Facilities Managers: Communicating Your Value to Your Customers

Stormy Friday

The Friday Group

Marketing is a widely neglected aspect of facilities management. In 1979 1 was doing management consulting at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when then-Administrator Ann Gorsuch called me to her office and said—nobody could get away with saying this today—"Dear, I have a problem with one of my organizational units, and I think it needs a woman's touch. I have an organization in EPA called Housekeeping, and it has given me a lot of problems over the years. How would you like to reorganize it and take it over?"

I did not know much about facility management in 1979. It did not even have a name then. There was no such profession. There was no International Facilities Management Association. So I said, "Sure." The next thing I knew, I was Director of Facilities and Real Estate.

I inherited an organization of 250 people, 275 contractors, 4 million square feet of real estate, 2 helicopters, 26 laboratories, and 10 regional offices. I was in charge of information management, design and construction, the printing plant, courier services, and the motor pool. In other words, the organization did not have much in common with what we call facility management today.

Since then I have been asking facility management organizations, "Do you tell your customers how much you contribute to their work environment?" Clearly, a primary customer of that facility organization, namely the Administrator of EPA, had few ideas about what facility management was. Obviously, then, as part of our stewardship, we need to market our services.



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--> Facilities Managers: Communicating Your Value to Your Customers Stormy Friday The Friday Group Marketing is a widely neglected aspect of facilities management. In 1979 1 was doing management consulting at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when then-Administrator Ann Gorsuch called me to her office and said—nobody could get away with saying this today—"Dear, I have a problem with one of my organizational units, and I think it needs a woman's touch. I have an organization in EPA called Housekeeping, and it has given me a lot of problems over the years. How would you like to reorganize it and take it over?" I did not know much about facility management in 1979. It did not even have a name then. There was no such profession. There was no International Facilities Management Association. So I said, "Sure." The next thing I knew, I was Director of Facilities and Real Estate. I inherited an organization of 250 people, 275 contractors, 4 million square feet of real estate, 2 helicopters, 26 laboratories, and 10 regional offices. I was in charge of information management, design and construction, the printing plant, courier services, and the motor pool. In other words, the organization did not have much in common with what we call facility management today. Since then I have been asking facility management organizations, "Do you tell your customers how much you contribute to their work environment?" Clearly, a primary customer of that facility organization, namely the Administrator of EPA, had few ideas about what facility management was. Obviously, then, as part of our stewardship, we need to market our services.

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--> When I ask facility managers whether they explain their contributions, I usually hear a resounding "no" in response. Our lack of communication stems chiefly from our training as facility managers. Most of us think of marketing as involving slick sales presentations pushing products and services that we may not need. But marketing in a better sense is perhaps one of the most important things we can do. Still, for many years, particularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of us saw no need for marketing. We were in the driver's seat. We had a lot of money. We were in a controlling position because we were issuing standards and regulations, telling people how many square feet of space they could have and much about their work environment. But our customers are much smarter now, and we need to be more businesslike in presenting information on our contributions to the bottom line. Our ability to sell our concepts to senior managers or congressional appropriators depends on clear and persuasive marketing. Three Kinds of Marketing Problems Most facility professionals have three kinds of problems in marketing: a lack of understanding of what marketing is, a lack of market definition, and a tendency to market by "SIO," or sitting in our offices. Lack of Understanding. Few facility managers understand marketing or what it can do. Most think of it as involving sales gimmicks, which is sometimes the case. But marketing is more fundamentally the ability to sell one's strategy for delivering services—the manner in which we take those services to the various customers that constitute the market. It has two elements: marketing to familiarize customers with the services offered and marketing to decrease resistance. The first kind of marketing, familiarizing customers with the services offered, is a battle of perception. Facility managers are evaluated by customers, who often do not understand exactly what those services are or how to judge the quality, appropriateness, and timeliness of their delivery. Focus groups with customers of facility organizations show that most are not even aware of the full menu of services that most facility organizations provide. Marketing is a plan of action to counteract those mistaken impressions by increasing customer awareness of these services. If there is no directory of services, for example, no one will know what

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--> you provide unless they actually need a particular service enough to ask for it. In addition, customers need to understand what some of the qualifications are for receiving particular services. I spent a large part of my federal tenure explaining to people why they were not allowed to park next to the front door unless they had worked for the agency for many years or were an undersecretary or assistant administrator. Decreasing resistance is the second kind of marketing. Facility managers often have to say "no." We need to overcome customer resistance to policies, procedures, and regulations. Often we are the people who on Friday afternoon say "Box up all your stuff, we're coming to do cyclical painting" (or replace the carpet or pull cabling). Often we have not given people enough notice to allow them to pack up their things. By increasing knowledge and information, we can decrease resistance to many of the things that we do. Several years ago, my company was working for the facilities engineering component of a federal government agency, consulting on process reengineering. The facility at the time had a new high-technology building coming on line. The building had plenty of open space and light, with most of the offices in the core to take advantage of the light and space. But the agency had neglected to do any commissioning. They had done no partnering with the prospective tenant, and they had failed to market the concept of the building's design. The prospective tenant said, "We aren't going into this building. We don't like its footprint. We're scientists, and we need to have private offices. We're entitled to 67 square feet per person"—and so on. The head of this organization agreed with his people and said, "If you had included us or incorporated some of our ideas in the initial design, we might be eager and willing to go, but we're not going into a building like that." So for six or seven months the group at the agency had to play catch-up, going around and trying to market the concept by explaining to people what they had been doing. In another example in the United Kingdom, we were working for the British Council, an organization that combines many of the functions of our State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and National Endowment for the Arts. The council operates in 108 different countries. Recently, we met with about 15 of the council's people from around the world, because for the first time in its history the British

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--> Council is downsizing and reorganizing. They needed a marketing strategy to guide the central facilities organization in London so it can provide assistance to all of the facilities worldwide, from palaces donated by princes, to mobile vans carrying English teachers out in the bush. We talked about a facility marketing strategy, with press kits and best practice kits for people in all of those countries. These cases show how marketing strategies to explain one's services are needed. Lack of Market Definition. The second biggest marketing problem is the failure to do a good job of market definition. When I ask facility managers who their clients are, few of them can list the nine or so categories of clients most facility organizations must deal with: organizational units building units, for those who have people in more than one building or more than one organization in a building business units (even in the public sector) facility management staff senior management external customers and visitors partners, vendors, and others who provide services to facility organizations sometimes tenants, in those situations in which space is leased to outside entities, and the buildings themselves (which are often forgotten about by facility professionals, although it is our fiduciary responsibility to protect the investment of the government or other owner). Unless one considers all of these customers, one has not defined the market thoroughly. Marketing by SIO. The third marketing problem is what I call "marketing by SIO"—sitting in our offices. Many facility professionals find it easier to stay in their offices than to go out and walk around and talk with people. When I was at EPA, I believed in marketing and I walked and talked a million square feet every day. They were constructing the subway under our building in those days. In the mornings people

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--> would give me little shoe boxes filled with dead rats and dead cockroaches because, as the subway was being dug, these animals were coming out in our building all over the place. When you encounter things like that, you appreciate why most facility managers like to stay in their offices. People don't like to receive that kind of present every day. They don't like to get nasty phone calls. They don't like to say ''no.'' But the only way to be an effective marketer is to get out of the office and walk and talk and meet and greet. The "three fives test" is one way to measure whether you are doing enough walking and talking. The first part of the test is to walk around the building and stop five people, and ask them to describe five services that the facilities organization provides. If four out of five of those people cannot describe these services, then you are not doing enough marketing. The second part of the three fives test is, over a five-week period, to monitor the telephone calls that come to you personally. If half of those calls are requests for information or complaints, again, you are not doing a good job of marketing. You are not doing enough market research or arranging to get enough feedback on the services that you are providing. As a result, you do not have a very good finger on the pulse of the customers. The third part of the three fives test is to look at meeting agendas for senior executives over a five-month period. If four out of five of those meetings do not involve discussion of facility issues, then you are not getting the attention of senior executives. The solution is to spend more time with the people who are making critical decisions, talking about the value that the facilities organization adds and how it contributes to the bottom line. Marketing as Insurance Marketing is like an insurance policy. We often think we do not need to do it. Yet our customers—all of those categories of people that I described—are our best allies. If those people do not tell their bosses, who then in turn talk to your bosses about the value that the facility organization adds, then senior management may find it easy, when it thinks about what to outsource, to put your organization on the line. It is vital to prepare customers to be your allies. To do that one needs to

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--> understand what customers need, and make sure they understand what you have to offer. Market Analysis Market analysis is very important. One needs to know whether the human resource organization is growing or shrinking. One needs to know whether the research and development (R&D) division is looking toward flexible working space, whether they like teaming, whether they find it important to have private offices, or whether they want to work in new modular spaces. One needs to know whether the organization is environmentally aware and whether its people and groups have any specialized needs or concerns that should concern you. You need to know the age structure of your customers. An important trend is the aging of the baby boomers. As they age, they will present new facilities problems. Many of them will to be in the work force longer, but they may also be working from home more frequently. The ergonomic needs of senior citizens in the work force need attention. It is necessary to understand and serve niche markets, such as the R&D staff, with their special requirements. Computer systems programmers tend to work odd hours, and some companies have installed pull-out cots next to their computers so they can sleep and work whenever they want to. Senior managers may have special service requirements. Competitive Analysis The other thing facility managers need to spend time on is watching the competition—outsource firms. One should be aware of vendors who have spent time with senior management saying, "We can do it better, quicker, and cheaper." Conclusion Marketing in facilities management has several elements. First, stay on top of your market needs by involving yourself in the larger organization's planning process. Second, prepare your customers for services that lie in the future.

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--> My firm prepared a strategic facilities plan for the General Accounting Office a few years ago; they were renovating the building to remove asbestos. The marketing effort included escorting people through various corridors and observing the progress of the work. Stimulating market interest is important, too. One of our clients, a pharmaceutical company in Chicago, recently held a "facilities day," which included a diorama in the lobby showing all of the things they had done to their buildings over a number of years, and a booth to which employees could come and ask facilities questions. It is important to develop opportunities for showcasing. The facilities organization for the city of Barcelona, in preparation for the Euro Facilities Management Conference, showed a fascinating 12 minute time-lapse video of the development of the city for the 1992 Olympics. It showcased the infrastructure, including roads, everything that had been done for every building, and the development of the marina. Just as we are concerned about the stewardship of our facilities, we must be concerned about what we tell people about that stewardship. We need to take all possible opportunities to explain that we add value, that we can generate productivity gains, and that we do make a contribution to the bottom line. Our customers should be telling our senior managers about all of these contributions. For this reason, as well as to provide the best services, we need to involve them in the process.