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Don't tell clients to spend money on site investigation - tell them to invest it. That will make selling SIs a piece of cake, says Mike Higgins.

For years the site investigation industry has been complaining that clients will not spend enough money on site investigation, and I'm really not surprised that many people are grumbling that this is still the case.

On one level I agree with the clients; why spend money on more holes in the ground- Clients do not want to part with money for engineers to drill more holes, stick more probes in the ground, or put more soil in amber jars.

But people I meet in major client organisations complain this is what they are frequently told they must do.

Neither the purpose or the objectives of the site investigation are explained in language the client understands. They are just told what the site investigation contractor plans to do on site using technical terms, or worse, abbreviations like WAC, CPT, DCP to convince them to spend, spend, spend.

Like any sensible person or organisation, private and public sector clients want to obtain a return on their hard-earned cash. Clients want to invest money to remove development constraints, to reduce remediation or construction costs and to expedite construction time scales.

They want to know what the site investigation technique will do for them in reducing construction costs by allowing better design - not how it works, what diameter it is or what units it reports in.

There is no reason why a client should not invest more than £100,000 on site investigation without even knowing whether it is being spent on trial pits, boreholes or ground penetrating radar, as long as it knows what the results of the investigation will be in helping to achieve the project objectives.

A client should never spend £100,000 on site investigation if all it has been told is the amount of investigative techniques proposed, how long the site works will last and the particular type of testing to be used. These are just 'features' of the process. It is the bene'ts that need to be sold.

The key to selling these benefits is to look at them through the eyes of the person being sold to. The more that is known about the client's needs and wants - the project time scales, its budget and the project stakeholders' requirements - the easier it will be to link each element of the SI to how it meets one of these objectives.

If these benefits can be quantified, all the better, as the return on investment (ROI) for the site investigation can then be presented.

ROI is one three-letter abbreviation clients will want to hear. It is not just for accountants. It can be applied to investing in holes in the ground as much as in appraising the investment in capital equipment and is relatively simple to calculate:

% ROI = (benefits / costs) x 100

The ROI figures that can be achieved are remarkable. If £12,000 is invested to prove natural attenuation is occurring on a former metals processing site and £180,000 is saved on remediation, that is a return on investment of 1500%. As one managing director of a national commercial developer told me: 'When put like that, how can I not do it-' So, by focusing on the benefits and demonstrating a return on the investment, selling site investigations should be easy.

Dr Mike Higgins is a director of Hydrock Consultants and chair of Henley Management College's Construction and Property Interest Group.

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