Contractors are sticklers for accuracy when it comes to meeting project specifications and schedules, but that attention to detail doesn’t always extend to customer relationships. Time and again,research shows buyers and sellers experience the marketplace very differently and often expect different things from their counterparts.

Following are five strategies construction firms can apply to help win bids and expand their businesses. 

Reputation Over Cost
Many sellers believe buyers of construction services make purchasing decisions based on price. In fact, subcontractors, vendors and even the general contractor community vastly overestimate the importance of cost. It’s a logical conclusion based on the industry’s low profit margins, but that’s just not the case. The margin isn’t even close.

A recent study, How Buyers Buy (AEC Edition), found reputation is buyers’ number one selection criterion. A strong reputation was the only factor that could overcome the power of a buyer’s existing relationship with a provider. Put another way, having a strong reputation is the easiest way to unseat an incumbent.

According to the survey,which collected data on more than 500 AEC businesses, 58 percent of sellers believe cost is the most important selection criterion for choosing a firm. However, buyers listed reputation as their number one criterion (42 percent),with cost a distant second (28 percent).

For sellers, the clear takeaway is to focus on reputation, which can be difficult to assess. Firms can gather data via anonymous surveys of current and former clients or telephone interviews with open-ended questions. They also can get a sense of their reputation from an outsider’s perspective by analyzing social media channels where audiences have posted questions or statements. 

Finding a Provider
Word of mouth is still the primary way professional services buyers find providers.This finding goes hand-in-hand with the fact that buyers prize reputation above all else. The reason is simple: Firms with good reputations are more likely to be referred. Additionally, in another survey question about how firms should market themselves, 47 percent of buyers said developing a good reputation would produce results.

Winning the Bid
Along with the importance of reputation, other behaviors distinguished firms that won bids from runner-up firms. Winning firms put a high value on educating prospects and clients; in fact, they ranked this behavior as their most important sales activity. In contrast, runner-up firms ranked educating prospects as least important among their marketing and sales activities. 

To grow their businesses,buyers want firms that can provide them with new ideas and perspectives, not just do exactly what they ask and nothing more. Blog posts, webinars, articles,whitepapers and free consultations (i.e., the output of a content marketing strategy) are the tools most often used.

Expanding the Relationship

After a contract is signed, the buyer-seller relationship can take some surprising turns. Sellers continually overestimate the importance of their services. Overtime, nearly 70 percent of buyers find long-term benefits in the specialized skills and abilities of their current providers.

In essence, buyer-seller relationships improve over time, but require that sellers have the reputation, inclination to educate and ability to define buyers’ challenges. Only then can they turn existing relationships into ongoing business opportunities. 

Getting Referrals
Beyond the benefit of purchasing more services, existing clients are valuable sources of referrals. For example, 69 percent of buyers are likely to recommend services to a friend. Meanwhile, 72 percent of buyers have not made a referral simply because they weren’t asked.

Clients are willing to make a referral, and would be even more likely to do so if sellers offer some benefit, such as featuring the client in an online case study or adding it as a co-host for a webinar. 

When sellers nurture and manage their relationships by delivering on their promises, proving value through skills and expertise, and educating clients with new insights and perspectives, buyers are likely to reward them with repeat business. 

Sylvia Montgomery is a senior partner at Hinge and co-author of Inside the Buyer’s Brain and Online Marketing for Professional Services. For more information, email or follow @BrandStrong