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Tough Call: Job planning 101

Some of your less-than-organized builder customers are frustrated that they can’t get the materials they want when they want them. How do you get them to start planning?

You’ll never forget what it was like when, 10 years ago, you and your freshly minted degree in Business Administration joined a growing building supply company as a management trainee. Your classes prepared you well for much of what you experienced on the job, but the one thing you weren’t prepared for was the tremendous differences between your company’s pro customers.

Some of the builders you worked with were natural administrators. Very organized, with detailed plans for the jobs they had in process, including dates that the materials needed to be delivered, schedules for the various subs to jump in and do their part, and more. These were the easy customers.

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The others were, as they say, organizationally disinclined. Instead of planning ahead for what they’d need and when they’d need it, they were focused on the job at hand. “How can I plan ahead to two weeks from now when I don’t even know how we’re going to get past [insert challenge of the day]?”

Ten years ago, when business was in the slow rebuilding process following the Great Recession, there was less urgency, and more time to spend working through issues. But the business landscape today couldn’t be any more different. Not only are you and your colleagues busier than ever, so are your builder customers. The builders who are disciplined planners are leaving their unorganized peers in the dust.

Where their lack of planning is hurting them is in material availability. With so many building materials in short supply with long lead times, they have jobsites that sit empty for weeks while they wait for the products they need. They’re frustrated, and they take their frustrations out on you and your colleagues.

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You’ve worked with many of these same builders since you joined the company a decade ago, and you hate to see them fall behind. You know the answer is to show them the power of basic job planning. But you know from experience that the customers who need help the most are those who will push back the hardest. What would you do?

  • SHOW & Tell. Without using names, show how much faster a similar sized builder is completing the same type of projects. The only difference: they work with you to plan their jobs.
  • MONEY Talks. Ask if they’d be interested in earning more money without working any harder. When they answer yes, talk about how basic job planning can help them complete more jobs with less stress.
  • DRILL Down. Away from the jobsite, over a coffee or a cola, sit down and learn what they hope to accomplish. If they want to grow their business, you have the answer.
  • LEAVE IT Be. You’re their material supplier. Not their coach, or their boss. Let them do business they choose, and be happy that they choose to buy their materials from you.

What would you do?

Something else? If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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