Unlock the true potential of your construction business!
Maximize your construction business potential by mastering hiring and management, leading with purpose, and turning networking events into growth opportunities. In this episode, we have David Hernandez, head of U.S. operations for Elecosoft, explore three crucial topics that can revolutionize your approach to growing your construction business. First up, he tackles the art of hiring and managing business development professionals. He discusses how to identify top talent, conduct effective interviews, and create a winning team that drives your company’s success. Next, we shift gears to discuss essential aspects of leadership: delegation and time management. David shares the key strategies that effective leaders implement to maximize productivity, delegate tasks efficiently, and streamline their workflow. Finally, David unveils the hidden potential of networking events. Say goodbye to awkwardly standing in the corner, nursing a beer, and hello to making genuine connections that benefit your business. He explains how being curious and intentional turns networking events into chances to build partnerships, generate leads and expand your network. So, grab your hard hat and get ready to dive deep into the world of business development and leadership. Tune in to this captivating conversation with David Hernandez!
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Hard Hats And Handshakes: How To Hire And Manage Business Development Pros With David Hernandez
Three topics of conversation for this episode, how to hire and manage business development people. 2) How to conduct yourself as a leader in terms of delegation and time management. 3) How to benefit from going to networking events and not being bored, standing in the corner nursing a beer and that’s by being intentionally curious. We hit on all of these topics in my conversation with David Hernandez, the Managing Director of Elecosoft. David has a ton of experience in both the construction industry and in leadership and sales. He brings that all to the table in this episode for your benefit. Enjoy my conversation with David and share it with other people. Thank you for reading Construction Genius.
David, welcome to Construction Genius.
Thanks for having me.
My pleasure. It’s interesting, I work with contractors all day long and one of the challenges that contractors have is managing their business development folks. Sometimes, I get this picture that the president of the commercial contractor knows that he’s hired some business development people but they’re over there doing their thing and he’s not quite sure what they’re doing. Why do commercial contractors struggle to manage business development folks?
The main thing is that’s not the world they’re in. They’re in construction, so understanding the world of business development and sales and relationship building, they understand it within the construction realm, but going out and negotiating and finding new clients, it’s a different world than what they’re used to. That is part of probably why. It’s understanding they are in a different world. You know you’re part of the same company.
What should a contractor look for when they’re hiring a business development person?
The characteristics of any good business development or sales. You want somebody that’s got integrity and ethics. You’d love somebody that has already brought somewhat of a network with them. Maybe they’re plugged into associations or have done that in the past. You want somebody who’s hungry. Somebody that is willing to go out and do the work and not sit back and wait for things to come. A lot of times, going out and doing the work is probably the biggest challenge for a lot of people. I would say ethics, a lot of energy and throughout the network.
How do I know if someone’s got energy?
There are always going to be some questions that you can ask them and references. Sometimes, it’s a matter of like take them on a tour of your company. Take them on some project sites and see how they interact with people naturally or organically. You can quickly tell if somebody’s engaging. When I say energy, it’s maybe more of being able to willing have a conversation with somebody, not be standoffish.
Construction’s incredibly complex and I have pictures in my mind of business development people who are good people. They do have that ethic and that energy, perhaps, but they don’t have the technical savvy. There are often times when you might be in a situation and you completely miss an opportunity simply because you don’t have the ears to hear the opportunity. How important do you think is that technical savvy when you’re bringing someone onto a business development position?
You want to have some background. They want to be able to talk to the right audience and have an intelligent conversation, but it’s similar. I share this with even what I do in my daily work. When I walk into my office and I flip the light switch on, I understand electricity, but I don’t necessarily know how that’s completely wired and all the voltage and everything that went into that. I know the light works.
If I need to know about that, I can probably find an expert to do that. You would need somebody who understands enough to have a conversation but also that they’re not so proud that they would be able to lean on some of the experts within the company. That shows a lot to me when you say, “I may not have all the answers, but I am willing to find them for you.” I’ve got a guy who can help me answer that question for you. Tech-savvy is important.
Let’s say the first 90 days, I’ve hired a BD person. What do the first 90 days look like in terms of getting them up and running, and making sure that they’ve got the resources that they need? I’m setting them up for success, in other words.
You asked the question earlier about what is probably one of the biggest challenges. The first 30-ish days would be to make sure they understand your culture, vision and team. There’s some collaboration that’s built internally. You want them out networking, but we hire people and we want them to go out and we want them to create business. We don’t spend the time building the vision of the culture.
If that 90 days comes and they’re not successful, a lot of times, it’s because we didn’t share the right vision with them or we didn’t bring them in for a collaborative environment. I would say the first 30 days, for sure, build that collaboration, and open up your Rolodex. Let’s introduce them to some warm relationships that they can get some background and after that, let them run and be free. You have to have that vision first.
The willingness to introduce people to your network. Why do you think business development people fail? Let’s say I’ve hired someone. Maybe I’ve even onboarded them, but maybe they’re struggling for some reason. What are the top reasons why they struggle in a construction company specifically?
I would think probably the biggest challenge is we get in our own way. It’s pride a little bit, possibly. We don’t want to ask for help. When we’re hired for a job, we’re excited and the expectation is we know everything. It’s okay for you to come in on day one, realize you don’t know everything, and ask questions and learn more. If you set aside a little bit of that pride and ego, you have a lot more chance to be successful. Sometimes, it might not be a good fit culturally. It might not be a good fit geographically. There are other things but the biggest driver, as we get in our own way, that’s probably the biggest piece.
You mentioned quite a bit about networking and the network that someone brings to the table. In your experience, what are the biggest mistakes contractors make when it comes to establishing and developing a network of their general network for their business?
You hired somebody and you meet at a function and they are engaging at this event. You’re like, “This guy will be perfect or this girl will be perfect in our organization.” We don’t necessarily maybe do our due diligence. We think we hire people off of a short conversation. The other piece is hiring friends and family members or it just comes down to vetting.
You need somebody that you’re not emotionally tied to, as I said, a friend or a family member, but you’re okay with entering them enter, as you said earlier, giving them access to your world. A lot of times people don’t want to share that information, so that’s another reason that they’re failing is the lack of sharing that information as well.
It seems it’s important also for business development people to understand what your niche is and the types of work that you’re looking for.
Yes, because you could have somebody who’s worked exclusively for a trade partner that maybe does an MEP where I’m working now for a general contractor. It’s a completely different value add or value proposition or conversation I’m having to try to network. I would say 100% understanding and that comes back to that first 30 days. Understanding the company, the culture and the vision of the leaders of what they’re trying to accomplish. That will help as well.
The person or the business development person reports to, how often should they be meeting with their business development person, do you think?
I would say early on, you want to try to have as many check-ins as possible. You don’t want to hire somebody to micromanage them, but you want to make sure that you’re supporting them. They understand that, but again, if you’re not communicating from a leadership perspective, they don’t know the expectation. I would say weekly. Probably minimally, even as an ongoing thing, as they need probably more, but I would say the bare minimum once a week, for sure.You don't want to hire somebody to micromanage them, but you definitely want to make sure that you're supporting them. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting because a lot of the struggles that business development people have may be around the quality of the leadership in the company that they’re entering into. I’d like to shift the conversation a little bit and talk about leadership and get your views on this. What is the one leadership cliché that people have bought into over the years that’s totally wrong, in your opinion?
When I become the boss, I can do what I want to do. That’s probably one of the biggest clichés or the boss doesn’t have to work that hard. That’s probably another one. That one’s completely backward from a good leadership perspective.
What do you mean by that? I think one of the challenges that leaders have is that they micromanage, so they continue to work hard. It’s because they do other people’s jobs, don’t let things go, and don’t trust people. Aren’t I supposed to be accomplishing more through others?
The characteristic of a good leader is delegation. There are leaders who have a hard time letting things go. I’ve struggled with that throughout my career, but when you learn the power of delegation by communicating your vision and they understand everything that’s supposed to be supposed to be happening and to watch your team flourish is pretty amazing.
If you’re hovering and you’re telling people what to do, you’re probably more of a manager than a leader. A manager’s giving you orders or marching orders. A leader should show you what to do, then get out of the way and their job then is to help you remove roadblocks and stop obstacles so you can be successful.
Give me the best process for the delegation that you know. What’s the most effective delegation process?
That’s a tough one because I struggle with that sometimes. It starts with clear expectations. You have to be able to clearly disseminate what it is you’re trying to accomplish to your team. First of all, the goal is clear. Everybody knows this is where we’re headed. You have to trust that along that path, when things happen, you need to give them the ability to pivot and take a different route.
I share with my team all the time. It’s like I know if I want to go to Indianapolis, I know the roads I need to take, but if I come up against a roadblock, I can’t just turn around and go home. I have to find a different direction. My goal hasn’t changed, just maybe the path to get there. As a leader, I have to trust that my team has the ability to make those pivots and changes without me panicking and saying, “Why are we going this way?”
Learning to trust them when the path changes. As long as the goal hasn’t changed is another one. The destination is clear and at the end of it, you’re there alongside them, making sure that maybe you can remove that roadblock so that they don’t have to change paths. Those are the things make good leaders. I don’t want to need to drive in the car with them. I need to help them get to the bottom of the final goal. Whether that’s removing roadblocks, giving them a path but let them drive.
How do I distinguish between a roadblock that I should be removing and an obstacle that they need to overcome?
I shared this with team and my kids. If you come against a problem, you should defeat all avenues to solving that problem before you need to ask for help. That means, did I do research? Have I looked up? Have I reached out to maybe another colleague? You solved this. I have no more answers. I’ve done all this research. Now I’ll reach out to the leader. If you empower your team to do that, they start to solve a lot of problems themselves. By the time they get to me, I know it’s a roadblock I need to remove because I’ve trust that they’ve done 2 or 3 or 4 things to try to move it themselves and it didn’t happen.
How do I, as a leader, stop my people from interrupting me as I’m utilizing my time to work on the only tasks I can do? How do I stop my people from interrupting me to deal with their issues?
You have to protect your time. That comes with some standing meetings. You had that team meeting. I’m a firm believer in having a meeting with an agenda so that we’re not meeting to meet. I typically start mine at the first of the week, “Here’s what we’re trying to accomplish this week. Here’s my schedule. Here’s what I have going on. Unless the house is on fire, I’m not available until then.”
I set aside one day a week, it’s typically Fridays, where I try to be very minimal in my meetings. I will block time for admin stuff, but my team knows that Friday is my problem-solving day. It’s taken a little bit to get there. I’ve had to set that expectation along the way, but we have our standing meeting to like, “Let’s dump all the problems on the table. Let’s solve them together as a group,” then I can confidently work throughout the week. If they need me, they can raise it, but it’s usually because it’s a major issue. I have to manage my time.
You said it took a while for the team to get there. Why do you think that was it that it took a while?
Part of it was they were new teams, so they were new. As a new employee, understanding what authority you have or what parameters you have like, “How far can I go before I need to get permission?” I try to communicate. We know what our goal is and our vision is. I know I sound like a broken record here, but if we know what that goal and that vision is, if you’re making a decision, as long as it doesn’t deviate from what our goal and our vision is, I don’t necessarily need to be a part of that decision-making process.
Now, if it’s going to cost money or something else, maybe we have a conversation, but if your decision aligns with the core goals of our company and with the vision of what we’re doing, you don’t need me to say, “We can do that.” Make that decision. Empowering your team is very freeing for most leaders, but we’re afraid to do that because we feel like we need to have our hand in everything. You just have to learn that you’re hiring good people. Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way, but for the most part, if you give people the power, you’re going to build them to help you be successful.
Who is the biggest influence on you in your career from a leadership perspective?
I’ve worked for a lot of good leaders. I’ve had positive servant leaders. They taught me what it means to roll your sleeves up and help people. I lean a lot on my CEO, Jonathan Hunter. He’s good about putting people in position and letting them do their job. I know it seems silly and very simple, but it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, not hovering. I’ve put you in a position. I trust your judgment and your decision making and that filters down to my team. That’s probably one of the biggest, like if my boss has given me that trust, why wouldn’t I pass that trust onto my team as well? That’s been very influential.
What do you think is a good definition of trust?
Being willing to accept the outcome even if it’s not the way you would’ve done it. That’s tough because somebody might make a decision that the outcome is still positive, but it may not have been how you’ve done it. You’ve got to back off and say, “You make that decision even though it’s the way I would’ve done it.”Be willing to accept the outcome, even if it's not the way you would've done it. Click To Tweet
Who is your worst leader and why? You don’t need to name names but protect the guilty.
I’ve worked for a very militant sales director who was very metrics driven. He was all about, “How many calls did you make? How many appointments you’re running? If you didn’t have four appointments, you’re not getting out of the office.” He was very heavy-handed. If we struggled, the conversation was, “I hired you. You’re the professional. You should figure this out.” It was very tough on me because I was a fairly young sales rep trying to navigate but not upset this manager. It was work-balance.
It’s interesting because when it comes to sales, I think about it is very metric driven and particularly business development because I might have my business development person in the corner and they’re saying, “Yes, boss, I’m working.” I’m thinking, “When did you last bring a project in that we could take a look at?” How do I balance the need to give people autonomy with the need to track their performance and make sure that they’re performing in such a way that’s justifying the money I’m paying them?
As a business owner, you know this and as a managing director. We’re responsible for the PNL at the end of the day. We need results. However, I’ve learned that sales is the opposite definition of insanity. Keep doing the same thing over and over. Eventually, it’s going to happen. I don’t preach so much about how much activity we’re doing. It’s making sure that we’re doing quality activity because you can have 1 business development person who makes 50 contacts and schedules maybe 10 deals or 10 appointments.
You have one who makes 10 contacts and 10 appointments. They’re both equally effective. They just work differently. What I would do then is then connect those two business development people and say, “Maybe this one’s doing something that this one can benefit from and vice versa.” Let them work together as opposed to trying to manage it from a metrics perspective.
I will manage metrics if performance isn’t where it needs to be. It’s usually more of a conversation of, “How can I help? What struggles are we up against? What roadblocks are we facing? Step in to coach if necessary.” I found that peer-to-peer coaching and peer-to-peer help have been a lot more productive than it coming from a manager or a managing director.
What are some key questions that you need to ask in a coaching situation?
The first question I ask honestly is how they feel because emotionally, you’re not performing. You have stress and anxiety and you start to worry. I try to first address that. I say, “Everybody has bad days. Everybody has bad months. Let’s take that off the table. Talk to me about your day. How’d you managing the structure of your day?”
If we’ve done our job, they should have some goals set. They have an annual goal, and then we break that down. If they don’t, that’s the first place we’ll start. “Let’s set some goals. If you’re only doing this, let’s set some goals for this week and let’s see if we can get some easy wins.” Even if a win isn’t necessarily a deal closed, if you’re meeting some of those KPIs and those goals, there are some wins in there. You start to then get a little bit of momentum going. That’s typically how I would approach a coaching situation.
How do you know when someone’s BSing you in those coaching sessions, particularly because again, if I’m the contractor or the leader of my company, I’m talking to the BD person? Maybe they’ve got a good talk game, but they don’t have a good production game. How do I know when someone’s BSing me and I need to call them on their stuff?
Visibility throughout a company is important. Whether it’s construction, software or whatever business you’re running, you should probably have a pretty effective CRM tool being able to track what’s going on so you can almost see activity. You can see emails, phone calls and some activity. As a leader, it’s okay for you to check in to see how things are going with key accounts or key people.
If you’re worried about doing that from a leadership perspective because you might upset a sales rep or a business development rep, you probably don’t have the right person in place. When I was a business development, my manager said, “I’m going to call your customers.” I’d love for you to call my customers. My customers love me. It’s a good thing. If I was worried, I wouldn’t call them, then I’m probably not doing.
To me, that’s a good way to sniff that out, then make yourself available. I know it’s hard for a CEO of a construction company or VP or somebody to say, “Come to a networking event with me, see how I operate, see what I’m doing.” That there is some visibility. Is this person full of it? They don’t know anybody. If you go to an association event and you don’t know anybody, you probably hadn’t been doing the call.
Let me ask you this. Some people don’t like going to networking events. In your experience, what’s the best way to interact and to get the most out of a networking event?
I would say be intentionally curious. Don’t go be a salesperson. Go there truly to genuinely learn about other people who are there. Learn more about the association, if possible, how to get plugged in, but when you have a conversation with somebody, don’t talk about you. Ask about them. What do they do? How long have you been there like you would if you met them at a bar or sporting event or something.Don't go be a salesperson. Go there truly to genuinely learn about other people who are there. Click To Tweet
Have a human conversation. You’ll find that you win a lot more business when you ask about them versus you. When the opportunity comes for them to ask what you do, that’s okay to share that as well. You have to be intentionally curious and I do it because I like the industry. I figure out interesting ways or tell me about a cool project you’ve done. I try to dig a little deeper.
Intentionally curious, give me 2 or 3 questions that I can ask that can be in my toolbox so to speak, that I can bring out as I start a conversation with someone I’ve never met before.
The first question I would ask is if there’s no way to know what company you’re with, I’ll ask who you currently work with. I may ask if you’re a general contractor or subcontractor. I’m going to ask, “Talk to me about one of the most cool projects you’ve been a part of.” Most of the time, they’ll think of probably the last one they’re on. I’m like, “Was that the coolest project you were ever on?” It’s okay to ask that question again. I want to ask them about the projects.
I’ll ask them about their background, like, “Why did you get into construction? What made you choose this industry?” A lot of times, you’ll find it’s a multi-generational thing, “My grandpa was in it, my dad was in it and now I’m in it.” You start to learn a little bit more about their family. I would probably even ask like, “The industry deals with a lot of things, facing a lot of problems now. What are some of the things you guys are fighting now?”
You can start that conversation as we’re all dealing with the same stuff, whether it’s labor shortages or cost overruns or whatever. You learn a lot about the industry that may not necessarily be with that person but to be with somebody else and that you could help other people solve as well. You can ask them how they’re solving it and share that knowledge.
I love that phrase, though, intentionally curious and going with that open mind and willingness to be more interested in other people than you are in yourself. That can help you in those networking events. Tell us a little bit more, David, about Elecosoft and what you folks do.
We’re a global company, headquartered out of the UK. I am the managing director of Elecosoft, LLC, which is a US-based arm. We are planning and scheduling software. We have other solutions that we offer outside of the US, but in the US, primarily, it’s planning and scheduling. We’ve been in the US for many years. Simply, for me, it’s very biased. We pride ourselves on being very easy to use and scalable. We compete with Microsoft Project and MP6. We’re easier to use than both of those. We’re as complex as you need to be. You can build skyscrapers or if you build a custom home. Our product is very scalable.
Who’s your ideal client? Who’s the one construction company where when they use your stuff, it kills or it’s awesome?
I would probably say any size general contractor. The large general contractors seem to benefit the most. We’ve got a pretty handle on some of the 400 companies that are utilizing us on multi-billion-dollar projects because we do have that complexity. Easy to use, so it’s easy for adoption and limits business disruption. That mid-size general contractor that’s looking to maybe take that next step, a little bit more complex, a little bit bigger projects, that’s the sweet spot that we’re trying to focus on in the US. Everybody wants the big boys, but that mid-market general contractor overlooked of times.
How can people get in touch with you, David?
They can visit our website, Elecosoft.com. I’d love for you all to connect with me on LinkedIn as well but the website’s probably the easiest way. It has all of our contact information, the sales contact as well. It gives you high-level information about what we do.
Last question here, David, you’re in Houston, Texas. What’s the one barbecue joint I got to hit in Houston when I get down there?
One of my favorites is not even in Houston. It’s a little further South in Alvin, Texas. It’s Joe’s BBQ. Joe’s is pretty good. Although, I cook some good barbecue, so it’s hard to eat out.
What’s your favorite barbecue? What do you do good?
I make a pretty good brisket.
You do a brisket?
How long do you cook it for?
It’s about 13 to 15 hours, depending on the size. I have a big family, so we cook a pretty big brisket. I’m not these guys that’s cooking for 24 hours, but it turns out good.
David, I appreciate you coming on the show. Thank you for coming.
Thanks for having me, Eric. I appreciate you.
That was a great conversation. I enjoyed the idea of being intentionally curious at networking events. If you practice that, you’ll find them much less painful. Feel free to connect with David on LinkedIn and at Elecosoft.com. Feel free to share this interview with other people and thank you for reading.
About David Hernandez
David Hernandez is the head of U.S. operations for Elecosoft based out of Elecosoft’s Austin, Texas office. David has been involved in the commercial construction industry for years and brings diversified experience to his role at Elecosoft. Previously, he was head of sales at eMOD by BuildSafely LLC, where he helped companies with custom training, digitizing safety plans and inspections, ensuring OSHA standards were up-to-date, and improving workflow to enhance accountability, via a web and mobile software platform.
Prior to that, he was an account executive at Viewpoint, focused on building relationships within the Construction Industry, and helping contractors find software solutions to connect their Office, Team & Field so they can achieve their company objectives. He also served as Business Development Manager at The Blue Book Building & Construction Network®, the largest and most active network in the commercial construction industry, connecting owners, developers, government agencies, property managers and facility managers to architects, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.