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Imagine attending a conference and being introduced to a prospective client. This person asks about your company and professional background. Instead of replying to the prospect you say, “Let my friend Dave here tell you all about us.” And then you walk away without speaking a word.

It is extremely unlikely that this potential client would end up hiring you. But in a way, that is what many companies try to do when they use canned programs to implement their customer relationship management.

I don’t believe it is possible for anybody else to tell your story the way you can. Others might be able to provide the basic details, but in order to truly explain your company’s character and culture it needs to come directly from you.

There is ample evidence that executives in the commercial construction and design industry are hesitant to enter into unknown business relationships.

According to a nationwide survey I read recently in Construction Executive magazine, 83 percent of respondents said their primary source of business is a combination of repeat clients, referrals and networking. Yet amazingly, 33 percent said they do nothing to nurture existing business relationships.

What’s going to happen if your competition makes the effort to cultivate business relationships with a personal touch, and you simply rely on canned programs? Sure it takes a lot more time and work to do it on your own.

Success is never easy, but if you don’t take the initiative, someone else will.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email
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Thanks to several social media tools, I have been able to stay connected with increased frequency than before web 2.0.  A couple of years ago we started using several  of these  and the effectiveness of helping with relationships has been very encouraging.  I can count on a brief exchange with someone due to my blog posts, as you see here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  On the other hand, I will say that social media can be a detriment to your time management efforts.

The internet is a large and highly populated space and it is easy to get lost or chasing rabbit trails. I compare it to someone looking into a refrigerator when one is hungry, but not really sure what they want, yet they open the door to see if anything has changed. Some would compare it to insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

But through the use of Social Media, companies can now focus their attention on specific audiences much easier and start topics of conversation with just a sentence.  In addition, you can make people feel more important by personalizing the messages sent.  I enjoy reaching out to old friends to check on their well-being as well as business acquaintances, as I believe that this is a lost aspect of business today.

I believe that the economy is getting better and to me, it more important than ever before to be sure that you’re strengthening and maintaining relationships with your clients and associates in the most efficient ways across multiple platforms.

Listed below are some other blog posts to help you on your way:

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

It’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day activities and then add in family and just life in general. We lose contact with those that are an import part of our lives, whether professional or personal. We are then reminded of them by something that we see or hear.

Through the years, I have made many friends and associates. I am as guilty as anyone whenever I forget to return a phone call or an email due to my own duties throughout the day. It is not intentional. But it takes just a few moments to use what I believe to be the simplest contact tools already sitting on my desk.

These tools are a phone and a pen.

It is a very quick process to pick up a pen and write out a quick note on a company post card. But it can be the make or break for your business nowadays. We live in a highly competitive world and a gesture such as remembering someone’s love of the outdoors and sending them an article out of a magazine that you believe they may find interesting touches their mind and heart.

Returning a phone call is something that I find people are not always willing to do. I make every attempt to either answer the phone as I receive calls or to call back as soon as I am able. It may sound old-fashioned and to some it may be, especially in this hectic, fast-paced world today.

Yet, I strongly believe that a very simple phone call or a quick note can do wonders with business relationships as it breaks the monotony of the interactive barrage. This is not to say that I do not use email or one of the other communication tools such as Twitter or Facebook, as well, but the phone call and the pen offer something many of us may have left somewhere along the trail.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Call an old friend or business associate and catch up.
  • Write a 1-3 sentence email to a business associate and recommend a book.
  • Send a brief note a new business contact and include an article from the newspaper or a magazine related to their business.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

When the first Tour de France bicycle race was held in 1903; Maurice Garin, the winner, clocked in nearly three hours ahead of the second-place finisher, Hippolyte Auconturier. This year, the margin of victory was a mere 39 seconds. The three-week-long race covered 2,263 miles. That means winner Alberto Contador traveled each mile 0.0172 of a second faster than second-place finisher Andy Schleck; a miniscule margin to victory.

Things are looking brighter, for sure, yet the margin for error to get a project and to be successful is definitely smaller than it used to be. To me, it is important that we watch out for every opportunity and be ready for the right ones that are a fit.

Our attempt at finding and securing new business is similar to a fisherman stretching a net across a river. The web in our net has to be pretty tight these days to catch opportunities that come by and not let them slip away. There are project opportunities out there for all of us; the key is to ensure that we land our fair share.

Everyone does business different ways, but here’s what works for us:

• Remain true to our core competencies and make the most out of the opportunities.

• Building brand awareness utilizing social communications and other marketing efforts.

• Strategic Relationships with others in the industry. We keep the radar up for each other.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Thanks to computers, smart phones and the Web, we as a society have never been more connected. I can send detailed information to multiple clients within a matter of seconds, and stay constantly updated on everything that is happening with the company and in the industry.

Yet, sometimes I think that we as individuals have never been more separated. It is now possible to conduct some types of business completely through e-mail, eliminating the need for face-to-face or even voice-to-voice contact. With Web 2.0 and other social media outlets, we can publicize the company and find new work opportunities without ever truly meeting people.

While I certainly put all these electronic tools to use, I feel that there is still an important place in the business community for in-person networking. I can post information on the Web and use everything social media has to offer, but at the end of the day there remains, for me, a need for personal interaction to make a true connect.

Old-fashioned networking is a good place to begin building a business relationship. In fact, I make it a point to continue dialing the phone and getting together with clients when we can. I wish to remember there is a person behind the email notifications. Hopefully the effect is shared.

Please don’t misunderstand. I think social media is an invaluable tool, but I feel it is important to use a combination of new communication methods and the tried and true. Regardless of how much can be accomplished with a few keystrokes, sometimes it’s not as valuable as a single handshake.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I’ve always been a believer in reading history, as it often repeats itself, or at least offers a case study for how to do (or not do) things. A recent trip to London seemed like a good time to pay tribute to a wise Brit, so I dropped into a local shop and purchased a small book on Winston Churchill.

As I read through Churchill’s sayings and speeches a couple of things occurred to me. First, while we are all struggling through these times, our parents and grandparents would gladly change places with us from their hard days in the Depression and a World War. Secondly, keeping the faith in our own abilities and ourselves will help get us through this rough patch. To use the wise words of Mr. Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.”

I’ve experienced hardship personally. Since leaving college, there have been two times that I’ve been financially broke. In a strange way, I’m glad I went through those periods. We learn a lot of lessons as we walk the trail. This week I was visiting a long time customer relationship in Minneapolis. During the course of conversation he said, “in life we all get educations and they all come with a price.” So wisely said. My “school of hard knocks” lessons were personally costly, but I’m convinced the trials made me a better person, someone capable of empathy.

This week I had dinner with a friend who I initially met as a business contact. Last spring, he called to let me know that he was in the same boat as millions of U.S. citizens. He had lost his job. He questioned his abilities and a lot of other things during that initial period of “why me?” but quickly recovered and reached out to friends. He did everything textbook. He got out of the house and volunteered every Saturday as a swim team coach for children with disabilities. He took business courses to better his managerial skills and most importantly, he networked and then networked some more. He refused to accept a misfortune as defeat.

Our recent dinner was celebratory. We toasted his new job as real estate director with an international Fortune 100 company. My friend had a new look. His face showed the confidence of someone who was faced with adversity, met the challege and is looking at a bright future. His new start came in our worst recession since the Depression. The best news of all…He doesn’t plan to quit his Saturday job at the swimming pool with his swim team.

My friend followed Mr. Churchill’s advice well. Never, never, never give up.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

PA-cloudsWhen business is good, it’s far too easy for leaders to get busy, ignore their company’s weaknesses and forget to brainstorm ways to improve. It’s an easier focus now since business is down and we all have a little more time. As a company, we are using the lull to evaluate and reevaluate every aspect of our infrastructure, ensuring that we have the best and most current tools in our “tool drawer.” It’s my belief that our efforts now will give us competitive advantage when this cycle ends.

In the spirit of getting ahead, we’ve been working with Los Angeles-based consulting firm WP2DC to develop a systematic approach for sharing information within our organization. Before we commissioned their services, our knowledge sat in too many places, which stirred up confusion and often resulted in team members recreating the wheel, so to speak.

The industry term for that fragmentation is an information silo – a management system that operates independently, incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. The goal is to have cloud computing – a pool of shared resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet.

This concept is logical to me. Why not make use of the networking capabilities that are available now? We’ve been pleased with WP2DC’s work for us and are launching the first phase of our “cloud” this month. Here are the benefits I’ve seen so far:

  • Having one complete database ensures that everyone has the same information and none of it is lost.
  • We can track our projects and see the progress as they move from concept to reality.
  • All employees have the ability to stay current with our customer relationships.
  • We can share information with contacts outside the company if we’d like.

WP2DC has already begun developing an additional cloud where we will manage our subcontractor and vendor data. This has always been a challenge since we build across the Southeast and mid-Atlantic states, creating a huge chunk of contacts. The system will make our knowledge more efficient by tracking current subcontractors/vendor capacity in almost real time. We will also be able to locate and evaluate new talent, so that we can provide the best product for our customer relationships.

What are you doing with your extra time? Can you make way for clouds in your office? It might just prepare your for the next big storm of new business.

For more information, see this Wall Street Journal article on cloud computing.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.