Handling a project from start to finish can be a daunting task, even for seasoned material handling professionals. With preparation and solid lines of communication, though, there’s no reason your first project can’t be as smooth as those of ten-year industry veterans. A few tips can help installation and sales professionals alike.
Start off with the right tools. Though the material handling industry is filled with highly technical equipment like AutoCAD, sometimes the most important tools for both salespeople and project leaders are the simplest. Don’t forget to always have a pen and a piece of paper—and remember to use them. Even with the best memory, you’re going to want to have notes to look back on. Secondly, use the tools you were born with—specifically, your eyes and ears.
- Make sure everyone’s on the right page. Projects can produce a large volume of data, whether they be invoices, drawings or meeting notes. Our company utilizes technology to ensure we stay organized. By scanning documents, we are provided with a convenient way to store and retrieve information that might otherwise be easily misplaced. In addition, our staff meets once a week to review all ongoing and pending projects. We print open and held work orders and make sure that we don’t miss things. We also have a spreadsheet that has all of our projects listed, including due dates. Everyone involved in the project- from sales to installation- should be confident of their role in the process and must be well-informed in order to best carry out that role.
- Keep your customer in the loop. For both sales and installation professionals, customers should be key. From the moment the salesperson walks in the door, he or she should focus on assessing the customer’s needs and finding the best solution. Yes, learning your product’s specifications is important, and your customer needs to understand them, but keep your ears open and try to find ways your products may be applied to help meet customer needs. Once the sale has closed and it’s time for the initial meeting between the project manager and the customer’s team, the project manager must strive to be just as customer-focused. Make sure you involve all the key players from the customer’s company. By getting input from multiple people, you’ll get a more complete picture of what they’re trying to accomplish. Ask open-ended questions t encourage feedback from customers.
- Relationships are important. Once the salespeople close the sale, though, they can still play a valuable role in the project’s progress. They were the first point of contact between your company and the customer, and the customer likely has built a rapport with them. During the initial days of the installation, the presence of the salesperson can go a long way to strengthen the customer’s confidence in an installation team they have never met before. The salesperson closed the sale because of a relationship he or she built. Don’t forget to nurture that relationship. Your customer needs to feel comfortable throughout the entire process; this will ensure a smooth installation.
- Communicate your expectations to installers. Whether your company is handling the installation or is working with a contractor, it’s important that the installers are all on the right page. In the first few days, the project manager should be a constant presence, and then perhaps make visits weekly after that. Make sure the team knows where the customer is trying to get and how the installation will help them get there. Regardless of how often you make site visits, though, keep communication open between you and your installation staff. That way, if they run into a problem, they know they can call you.
- Experience doesn’t happen overnight. Both project managers and salespeople need to be “in the know.” Whether it’s during staff meetings like our company has every week, or just during one-on-one moments, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience. Yes, it can be frustrating to be the “new guy,” but don’t be afraid to embrace that inexperience. Watch, listen and learn from as many people as you can.
- Stay organized! The most important trait in all successful material handling professionals is organization. Dealing with multiple vendors, arranging delivery dates, scheduling installation teams- it may seem like project managers are faced by a never-ending stream of dates. Keeping them straight is of the utmost importance. Make sure that your customers are still ready to begin the project on the date they originally set; often, the dates get pushed back at least once. You don’t want to have the vendors deliver product to a job, only to find out the project has been pushed back.
Undertaking that first big project can be unnerving, but by being prepared and being willing to communicate, you’ll learn lessons to carry with you for years to come.