Problem: You don’t know who the project contacts are to get stuff done
Managing your projects can often be difficult, time consuming and stressful. This is made worse when you cannot get the results or responses that you need.
Your client may have multiple departments, multiple key contacts, and multiple people you have to deal with. If you don’t know who these people and their roles are, then you can waste a lot of time and effort trying to get the information or decisions that you need.
You can have the same problem with your contractors and suppliers.
You may not know who to contact within your contractors organisation to get information you need or to to get things done.
Or you may not even know a suitable company to supply you the work or products your project requires.
Who are your project contacts?
You don’t know your clients, you don’t know your suppliers, you don’t know your industry.
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This is a problem.
Solution: Know useful project contacts within your clients and suppliers
When working in project management, having contacts among your clients and suppliers is very useful and very important.
The way I see it, you have three main tasks here:
- Develop contacts within new and existing clients to get new projects from them. This is the hardest of the tasks, but is very important to help win more projects in future.
- Develop contacts within existing clients to help you be able to get the information or decisions you want when you need it (for your existing projects). This is much easier than for new clients, and most clients will be very happy to tell you who to contact within their company for different information or decisions (especially if it will reduce their workload).
- Develop contacts with and within your suppliers or potential suppliers. This would seem easy, as most suppliers will want to sell to you anyway so may be already contacting you. However some suppliers will only let you deal with their salespeople, not their technical people.
For all these three areas, I believe you need a good contacts management system (CRM client relationship management etc). This does not need to be a large system like Salesforce or other large CRMs (although if your company already uses one then you should use it too). It could simply be a contacts database run by your company.
If your company does not have one, then you could run your own contacts list, either as simple as a well labeled spreadsheet or your phone contacts, or with a simple system like Covve or similar.
Many cloud based project management systems have in-built contact management. These are not usually as robust as a specialist CRM like Salesforce, but will usually serve a small company well enough. I find that some are comprehensive enough to meet all my needs.
Some that have a contacts or even full CRM system I have used and like are:
Develop client contacts to get new projects:
One of your roles as a project manager may be to obtain new work (new projects) from clients. It helps a lot if you have good contacts with the main clients within your industry. These could be past work or study colleagues, industry contacts from conferences, past projects etc.
Part of this is professional networking (here is a good infographic about the what and how of networking and Elisabeth Harrin has a good simple article on why professional networking is important). Be careful to not treat this as sales. You should be building a relationship with people. Offering help, seeking advice etc. It is not just about yourself, but about them as well. You should seek to know them and their business, as well as the broader industry they work in.
Keep a list of these contacts (using your preferred system as mentioned above). Make sure to regularly contact them. That should be monthly or yearly depending on the context. Old college friends in the industry may be just once per year, but for closely related industry contacts you might need to keep in contact with them quarterly or even monthly.
My experience has been that the most successful people at getting new business for their company are those that have lots of contacts, and who maintain contact with those people regularly (I cannot claim to be one of those who was very successful in developing my contacts, I regrettably lost contact with far more than I should have).
Get to know your clients and potential clients. Personal relationships play an important role here. Knowing their full name, role and title is important, but also knowing their interests, birthday, past jobs, favourite sports team etc will significantly improve your relationship with them.
Develop contacts within existing clients:
Often critical to the success of your existing projects will be knowing who to contact within your client organisation, and which departments there can provide answers or decisions.
You will of course need the contact details of the main client side project manager (probably listed for your project as the key client contact). Some clients require all communication only to go through that one project manager, which of course you should respect and follow that requirement. That is especially true of smaller projects.
However, larger or more complex projects usually have multiple stakeholders within the client organisation that need to be contacted. These could be design or product managers, regional managers, technical experts etc.
With the client project managers permission, you should ensure you get clear contact details for all these important stakeholders, including name, phone number, email address, role and authority level. It is of course still important to get any decisions authorised or acknowledged by the client project manager, but being able to go directly to the source of information can be a big factor in saving time and cost and help you deliver the project on time. If you have to rely on all communication going through the one person, you can find that person a bottleneck on progress.
It is important to make sure you have a communications plan as part of your project management plan, detailing who can be contacted, what decisions or information they are allowed to provide etc. If that plan is not in place then you should treat any information you do not get from the client project manager as unconfirmed, in which case you would copy or send it to the project manager for confirmation.
I also like to see a project organisation chart, showing not just people in your company, but also key contacts within the client company, to help you and your team see who can be contacted.
Develop Supplier Contacts:
Your suppliers and contractors are often a great source of information and advice.
Most suppliers are more than happy to explain the benefits, features and technical details of their products. This can be a great help to your project when you need information on size, shape, or how a component works etc.
The supplier sales person will often be your main contact, however, I believe it is important to also get contact details of individuals or at least of departments within your suppliers. This will allow you to contact the correct person or department directly, without having to go through a salesperson.
For example, a colleague and I were trying to work out the appropriate pump size required to supply water to a vessel at a certain pressure. A quick call to one of the technical specialists within a pump supplier we used was able to direct us to the correct information we required very quickly. This saved us hours of time in completing our calculations. The advantage to us was saved time, and the advantage to the supplier was that we were more likely to order our chosen pump from them (due to our recognition of their being able to provide technical support when needed).
In your industry, you should develop a list of suppliers and contractors that you know are reliable and knowledgeable. Your company may already have a database where this is recorded, however, if your company is large, that database may be too large and cover too many suppliers and not be specific, up to date or useful enough.
A good supplier list, with details of what they can do and who to contact, will also save you enormous amounts of time when you are preparing a tender (where you need suppliers input) and also when you are delivering projects and need information or clarification from your suppliers.
Lesson: Develop your project contacts
Get to know useful project contacts within your client and supplier organisations.
Building your professional contacts is very important for increasing your business, improving the efficiency of your projects, and improving the sourcing of your project inputs.
- Developing new and existing client contacts will help you win new projects.
- Developing contacts within existing clients will help you get important information and decisions you need quicker and easier.
- Developing contacts among and within your suppliers will help you get better information about what your suppliers and contractors can provide your projects.
All of this helps you improve the delivery of your projects.
In addition to what I have talked about above, the Australian Institute of Project Management notes three benefits of networking (in my context here, building project contacts).
- Securing contracts or clients
- Getting advice
- Keeping up to date