Answer Questions

Here are 10 Questions that your Customer expects you to answer before you can hope to convince them of the value of your Facilities Management (FM) offering.

Facilities Management’s impact on the Customer and their workplace is a complex issue. Each value proposition needs to be carefully crafted and is unique to each Customer. The complexity is a result of the vast array of assets and services coupled with the uniqueness of each workplace. To compound the issue, we also need to consider the people that occupy the space, the intricacy of different company cultures as well as their strategies and objectives.

FM impacts an organisation’s two most expensive assets, its facilities, and its people. Facilities Management is no longer just a technical discipline focused on the building fabric or the ‘box.’ Our environment affects us as humans, and so FM needs to focus as much on the people in the ‘box.’ This requires some out of the ‘box’ thinking (I am sorry, I couldn’t resist it!).

In a sales situation, it is all too easy to focus internally on what your company can do for the Customer. We talk about who we are, how big we are, how good we are, who our other clients are. We are enthusiastic about our offering, and we do this as a means of social proof. In doing so, we forget about who is really at the centre of what we do, our Customer.

In this post, I want to focus on what your Customer expects from you in those first encounters. Dale Carnegie famously said in his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ Talk to someone about themselves, and they’ll listen for hours.” The same is true for people and their organisation.

If you can master the answers to these 10 Questions that your Customer expects you to be able to answer (even if they don’t ask you!), you will have conquered their attention.

FM impacts an organisation's two most expensive assets, its facilities, and its people. Click To Tweet

1. Do you know me and my challenges?

It goes without saying that you need to understand your Client’s company, but there are a couple of steps you need to take before you embark on this challenge. It is imperative that you know who you are talking to first, not only as a person but what they do in the organisation and who they report too.

You will need to satisfy not only the companies requirements of you but also the person with whom you are engaging. You will need to understand their personal goals and objectives and consider these in your solution.

The level of the person you are dealing with in the client organisation can determine a lot. Is it a senior executive, a middle manager or an administrator? Understanding this will guide your thinking regarding whether this is a credible opportunity, a benchmarking exercise or possibly a benchmarking expedition.

Next on your agenda should be an understanding of the role the person performs within the organisation. If this is a genuine opportunity, it is likely that your contact person was put in charge for a reason.

Is it a procurement-led cost-cutting exercise, an operational focus on service improvement, or is the focus on value enhancement through a strategic partnership? Your audience and the job that they are responsible for, should guide your thinking to what should be your primary value proposition.

In my experience, you always need to strike a balance between meeting your Client’s company objectives, which are often distinct and unambiguous with helping the individual achieve their personal goals which are usually unclear and carefully guarded.

This requires digging deep and uncovering the underlying emotional reasons that trigger a buying decision within the influencer. I am not referring to any nefarious motives but as studies by Neuroscientist  Antonio Damasio discovered, humans make decisions based on emotion which are then justified after the fact by rational data.

It is crucial for you to be able to uncover and understand the individual’s drivers, personal challenges and performance measures. If you can construct a solution, which assists with these personal struggles, then this will go a long way to creating a natural affinity and a positive collaborative relationship.

2. Do you know my internal ecosystem?

FM contracts represent a significant investment by the client organisation. At some point, a purchase of this size will need to motivated to a higher authority, for approval.

You need to understand the broader context and softer issues in the organisation so that your client can be confident that you have a deep and detailed understanding of their ecosystem.

What is the company’s mission vision and values? Where is the company going and how are their facilities, and your management of them, going to help them get there? Many organisations will have mission and vision statements plastered on boardroom walls. They will have gone through expensive and detailed workshops to understand their desired culture and values. These interventions are well-meaning, but there is often a dissonance between the culture that is pushed by the leadership and the culture that exists in reality on the ground.

Getting to understand this is a real conundrum and one that is often easier for the outsider to see than an insider who is necessarily part of that culture.

A company’s premises often give tell-tale clues to the real culture of an organisation. Layout and certain icons within the buildings as well as processes can often be at odds with the desired or stated culture.

I once worked for an organisation whose purported values were to treat staff with respect and integrity. This despite staff members having to log on through biometric clocking devices as well as having to pass through metal detectors and have their bags x-rayed on entry and exit from the buildings. Also they were often subject to pat downs and physical searches. These processes tell me much more about the culture of an organisation than the posters on the boardroom walls.

A company's premises often give tell-tale clues to the real culture of an organisation. Click To Tweet

3. Do our firms have a past relationship?

In the merry-go-round world of expanding and contracting economies the business of outsourcing your Facilities Management goes through cycles. As a service provider, it is essential to know of and be able to discuss any past working relationships openly and transparently. This may well include sister companies that have worked with this particular client previously, or indeed that may even be currently an incumbent service provider.

If there has been a previous relationship, what was the result? Why was the relationship terminated? Did the relationship end badly or was this merely as a result of re-tendering? If it was lost to a competitor, why did your organisation lose out on the re-tendering? Was it due to price or other considerations? Was the FM re insourced, if so why?  Was the FM re insourced, if so why?

What have both parties learned from their previous encounter? Why did the clients choose your successor? How did the successor perform? What did they do right or wrong? What has changed since you were last providing services and why is your company being considered again?

These are all valid questions and ones that as a service provider you would want to have answered.

4. Do you know my company?

One of the most basic questions at any job interview is to ask the interviewee if they know what the company does. As the FM provider, it is no different. If you want to add value to this business, you need to understand who they are and what they do. This all may seem like a blinding flash of the obvious, but it is surprising how often I have seen salespeople walk into a pitch with only the basic understanding of what the prospect company does.

The modern day facilities manager has to become something of a management consultant to the organisation and understand the impact of the companies facilities and assets on that business and its competitive advantage. Facilities management at its core is the management of an organisation’s non-core operations and assets. However, do not be fooled this does not mean that these non-core operations are not critical to the functioning of the business.

The core of any business is how it brings the resources at its disposal and creates value for Customers. The facilities that this company occupies and the assets associated with it are one of those resources along with finance, time and human capital. As the FM you need to understand what impact do the facilities have on the production process?

5. Do you know what my company’s objectives are?

The workplace operates within the context of who the company is and what they do. If FM is of any value to the company, it needs to perform with a focus on how the workplace enables the company to service its Customers.

In the case of a typical corporate office, the workplace is the organisational engine room of production from which its employees serve its Customers. However, in the case of a hospital, school or retail organisation, your Client’s Customer is present inside the facility while the institution delivers their service. The facilities, therefore, are an integral part of the service delivery experience.

Because FM focuses on non-core services, you will need to be able to understand what differentiates core from non-core (or what I like to call context) to your Customer, how it services deliver value and what its strategic objectives are.

This may sound easier than it is. I have worked with many organisations where there is no consensus within the company itself as to what their core business is, and it is, therefore, beholden upon the Facilities Manager to understand this for themselves and to guide their service delivery accordingly.

The Customer will expect you to not only understand how the facilities impact both positively and negatively on their ability to serve Customers and on how company to make money or achieve its strategic objectives, but how this can be improved.

In addition to understanding what core is and what context is you will need to understand what is mission-critical and what is not. An activity need not be a core differentiator to an organisation’s business, but it may be mission critical to get it right.

This can apply to even the most basic FM service, take cleaning for example. Cleaning in an office environment is very different to cleaning in a hospital environment. Neither is core business but getting cleaning wrong in a healthcare environment has potentially disastrous consequences, and is therefore mission-critical, the same could apply in a hotel environment.

Your client may not fully appreciate the impact of the facilities on their production process, and so if you can successfully link the two issues, you can differentiate your service and move away from an overly cost-sensitive decision.

6. Do you know my marketplace?

Having understood as much as you can about the Customer and the internal operations, their organisation exists in a marketplace alongside other competitors vying for the same business from the same set of Customers.

Is your Client operating in a growing or shrinking market? Is their market share growing or shrinking in that market? These factors will all have an impact on, and shape the required value proposition from their facilities.

In an improving market, one might reasonably assume that there will not be the same emphasis on non-core costs as there may be in a recessionary market where non-core expenses are going to be under the microscope.

Your prospective Customers is going to expect you to understand their commercial universe, how they compete and who they are competing against.

They need you to understand who their Customers are why they exist and what they are looking for from the organisation and its facilities.

In organisations where the facilities are a critical part of the service delivery mechanism such as schools, hospitals, and retail, you will need to understand your Customers, Customer as a crucial stakeholder in the service and facilities experience.

They will expect you to keep them abreast of how their competitors are leveraging their facilities to their competitive advantage.

7. Do you have a unique value proposition?

The Customer requires you to be able to state what value you can add to their organisation unequivocally. It is highly likely that at the most basic level the expected value will be in the form of cost savings.

This is particularly true in an outsourcing context. No one is going to outsource their Facilities Management for it to cost them more.

So Facilities Management needs to bring to the table a clear statement of cost benefits particularly on the more commoditised services such as cleaning, hygiene, pest control, etc. The offering of cost savings, however, is unlikely to differentiate you from your competitor on its own.

If you are to communicate your value proposition effectively, then you need to closely couple your facilities management offering to your client business and articulate how you intend to manage their facilities and the impact this will have on their strategic objectives.

No one is going to outsource their Facilities Management for it to cost them more. Click To Tweet

8. Do you know how I can justify this purchase?

While you’ll need to articulate the value that you bring to the business, this will not be enough. Using the information gleaned from your understanding of the Customer and the Customers business, you will need to be able to understand how the person sitting opposite you can justify this to their superiors.

As previously stated,  the person with whom you’re negotiating is there for a reason. Their function in the organisation will give you a clue as to what the organisation and the decision makers feel is important. But in all likelihood, this person is merely acting as a gate-keeper, and an initial hoop to jump through.

Through your interactions, you will need to understand who the ultimate decision maker is and what their likely value focus will be. You will need to make the business case for them with this as the main theme.

9. Do you know why you are my best choice?

Once the client has made the buying decision is vital to understand who ultimately made the buying decision and why. In the sales process, an inherent promise has been made. Unfortunately, this commitment is often assumed to be the deal-clincher by the Service provider and is never checked and fully understood.

It’s important to understand from the outset why your company has been chosen over the competition and on what basis you were awarded the business.

While adjudication criteria are often known to the buyer and the seller as part of the bidding process the final decision is often much more subjective. Key criteria that are not part of the value proposition or the bid submission can play a fundamental role in the decision-making process.

I was once involved in a bid for the brand-new flagship headquarters building of a major multi-national management consultancy. On winning the business, I asked our new Customer why they had chosen us over our equally capable competitors.

Her response was extremely interesting; it turns out there was nothing much to choose between the service providers bids or indeed our post-submission presentations.

What had been the principal deciding factor was that unlike our competitors we had not flooded the presentation with our senior executives and heavy hitters. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively we had chosen our intended operational team to present to their top management team.

My client said “ the senior executive team was impressed with the level of knowledge and competence shown by the operational team in their presentation. So often service providers bring the senior leadership team to present to their peers and miss the importance of showing confidence and empowering their on-site team to present.”

10. Can you adapt to my changing expectations?

Lastly, you need to be able to recognise that in the early days, FM contracts can be a war zone. Much like any military engagement, all of the pre-planning counts for nothing once the first shots are fired.

Ex-heavyweight World boxing champion Mike Tyson said it best “Everyone has a plan until they get punched on the nose.”

So in the heat of what can seem like a fight, you must not lose sight of the ultimate goal of why you were chosen and what it is that you are supposed to deliver.

Unfortunately, nothing stays the same and expectations will change, and you need to keep your finger on the pulse and recognise that expectations need to be consistently aligned. The contract should be flexible enough to tolerate and accommodate change and to indicate when a formal change management process needs to happen.

One needs to tread a diplomatic high wire and consistently and continually raise the bar to meet expectations while still being grounded in the terms and conditions of the contract.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched on the nose.”-Mike Tyson Click To Tweet

Conclusion

Using answers to these questions as a base, and understanding that these will change over time will equip you well to be able to form lasting relationships with your Customer and be able to deliver value that will make it difficult for you to be ousted as their preferred supplier.

Stay close to the Facilities Management issues but stay closer to your clients business objectives and challenges. You will need to remain agile and be aware of how the clients business and market change and how risks and opportunities will develop.

Please leave your comments below, I read every one and I will respond.

This weeks question; What is your biggest challenge in understanding your clients business and how their facilities impact upon their competitive advantage?