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For Contracting Success, Play to Your Strengths

January 31, 2011
KEYWORDS management
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Approximately two years ago, the United States Navy issued a solicitation for innovative ideas on how to decrease the size of heat exchangers on mobile equipment. The solicitation, titled “N091-074 High Velocity Compact Cooling Coils,” eventually funded several heat exchanger proposals from companies located in the United States. Our company was one of many that submitted proposals that were not selected.

In any endeavor, being passed over by a selection committee is never a fun experience. For every person receiving a gold, silver, or bronze medal on stage, there are multitudes of hardworking and dedicated competitors who go home figuratively empty handed. When this happens, it can be hard to go back to our 8-5 jobs and make sense out of it all.

For solicitation opportunities such as the Department of Defense, there are no funds or consolation prizes for the fourth- or fifth-place entries that were not selected. It can seem like all of the investment and energy poured into a project is wasted. I’d like to talk a little about what happens the morning after, because if you are a contractor, you will invest time and energy into projects that never receive compensation - at least in short-term profits in the bank.

I am an itinerant engineer who becomes visible to the customers of Four Seasons Heating and Cooling on most 8-5 days. I have also dabbled as a part-time HVACR instructor at a local community college. However, for my day job I wear the heating and cooling salesman hat and find myself bidding on jobs the selection committee may award to someone else - no gold, no silver, just a gas tank that’s a little less full. And as everyone knows who has worn the hat of business owner, salesman, and technician, time wasted on a bid that ends up on someone else’s desk can be extremely frustrating.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

What can we learn from these seemingly wasted investments of time and energy? I believe there is a great deal. Here is some simple advice:

• Focus on what you’re good at. Is there something that relates to your particular microcosm of HVACR that you are considered an expert in? In this day and age, it is particularly hard to be an expert at everything. There are just too many disciplines within our field.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to be the best at everything. Remember, most who become great will focus on one small area of their discipline. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but he would probably not be a starter on the defensive line. Are you good at restaurant refrigeration? Concentrate your energies there and leverage your satisfied customers as references. If you seek to meet your customers’ needs doing what you are good at, you will have the foundation for a successful business: a happy customer who will tell others.

• When possible, choose customers and projects that enhance your skills. Is there a pattern of misplaced or unfruitful time investment? Try focusing your marketing dollars on customers and projects that will be good matches for your services. For example, do you have little patience for the customer who spends a lot of money on projects that are nit-picky in nature, or do you thrive in an environment where massaging every last detail of an installation is important?

You will be happier working on jobs that fit your personality type, and this will show through to your customers. Put yourself in their shoes: Would you want to hire someone who dislikes the type of work they are doing?

• Use past failures to fine tune your approach. Every area of our lives can be improved upon - even areas we are already good at. If you are drawn to restaurant refrigeration, seek to become a real expert at it. Strive for continuous improvement. Stay informed about past and present industry standards for repairs and installations. Be ready to explain what customers want to know about energy recovery systems for their marketplace. In short, stay informed and develop sound technical habits. Customers who watch - and some do - will take note of your proficiency and knowledge, and will store your card in an accessible spot.

Finally, make sure you smile when leaving the jobsite.

Publication date: 01/31/2011

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