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Submission or approval - when should you make your sales approach?

David Crick from CMS draws on his decades of experience in construction marketing to explain the fine art of timing your sales calls.

When starting out in construction sales, one of the most obvious conundrums is when to start phoning around about a job. You want to be using services like Planning Pipe to spot good value projects and then go after them proactively. But when do you make your move? What’s the best time to introduce yourself and make sure your company is in the running?

It would be a lot easier if the planning process were more predictable. In theory, every normal planning application should be decided within eight weeks of being submitted. In reality, not many are approved that quickly these days, and that leaves building contractors waiting around, trying to second-guess the process and time their introductions.  

The first thing to consider is to ask yourself how important a particular job is to you. If you’re keen, then it’s critical to get in as early as possible. If the client and their architect have had a pre-app session and the planners have indicated agreement, there’s a real likelihood it will sail sweetly through. That happens, and if the client is keen to get the job under way, then the building regulations, working drawings and tendering may even happen before the formal planning application is issued. 

That’s pretty extreme, but it does happen. If you’ve waited until notice of the approval is published, then you may have already missed the boat. There’s at least a week to ten-day delay between the formal approval and then subsequent publication in the market intelligence services (such as Planning Pipe) to take into consideration. A fast-moving job can be well on its way by the time the market hears about it. The lesson is clear – on non-contentious projects that you’d like to price for, get in at the application stage. 

Some people say that for the sake of efficiency, it’s better to stick to approvals. A quarter to a third of applications are refused, and it’s a waste of effort to chase a project that doesn’t get permission. However, if permission has been refused on a minor point of design, it may well go straight back to the architect. They will do a re-design and re-submission. Then it should get approved with no further delay, and may move very quickly. If you were holding off for approval, you’ve missed it. 

Professional sales people tend to go in at the early stages, for a number of reasons. The first is to catch the fast-moving jobs. But even if you’re talking to an architect and it turns out you’re too early, then you can start to build the relationship. Be pleasant about it. Emphasise your interest and the benefit you can bring to the client. Then ask about the best time to get in touch again. The architect can often give you a date for the planning committee, and you’ll know to give them a ring after that. 

Of course, you can’t go for the hard sell at the early stages. Don’t push for the tender list when they’re not even thinking about it yet. That gets people’s backs up, and it makes you look unprofessional. What you’re looking for is the window of opportunity when they do start looking at the tender list, so that you can get in touch at the right moment. That might be just two or three weeks out of a four or five month pre-construction process. 

The second reason is that if you talk to an architect, and then you phone back later and find that it’s still delayed, that’s offers you still more opportunities to talk and build relationship. It’s all building friendship and relationship from the start, which you wouldn’t have had opportunity to do if you came in later. Good sales professionals know that a chance to talk to an architect is never wasted. You may discover that the project you were after has been delayed, but that they have other jobs that are more advanced that may be of interest. 

Another compelling reason to get in early is that if you go after a job and it gets held up for months and months in planning – if there are problems with neighbours or something – it’s very easy to drop a good scheme too early. What we’ve found is that if you’ve got your eye on a good job and you’re patient enough to track it for six, nine, twelve months even, very often you’re the last builder standing when it finally gets approval. In the meantime, you’ll have built up a lot of good will by hanging in there, you’ll have had plenty of opportunities to talk, and your stickability will stand you in good stead.

Yes, this takes time, which is why I began by asking how keen you are on the job. You can’t go in early and chase everything, so a lot of this comes down to good targeting in the first place. Use market intelligence wisely, find your best business, and choose the right jobs to chase. 

Don’t be shy about getting in touch early in the process. If you’re a reputable builder and you know you’d be right for that project, you have every right to put yourself forward in this way. You have nothing to lose from being early - and plenty to lose from waiting.

We could be doing this for you – give CMS a call today if you’d value an experienced sales agent on your team.  

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