For many construction businesses, both large and small, getting new business and attracting customers isn’t as easy as it used to be. As the industry gets more competitive, more and more construction companies have begun looking into customer relationship management (CRM) software.
As the name implies, a CRM is all about helping a business manage its relationships with its customers. In the construction industry where word-of-mouth is one of the primary ways of finding new business, being able to gather and record the right kind of information about your customers is not just beneficial; it's required.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that you should purchase any old CRM on the market. Much like Cinderella and her glass slipper, you’re going to want to find the one CRM that’s the perfect fit for you and up to the task of dealing with the challenges unique to construction.
Here are the top five things you should look out for when purchasing a CRM for your construction company.
As any business owner and sales manager will know, the key to a healthy and successful business is the ability to maintain a healthy and strong sales pipeline.
The problem for many construction companies is that they often don’t have a system in place that gives them the visibility and information they need to maintain their pipeline. That’s why you’ll often find construction companies running into one of two recurring problems:
- Chasing contracts and projects they have little to no chance of winning or,
- Failing to follow up with projects they have a chance of winning due to inaccurate (or a complete lack of) information for customer success
In order to deal with this kind of customer service problem, most business owners and sales managers will adopt an ad hoc process, using a mixture of spreadsheets, pen-and-paper files, and legacy programs like Microsoft Outlook and Excel to varying degrees of effectiveness. (Here's how to get away from that.)
While intended to give managers an idea of what’s going on with their sales pipeline, the reality is that more often than not, all this ends up confusing them instead.
Which is why the very first thing you should look for in a CRM is the ability to help you keep track of your sales pipeline and customer satisfaction.
For example, a typical construction sales process in marketing will follow these steps:
- Sales lead - This is where you have to keep your ear to the ground and do as much research as possible to get potential projects in the pipe
- Qualification - Once you have an idea of what projects are available it’s time to figure out which ones are worth bidding on for professional services. This involves finding out everything from whether or not there is government funding, to the potential for profit, to if your firm has the resources available to take it on regardless of whether you are you working in a small business or provide other types of professional services.
- Needs identification - Bidding on projects is all well and good, but chances are there is going to be at least a few weeks of back and forth between your firm and the client. This is your chance to find out what the client needs and figure out how you can provide it to earn customer satisfaction.
- Proposal - If all goes well with the initial meeting, it’s time to move onto submitting an official proposal. In the construction industry, this stage of the sales pipeline can take months to sort through as you may need to have discussions with third parties like subcontractors, regulatory bodies, and various service providers.
- Closing - In an ideal scenario, you should have impressed the client enough to the point where you’re the only choice for their project. However, most likely, they’ll have created a shortlist of two or three other firms, or even small businesses, and now it’s up to you and other builders to show why you’re better than the rest. This can be the most frustrating and tricky part of the sales pipeline as this is oftentimes where (despite months of going back and forth and planning) deals can suddenly fall apart.
- The relationship - Even if you’ve managed to do everything right and moved someone all the way to the end of your sales pipeline, there’s no guarantee that they won’t decide to shut down the project halfway through or choose to go with a different firm. Now is the time where you have to keep your client as happy as possible, which can be a feat in and of itself.
As you can see, even for a small construction business with a short sales cycle, there are dozens of different moving parts to keep an eye on to achieve customer success. As you work to fill your sales pipeline with more leads, at the same time you’re also doing everything you can to move your prospects to the next stage using your construction CRM. Depending on how large your own business is, you can have anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of different projects and bids going on at the same time at various stages of your pipeline.
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A CRM should be able to equip your business with a birds-eye-view of potential leads, what projects you’re currently bidding on, and your current customers.
Even something as simple as being able to track how long each potential bid takes in each stage of your sales pipeline will allow your business to better predict which projects they’re likely to close and which ones they should give up on.
In the typical sales process, a business sources a product from a supplier and then makes it available for the customer to purchase. In the construction business, however, this process is far more complex with the involvement of multiple suppliers and multiple subcontractors, not to mention the constant back-and-forth required between the business and the client.
With such a vast array of moving parts, it’s no wonder that things often get missed.
In order to streamline the whole process and move more efficiently, make sure to look out for a CRM that allows to you to map out and keep track of everyone involved, from teams all the way down to the individual level.
It's not just contact details either. The best CRMs make it easy for you to know what every individual is working on—and the tasks that each still needs to complete.
After all, if you're the project manager, your job is to create a flexible workflow where you’re able to allocate roles and responsibilities, assign tasks and their deadlines to individuals, and communicate easily with all team members.
For example, imagine being the site supervisor and having to continuously go back and forth between the architect, engineer, and construction manager to find out what is going on that day from each one. Using a CRM allows you—and every other member of the team—to instantly see what needs to be done and what everyone else is working on.
Too often with construction projects, particularly larger ones, it’s that lack of accountability and miscommunication that causes missed deadlines and preventable mistakes.
By using your CRM to help you manage your projects, you’re able to understand and prioritize what the most important tasks are, assign them to the right people, and ensure that they’re getting the most up-to-date information available.
For many commercial and private developers, their customer information is spread out over several spreadsheets and files.
Not only does this make finding and retrieving the right information a far more time-consuming task than it should be, but it also drastically increases the chances of miscommunication and mistakes.
When it comes to maintaining and improving a customer relationship, you need to be able to keep all their information in one place that’s easily accessible by whoever needs it at the time.
But, that’s simply impossible if you're using software that requires you to slog through multiple sources just to find that one key piece of information.
That's where a CRM really shines.
For example, if your salesperson leaves your company—and takes all of their account information with them, what would you do?
Tamlyn, a building materials company, was able to keep the client because the remaining team could still access the conversations and information shared between the client and the former salesperson.
Another key benefit of centralizing all your data is that it makes it easier to focus on the bigger picture of the project and your business overall. CRMs with reporting features can help you crunch through all that data and provide key information such as budgeting, forecasting, the effectiveness of your marketing and sales campaigns, and even give you a stronger idea of what your ideal customer looks like.
In the same way that no two people are the same, or pieces of CRM software, so too are the needs of different businesses.
It might be tempting to go out and buy the biggest, baddest, most feature-rich CRM software out there for your construction projects, and and call it a day. But chances are that you probably won’t even use half of the features available and all you’ll end up is with a clunky piece of software that you’re paying way too much money for, and won’t have a positive CRM solution.
So, your best bet with construction CRM software is to look for a CRM that allows for a high degree of customization and flexibility in everything from the different types of integrations it allows to how you’re able to set up your projects’ workflows.
When shopping for construction CRMs, make sure to take a look at what kind features and of integrations they already offer and see if it lines up with any other tools that you’re currently using.
Also, keep in mind that as your business grows, so will its needs and the variety of challenges it faces, so choose a CRM that’s flexible enough to grow alongside your business. (Here are a few examples of construction software.)
Ease of use
Finally, despite all the bells and whistles a CRM can offer, none of it matters if you have no idea how to use it.
According to Really Simple Systems, up to 83% of senior executives stated that their biggest challenge when it came to CRMs was getting their staff to use it. This is especially true for larger, enterprise-style CRMs that can often feel like you need a whole team of engineers just to get it to work.
For construction companies that already have enough things to worry about, having everyone on your team take a few months off just to get a handle on your latest tech isn’t beneficial. The right CRM for your construction company and project manager is one that’s easy to set up, easy to configure, and easy to learn, as Tamlyn found out.
When it comes to finding the right CRM for your business and construction management, look out for what kind of onboarding and training they offer. Ideally, you’d get personalized training and a customer support team with the construction CRM software.
Make the most out of your construction CRM.
While many in the AEC (architecture, engineering, construction) industry have been slow to adopt CRMs, what has become increasingly clear is that those who have made the jump are gaining the edge over their competitors, including those involved with construction management.
A CRM gives construction companies, including builders, the ability to nurture, prospect, close, and maintain client relationships more effectively than ever before—something that’s especially important in an industry where the success or failure of your business depends on your ability to win the right jobs and ensure a steady flow of work.
Whether you’re searching for your next bid, figuring out which project to follow up on, or simply looking for a simpler way to manage your latest construction project, the right CRM can help you take the guesswork out of providing strong customer service and growing your business. Why not take one for a spin with a free trial?