For many construction companies, attracting and keeping new business is not as easy as it used to be. COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of the construction process, from the availability of goods to subcontractor delays, leading to many projects being suspended or even terminated.
With mounting economic pressure, construction companies need to try new ways to remain profitable. While the industry isn’t traditionally associated with cutting-edge technology, that’s now changing. As they look for ways to be more effective and grow, construction firms are embracing new strategies and technologies, such as construction management software.
One example is the use of sales tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) software.
In this post, we’ll walk you through everything that a CRM for construction can do, how it may help you streamline your construction business and sales operations and how to choose the right one for your end goals.
Table of contents
- Do you need a CRM for construction companies?
- How construction companies can benefit from a CRM
- Putting a CRM strategy in place for your construction company
- Key features in the best construction CRMs
- Choosing the right CRM vendor
- Finding and evaluating CRM providers
- Implementing a CRM-driven process in your construction company
Do you need a CRM for construction companies?
As the name suggests, CRM is an approach to managing and improving the relationships between a company and its leads, prospects and customers.
While a CRM is a software that’s specifically designed to help you track and manage customer relationships, it also can help you to improve internal operations by providing automated assistance to streamline tasks, collaboration tools to help your team work more cohesively and in-depth insights and reports to help you identify areas of improvement.
A CRM is much more than a database of prospective clients and customer names; it can help to vastly improve relationships and projects because of the aforementioned features and, as a result, improve sales.
Despite the name, CRM solutions aren’t limited to managing just customers. Construction companies have to do business with a wide range of stakeholders, such as partners, general contractors and other construction professionals. A construction CRM can be used to track all of those relationships too to ensure that the many moving pieces of a project remain efficient and that nothing gets lost along the way. As an added bonus, many CRMs are accessible via a mobile app, so your team in the field can also easily access crucial information from their mobile devices.
Maintaining efficiency and remaining on scope is critical in the construction industry. According to a study in the Journal of Building Engineering that examined 2700 construction projects, profit margins have been shrinking for the past several years. On top of that, the same study concluded that construction companies often end projects with vastly different margins than predicted at the outset. This is often due to inaccurate estimation approaches because of a lack of industry-wide benchmarks and the inability to capture project nuances and project-specific knowledge.
If you can’t realistically track project processes and activities, it’s nearly impossible to make accurate sales forecasts and ultimately set sales, revenue and profit goals. Without accurate forecasting, you’re merely guessing how much money you can make which puts you at risk of running into cash flow problems and potentially losing your business.
For construction companies, a good reputation is essential, with smaller firms in particular often relying on word-of-mouth to win new business. Every single interaction you have has the potential to affect your business’s reputation.
Relationships and financial organization are key, and construction companies that embrace construction software to manage those relationships and accurately forecast job costs, sales revenue and profit margins can gain a strong competitive advantage.
How construction companies can benefit from a CRM
Historically, many construction firms relied on paper files to keep track of their contacts. While today they’re more likely to use an email client or a spreadsheet, it’s often frustrating for staff to find the information they need. Even if they do manage to find what they’re looking for, the details may be out of date.
With a CRM construction, your team can see a contact’s details and status in real-time, along with the necessary next steps in a deal or operation, all at a glance. It’s a single source for the information your team needs to know, enabling them to proactively build stronger relationships.
Moreover, according to a report by FMI, construction projects are becoming more complex at the same time that skilled laborers are reaching retirement age, thus reducing crucial industry knowledge and experience. This perfect storm can lead to confusion, disorganization and an inability to properly manage risk. A CRM can help you to stay organized, easily share key information and accurately forecast financials.
Beyond these critical benefits, there are many more advantages to using construction CRM software for your construction business and sales team.
Automate repetitive tasks
CRMs often allow for the automation of certain tasks, from general admin to following up with contacts. By automating repetitive tasks such as scheduling appointments and data entry, you can free up time for your teams to work on more high-value tasks.
For example, rather than sending project details in separate emails to each contractor, your CRM can automatically send a similar email to every contact you select with predefined personalized details. Your contractors will be none the wiser, and your team will save valuable time that they can put back into generating and nurturing new leads and prospects and managing active projects.
Juggling multiple contractors and clients at the same time makes it challenging for construction companies to keep track of everything that’s going on at once. Employee and contractor CRM software makes it easy to monitor your operations at both a high-level and through detailed project views so that you can quickly see what your teams are doing.
For example, you can easily monitor specific work orders or change orders, as well as what tasks still need to be completed to move projects through the sales and operational pipelines. Additionally, keeping all the data you need in one place makes it easier to get insights and accurately forecast future performance, scope and project timelines.
A lack of organization makes teamwork much harder than it has to be, as some tasks may be accidentally duplicated while others are left incomplete. By using a CRM as a platform for your construction project management software, it’s easier to have a standardized process with aligned goals.
With all data recorded in one place, your teams always have access to all the information they need to make the best decisions. Where possible, you can also integrate your projects with your Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry partners, to work together and get results quicker.
According to JB Knowledge’s Construction Technology Report, it’s critical that construction companies consider integration when choosing software and apps. The report states:
“Companies must prioritize, and budget for, integration when choosing software and apps. Even at additional expense, technology that integrates to allow communication between workflows and departments for cross functional teams (is beneficial). It would be advantageous for companies to explore incentivizing integrations to reduce stress, optimize use-of-time, save money, and increase productivity. Seamless exchange of data reduces manual entry and redundancies, making integration a crucial feature for modern construction.”
There are a lot of moving parts in a construction deal, with plenty of details that you need to be aware of and able to access at a moment’s notice. From document management, deadlines and lead times to job site access and time tracking, there’s a lot of information you need to stay on top of.
Rather than having to search through crowded inboxes for the right email thread or outdated spreadsheets that haven’t been updated with the latest crucial information, a construction contractor CRM keeps all the details you need in easy reach. It also makes it easier to manage your pipeline and make smarter decisions, such as which opportunities you should prioritize.
For example, if the majority of your workforce is busy on a big job for another month and a lead comes in that only requires a small amount of human power and has an immediate start date, an organized project pipeline could help you to swiftly prioritize that lead over a larger project and capitalize on the opportunity.
Better relationships and sales
All of these benefits combined make maintaining and improving customer satisfaction easier, as you have a reliable system at your beck and call.
While there’s no substitute for the human touch, you also shouldn’t leave customer satisfaction up to chance. A CRM empowers you to provide a better service, collaborate effectively with other parties, ensures no tasks go undone or forgotten and improves lead generation and management and prospect management.
Putting a CRM strategy in place for your construction company
While CRMs are powerful, you can’t simply buy a CRM solution and expect it to magically improve your business. You will get access to many immediate benefits, but to get the most out of a CRM, you need to have the right CRM and sales strategy and setup in place.
That means setting up your CRM to align with your business’s goals, operations and ideal workflow. Knowing what relationships you want to manage, identifying the journey those relationships take and understanding how you’ll measure performance are key benchmarks that you should define in order to be able to properly set up your CRM and analyze your success.
Let’s take a look at how to uncover these benchmarks and activities so that you can effectively customize your CRM for your construction business needs.
What kind of relationships do you have to manage? This will largely depend on your construction company, its size and the kind of projects you typically work on.
For example, a smaller construction firm that deals with local real estate and small business projects will likely have fewer relationships to manage than a large multinational construction company that exclusively handles commercial and industrial projects.
While a CRM is primarily used for managing customers and clients, any relationship that has the potential to affect your business, such as contractors and other partners, can be included. You should also be able to have separate employee and contractor CRM pipelines, so each person on your team can manage their own relationships and contracts.
Identifying the relationship journey
How do clients find you? How do you find contractors? For each relationship, map out steps, from before pre-build to successful project completion and beyond. Pay particular attention to any steps that are bottlenecks or otherwise present obstacles.
While you want to ensure you map out all key steps, don’t get caught up in recording every minor detail. The goal is to have a step-by-step journey that your team can use to easily identify a contact’s stage; you don’t want it to become an ordeal where inconsequential information is recorded in exhaustive detail. For each step, ask yourself if it’s integral to the process and, if so, what information do you need to know?
Either way, don’t worry about getting this perfect first time. As long as you’ve covered the key steps, you can (and should) optimize this as you go on.
What KPIs will you be using to measure performance? What metrics will you track throughout the project? It’s important to avoid being distracted by any vanity metrics and instead focus on the metrics that directly relate to your objectives.
You can track sales metrics on your sales dashboard in one of two ways: results-oriented or activity-based.
Results-oriented metrics include:
- Number of deals in the pipeline
- Win rate
- Average deal size
- Average time to close
- Total sales revenue
Activity-based metrics include:
- Emails sent
- Calls made
- Follow-up rate
- Lead response time
Narrow down your metrics to the most important activities based on your business’s operations and goals.
Of course, analysis works best if you combine activity and results metrics to discover how each step in your general or specific sales process is performing.
Key features in the best construction CRMs
While customizing a CRM is key to your success, it can be an overwhelming task. To help make this process easier for your construction business and sales operations, here are some of the features we recommend prioritizing.
Effective pipeline management
A good CRM will give you increased visibility of your sales funnel and sales pipeline, enabling you to quickly see where prospective clients are in the sales cycle. You can see which construction projects have the biggest potential, which ones are likely to close at any given time and which ones are in trouble.
A clear visual overview makes it easy to see which deals you should focus on, and which are a waste of time. It can also help you optimize your sales activities; by seeing the exact stages where a deal is more likely to collapse, you can troubleshoot the process and try out different approaches.
The right CRM should also make it easy for sales management to track the sales activities behind the deals. While you don’t have total control over whether a deal will close or not, you can control the tasks your team carries out, such as making phone calls, sending emails and so on, to help boost your chances of signing a new client.
These activities also cover project management and any tasks relating to managing your construction clients and partners. Sales managers will benefit from increased visibility into their activities, as it enables them to easily identify any weak points in the process or their reps’ performance. You can also use this to keep track of project quotes, contract management, and any necessary steps needed to maintain compliance with regulations.
At their core, CRM solutions are about your contacts. Whether they’re for clients or contractor CRMs, you need to have all of their data in an easy-to-navigate database.
This would include contact details, company information and activity records. Some CRMs also allow you to enrich this information, pulling data from LinkedIn and other social media platforms so you always know the latest details.
For example, a tool like smart contact data automatically pulls in public contact information about your leads to give you flexibility in how you can reach out to start new conversations or enhance your networking efforts.
Data can be extremely valuable, provide actionable insights and empower business development.
To get the full benefit of your data, a CRM should show you the information clearly, in an understandable format, with the details you need to improve your business processes. For example, what are your top-performing team members doing differently? Do you need to change your sales training or procedures?
The right analytics will help you understand in greater detail what it takes to close a deal, as well as the challenges that might prevent a successful outcome. Company and sales dashboards should give your team a simple snapshot of your most valuable information, customized to show you the KPIs that matter most to your organization.
By analyzing the available data, a CRM can help you forecast the future: what deals you can expect to close, when they should close and how much those deals will be worth.
Not only can this help with business planning, but it can also help your sales team know what to expect. Rather than relying on a sales manager to tell them whether they’re on target or not, they can see for themselves what deals they need to focus on and avoid any last-minute surprises.
Choosing the right construction CRM vendor
Along with the different potential CRM features, you also need to consider the vendors themselves. Picking the best construction CRM software for your business will make the whole process of choosing and using a CRM smooth and painless.
There are a lot of CRM platforms available today with varying degrees of complexity. Construction businesses need to pick a package that has the functions and features they need while avoiding anything too complicated or overly complex for their requirements. Whatever CRM you pick has to work for your business, based on your size, number of departments and sales process.
You’ll also want to consider whether you need a construction CRM, specifically designed for construction companies. While these are tailored to the unique requirements of the construction industry, they may also lack simplicity, ease-of-use and powerful integration opportunities (more on this later).
If you decide to go for an all-in-one CRM, it’s essential that it can be easily customized to your needs, and is flexible enough to fit with your existing sales process.
The price of CRM systems ranges from the cost-friendly options up to hundreds of dollars per user, so you need to know your budget before making your choice. Some may appear to be very cheap (or even free), but either lack key features, limit the number of users or charge for add-ons. As a result, they can end up being more expensive in the long run.
When setting your budget, you should always be aiming for a positive ROI. How much time do you currently spend on your sales activities and operations management that could be saved by using a CRM? What’s the cost of lost opportunities due to not having a CRM in place?
If this is your first time looking for a CRM, take some time to familiarize yourself with the market. With new CRMs being released regularly, it’s important to know whether the vendor you choose has a good reputation and can provide the level of service they promise.
The right CRM should make your sales team’s job easier, not more complicated. For first-time users, find out how complicated it is to get set up, add data, and start using the software. If you’ve used other CRMs before, can you easily import your existing data to the new system?
A CRM does the most good when it works together with your other tools, such as email marketing, accounting and other software. Rather than having to use different programs, switching to Xero for your invoicing and Mailigen for your marketing automation, you can take care of all that directly from a CRM that integrates with these tools (both Mailigen, through the Syncbot, and Xero integrate with Pipedrive, for example).
Nucleus research found that integrating a CRM with data from internal and external sources increased productivity and grew business by up to 30%. While the benefits are clear, the research also pointed out that it came with significant costs. If there are no integrations, or they’re complicated to set up, your team will likely have to update records separately. This increases the chance of key data being incorrect or left out.
Cloud-based vs. onsite
CRM solutions are commonly hosted in the cloud. This is generally the easiest option, eliminating the need to invest in the infrastructure (including necessary hardware and IT support) needed to care for the setup and maintenance of an on-site solution.
However, if you want to manage your CRM yourself, you may opt for an on-site solution. Although this will likely involve higher upfront costs and require ongoing support, it does offer added control over data, with no reliance on external parties.
Finding and evaluating CRM providers
With a clear understanding of what your requirements are, you’re ready to start looking through and seeing what’s on the market. However, with so many different providers out there, finding the right package can feel like an impossible challenge. Here’s the best way to carry out that search and find your ideal solution.
Many companies make the mistake of picking a CRM, then adjusting their requirements and processes so that they work with it. A CRM should fit your needs, not the other way round. Review your CRM strategy, confirm which software features you need the most and use that to find the CRM that ticks all the boxes.
When you’re sure about what you’re looking for, you can use a search engine to find relevant solutions. However, you may find it easier to use a software review site, such as G2 or Capterra. These allow you to see the highest-rated solutions or narrow down your search based on features, pricing, users and even CRMs specifically designed for the construction industry.
Alternatively, you could hire a CRM consultant. Along with making recommendations based on your unique requirements, they can also help you set up and implement the CRM you pick.
Once you have a shortlist of potential solutions, it’s time to narrow them down. Take a look through their website, paying particular attention to any case studies that are similar to your situation. If you’re looking at a general CRM provider, have they successfully helped other construction companies?
If it looks promising, you may request a demo to get a feel for the features and discuss your requirements with a sales rep. Many cloud solutions offer a free trial period, which is an ideal opportunity to try out the CRM with your team before you make your final decision.
Implementing a CRM-driven process in your construction company
CRM software can be powerful, but it’s not a magic bullet. It’ll only help if you and the rest of the team use it properly.
For the CRM software solution to benefit your company, you’ll need buy-in at all levels of your company. For larger construction companies, that might mean a board of directors needs to sign off on purchasing and implementing the CRM. If that’s the case, you’ll need to focus on the benefits of implementing a CRM and how it’ll contribute to business growth. Explain the costs, any potential risks and don’t get bogged down in technical language.
Along with senior management, you’ll also need to get the buy-in of the people who will be using the system on a daily business. After all, if they don’t see the value, they won’t bother using the system. Make sure staff are aware of the reasons behind the system and the benefits and explain how it’ll make their jobs easier. Here’s our guide to convincing your team to invest in a CRM to get you started.
Rather than throwing your salesforce into the deep end, give them the training and resources they need. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the software, ask any questions, and give clear instructions on how to use it effectively for your specific requirements.
For larger organizations, it will be best to carry out a phased deployment. Start with one team or department, so they can see that it works while giving you a chance to iron out any issues.
With your teams fully prepped, you’re finally ready to get up and running. While the way you use your CRM will change and improve over time, you can get yourself off to a good start by:
- Customizing the setup—including pipelines, activities, etc.—to match your process
- Setting up automation, such as emails and data entry, to ensure no important tasks are missed
- Setting up reports for your metrics to give you full insight into your process
- Setting up forecasting to improve future planning
- Importing any existing data or adding new contacts.
With your CRM properly set up, you’re ready to start using it to track your deals, manage your clients and projects and analyze your metrics for better results.
A CRM solution can help construction companies remain profitable even in challenging circumstances, by enabling them to easily monitor and manage their deals and strengthen relationships with both contractors and clients.
By taking the time to put the underlying strategy in place, understanding what features you need, and choosing the right vendor and package for your unique requirements, you can use your CRM software to grow your business.