During his 15 years in property management, Paul Beitz has seen a lot of requests for proposals (RFPs) from building service contractors ... and they’ve all looked a lot alike. This homogeny is symptomatic of a common mistake BSCs make — failing to learn a customer’s needs.

While most RFPs focus on price, Beitz says that is at least fourth on his list of considerations. In fact, Beitz automatically pitches the lowest bid. As senior vice president at Trammell Crow, a high-end, national, commercial real-estate company, Beitz is more concerned with quality-assurance programs, employee morale and good references. He just wishes more BSCs would take the time to learn that.

“To the extent that you can, try to size up your customer,” Beitz says. “Learn what their particular needs are and address them.”

It may take some time and effort to get to know your customers, but Beitz says the effort will be rewarded with long-term relationships. How do you get familiar with a customer? Beitz suggests asking potential or existing clients these questions:

  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • How can things be improved?
  • What has your prior experience been?
  • What special situations should you be aware of?

Armed with this information, you can dazzle clients by customizing your RFP or by personalizing the services you already provide.

Of course, knowing your customers’ needs means little if you aren’t able to handle them. Strategic thinking is key to success. Beitz says every company should have a strategic plan that includes measurable business goals, clearly defined action steps, a targeted customer base, buy-in from the staff and a commitment to revisit the plan at regular intervals.

Begin planning by deciding what sets you apart from the competition, whether it is professionally dressed employees or carpet cleaning expertise, and then sell yourself accordingly. This approach will likely determine which companies you will serve.

Remember, the clients you choose say more about you than you may realize. Many companies, such as Trammell Crow, weigh client lists heavily when choosing a BSC. Beitz can tell if a BSC has a strategic plan just by looking at a client list. A hodgepodge of completely unrelated businesses tells Beitz a BSC doesn’t know its own strengths and weaknesses.

Another key element of the strategic plan is clearly defined action steps. Establish a quality assurance program that includes regular inspections and constant communication with the client. The point is to be proactive. When possible, catch problems before they happen and alert the customer.

“Often you don’t hear from a contractor unless there’s a problem,” says Beitz. “That becomes old in a hurry. Quality control shouldn’t be based solely on negative feedback. I can deal with any problem if I’m given a heads up. But if I’m always having to be reactionary, that puts me in a precarious position and it doesn’t build trust.”

Finally, don’t make the mistake of overlooking the most important customers — your employees. It may come as a surprise to learn that some companies really examine a BSCs commitment to its employees when selecting a bid. Beitz considers companies’ employee training, benefits, incentive programs and turnover rates.

“The employees are the people that are actually working on the assignments in the building. They come into contact with the tenants,” says Beitz. “That gets overlooked by some contractors. Make your employees ambassadors and it will bode well for your company.”

Beitz hopes every BSC will see the benefits of drafting and using a strategic plan.

“If a service provider thinks strategically, they will probably have a better company and deliver better service,” he says.

Becky Mollenkamp is a business writer based in Des Moines, Iowa.