision in that company’s favor?

Obviously, unless the prospective buyers work in hospitals, they’re probably not going to care much about medical industry specialization. In fact, the current new project pipeline probably includes retail developers, school board members, property managers, plant managers and other various prospects who have little or nothing to do with a medical specialty.

However, when a company focuses on specific markets, such as health care, this differentiation stands out to prospective clients. It makes one company the more attractive hire because it understands their needs without them having to teach you about things like infection control. Specialty knowledge is the reason a client will pay more for building out their project.

Focusing on a specialty also saves a company money because it reduces client acquisition costs by focusing on fewer prospects, joins fewer associations and acquires more projects it is specifically right for. Being focused also allows a company to invest in specialty equipment for meeting clients’ special needs, instead of needing a variety of equipment for every possible jobsite issue. This specialization benefit also pertains to employee training.

When company leaders know they can handle clients’ special needs, they can target a limited group for business development, narrow company training and procedures, and create design proposals to speak to prospective buyers’ specific concerns. This allows the contractor to easily charge more for the same amount of work while reducing overhead costs—something every construction executive values.