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Secrets of success

Your Career

No consultancy can survive without clients. Jonathan Goring talks about Symonds' strategy for winning work.

The sums are simple. In order to maintain a stated level of profitability, consultants and contractors need to win work of a certain margin at a certain 'hit rate'.

The construction and engineering sectors are a microcosm of market activity. One day a project will be won on output quality and the next on price. This demonstrates the importance of strategy, knowledge and the right angles.

Strategy Know what you're good at and pitch to the right market.

At Symonds we realised that we are really good at managing mega projects and discrete, smaller consultancy appointments. We have dropped OJECs for £10M to £40M, unless a client specifically asks us to bid. However, if directed towards specific OJECs by clients, we take this as a signal to bid, particularly in our regional businesses. This has increased our hit rate and we have more time to bid for major projects.

Winning projects is all about the balance between probability and effort. It is possible to increase the probability and focus the effort by:

Concentrating on bids where competition is limited. There may be 20 firms capable of project managing a £20M university accommodation scheme, whereas only five or six could manage Wembley Stadium. Calculate your 'hit rate' for different types of project and concentrate on the right opportunities.

Each live project represents a pitch for the next one. Seek out the decision makers and make it clear that you deserve more business. It's easier than bidding in competition.

Keep a few big hitters in reserve, if only part time. How many times have you sold your best team into today's opportunity, only to win a dream project shortly afterwards?

Assess your angles. The best team can lose a project by missing important angles.

Knowledge This is about knowing your market and understanding what your client wants. The former is gained by speaking to suppliers, consultants, journalists and by reading a lot. The latter is about asking your potential client the right questions and acting on the answers.

At Symonds, people come to us with market information.

They introduce us to their clients and we reciprocate. We take introductions seriously and bust a gut to convert them.

Symonds has won seven projects over £200M in the past year, of which six were instigated by a personal introduction.

So the formula is as follows:

When somebody comes to you with a lead, act on it. Make it clear you will reciprocate.

When you do get the introduction, put the right team on it. Add value from day one, by continuously making suggestions.

Test your bid assumptions with the potential client. Ask those difficult questions and start to test solutions to problems.

Spend a lot of time with the client throughout the bid process.

Look for angles which may fit the project, whether they be through JV Partners, smart technology or 'special people'. Again, test them with the client before you bid.

Angles Angles are our differentiators.

So what makes us different and the competition average?'

Sometimes you will have all the angles, other times the competition will. The trick is to know when you have the angles and ensure your price is commensurate with the value you offer.

Speak to the client as often as you can through the bid process, testing new ideas all the time.

They will forget the stupid ones, but the smart ones will stand you in good stead.

Test your people. The interview is no time for your people to meet the client for the first time.

You need to know they fit and if the client doesn't like them, you change them.

Test the client's views on technology. Some will have fixed views, which you can either accept or challenge and some will not care. Don't spent 20 minutes banging on about project extranets if your client only wants a hands-on project manager.

The rest is a secret.

Jonathan Goring is a main board director of Symonds, which has secured some of the largest projects in Europe since its management buyout two years ago.

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