One issue that continues to plage contractors is understanding customers and their needs. Contractors who deal with complex electrical or low-voltage systems have an even greater challenge, since much of what they are selling depends on knowing exactly what the customer expects from the end product.

Although most end-users understand the basics of electrical, voice and data communications, they are less knowledgeable about enhanced options and related technologies that expand the primary systems. Consequently, this is an area for contractors to proactively approach customers, helping educate the end-user about what is available and what they, as a trusted business partner, can offer.

This gap in knowledge is especially relevant in the built environment, where information technology (IT) systems are increasingly vital. Building owners and operators have been working around electrical systems for decades, but IT systems were not as important in the past.

Until the 1990s, IT systems were primarily voice communications, but that has changed with voice messaging, security systems, data systems, integrated systems and multiple variations of both voice- and data-based systems. There are far more options today.

Since these additional systems require reliable power for their operations, the IT field is a natural extension of electrical construction. However, some building owners have not quite understood that progression, which is where enterprising contractors come in.

Taking time to talk

A good first step is selling the contracting firm’s total suite of capabilities, and for the end-user, it means he or she needs to ask the contractor about the services offered. This may seem obvious; however, all of the products and services an electrical contractor can offer may not be clear.

Actually talking to customers or contractors is not done often enough. Picking up the phone or meeting face to face is an easy way to begin the process of understanding just who your customers are, what they want, what they like, what they dislike and what they need.

Out to lunch

Though not as flashy as 50-yard line skyboxes and not as high-tech as sending out e-mail blasts, lunch-and-learn sessions still carry weight with customers. This is especially true in evolving sectors, such as voice and data systems and integrated technology.

Not all customers are aware of the choices they have, and contractors can use that to their advantage. This also is a good opportunity to partner with vendors who offer systems and solutions that differ from what the typical customer expects.

Lunch-and-learns can be as simple as coffee, doughnuts, brochures and a few speakers on any given morning. Another way to win over customers and introduce them to your company’s additional offerings is have one group—most likely the electrical side—introduce and explain the synergy between it and the other segments of the business—perhaps the communications group. This creates relationships with other representatives of a contracting firm.

Drilling down to specifics

Customers can be educated through interactive sessions, which are relatively inexpensive to put together. Education could include sessions specific to individual systems, solutions and technologies. For example, for a session on emergency generators, a generator sales rep could provide some additional literature, and would introduce some of the newer solutions on the market for emergency and backup power.

The average contractor’s list of ideas and topics to cover for the average customer is quite broad, and both parties should take advantage of the opportunity to learn from one another. Teach and learn about available options and solutions. Creating this type of ongoing program allows for more touch points with customers, keeps your staff well-trained at presenting, and keeps ongoing interest in your company. Furthermore, the end-user benefits from having the solution that is needed.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.