Peeling Back the Paper: How Marketing Reveals the Bedrock of Estimating

This article was written by Lucy Zeiger, Marketing and Creative Manager at Harper General Contractors, and published in the March/April 2019 edition of DCD Magazine.

If you were to ask someone what makes a building beautiful, most people would doubtless answer with something like this: gorgeous hardwood flooring, eye-catching wallpaper, beautiful light fixtures. You probably wouldn’t hear anyone talking about an incredibly well-designed foundation or a beautifully executed frame. But without the foundation or the frame, all of that visually appealing interior design would have nowhere to go -and without the wallpaper and the flooring to transform the insulation and the concrete, not many people would want to purchase the building.

Marketing and estimating are often viewed in a similar light. At first glance, the two jobs seem like the most unusual pairing in the world. Marketing usually brings to mind fun and creativity – a job where the focus is on artistic pursuits like designing graphics, developing strong branding, and writing interesting articles and press releases. Estimating, on the other hand, conjures up images of long hours, stuffy cubicles, and rows upon rows of numbers and charts full of data that can often look meaningless to the casual observer.

It’s also true that in the A/E/C industry, marketing and estimating may not cross paths that frequently. Marketing often gets tied up in business development, while estimators – as anyone who’s ever worked for a general contractor will know – are constantly slammed with deadlines. But just as a well-executed interior can point to the equally beautiful foundation beneath it, building a partnership between marketing and estimating can bring huge value to a general contractor, in addition to strengthening project proposals. How? Just take a look at Harper General Contractors, and some of the ways their company has benefited from the collaboration between marketing and estimating.

1. Estimating provides good data and marketing uses it to develop key points, creating a clean, concise proposal.
At Harper, estimating efforts are led by the company’s Director of Estimating, Rob Major. “We collaborate in pursuit of projects, especially on design-build and Construction Manager At-Risk projects,” says Kyle Snipes, Director of Business Development and Marketing at Harper. “Rob and his team provide the estimate information, which we then use to develop a clear, concise package for our clients.”

The ability of marketing to take what is often a veritable mountain of information and compress it into a few key points has been a huge win for Harper. As with any service, there is a varying degree of construction experience among Harper’s clients; as a result, it is critical that data is presented in a manner that is easily accessible and doesn’t require the viewer to possess years and years of industry knowledge. “We strongly believe that all of our clients, regardless of how familiar they might be with the construction industry, should be able to understand our estimates and what they mean in the context of the client’s project,” says Major.

“For those of us in estimating, that is not always the easiest thing to do, and it also takes a lot of time and resources we may not have. That’s where marketing steps in.” Additionally, marketing is crucial in making sure that the data contained in the proposals meet the individual needs of their customers. No two projects are exactly the same, and different clients will have different objectives they want to meet.

2. Marketing helps bring awareness to estimating accomplishments.
Marketing also plays a big role in making sure prospective and existing customers know just how valuable Harper’s estimating team is. Estimating is such a key factor in Harper’s pursuits that they consider it to be one of their biggest differentiators as a general contractor. “Rob and his team have an extremely thorough process,” says Snipes. “They put so much time and effort into making sure these numbers are accurate, which is critical for us as a company, because what might be a ‘small’ error early in a project can end up costing thousands of dollars down the line if it’s not caught in time.”

In fact, Harper has become known for being one of the most reliable general contractors throughout upstate South Carolina – and it all starts with their estimating efforts. But once again, estimators often just don’t have the time to create content that spreads awareness of what they’re doing. Marketing eases the burden by taking these accomplishments and transforming them into a medium that people can easily access, whether that’s a case study, an article, or an interview.

3. Collaboration ensures consistent and transparent messaging across the board.
It’s easy for wires to get crossed, no matter what department you’re in. Sending information through too many different people, or too many different channels, can end up diluting what would otherwise be a compelling piece of content. This is why Harper made sure to set up a direct line of communication between marketing and estimating. Being able to work with estimators so closely ensures that marketing truly captures the voice of the company, and strengthens the consistency of the company’s messaging as a whole.

In addition, consistent messaging ultimately leads to greater transparency across the entire company. “Our philosophy is always customer-centric,” says Snipes. “With that in mind, our goal is always to be clear and open, so that the client knows exactly what we’re doing. Even if the budget comes in high, we want our clients to have a very accurate reflection of project costs, so we can help them take the most appropriate next steps moving forward.”

4. At the end of the day, collaboration between marketing and estimating helps put faces and names to the myriad of goals estimating accomplishes every day.
A lot of times. the importance of estimating can get lost in the shuffle, especially when held up to the light of departments that might seem a little more “glamorous,” like virtual building, or those that are just much more visible, like project management. Phrases like line items, WBS properties, and rate tables simply don’t bring the most exciting images to mind.

But estimating is absolutely vital to the life of any project, small or large. Just like the success of a building is largely dependent on a solid foundation, the success of construction projects are also strongly tied to the reliability of estimating. It’s the place where mistakes or miscalculations are caught before the project gets off the ground: the place where project owners can get critical information that could mean saving thousands of dollars. And it’s essential for people to hear about estimating successes so that they start understanding what a key role it plays in construction. By bringing marketing and estimating together, companies are able to promote accomplishments and demonstrate a reliability the public might not otherwise see.