Leadership Advantage: Structure matters in maintenance

August 23, 2018 -  By

Business structure matters. As businesses grow, questions come up about who to hire and for what purpose.

When the business is small, the owner wears all the hats: He sells the work, schedules it, manages production, manages the client, collects the check and takes it to the bank.

As landscape businesses grow, the first thing to delegate is administration; the next thing is usually production.

Sales and customer management are often the last things owners delegate. In these processes, there’s increasing specialization. If everybody does everything, it doesn’t scale and you don’t optimize; it simply models how the owner operated from the beginning.

Choose a model

Some businesses choose an account manager (AM) model where one person handles a portfolio of accounts and is responsible for both the management of the crews as well as the customer relations, including upselling. Using this model minimizes the risk of communication breakdown. Customer requests are made directly to the party responsible for dispatching production resources. Unless the AM forgets, doesn’t follow up or provides poor instruction to the crews, customers are likely to get what they want.

The model’s weakness is that the AM may never have an opportunity to optimize the upsell revenue because of the time spent with the crews, and he may never optimize crew productivity due to time spent with customers. This model also doesn’t acknowledge the natural inclination of personalities. Some people are naturally logistical and excel at overseeing operations. Others are relational and excel at charming customers. Few people are gifted at both ends of this spectrum.

In times of stress, relational people will put their arm around the customer and hope the crews figure it out, and logistical people will gravitate to the field with the crews and hope the customer doesn’t call.

Other businesses choose to have one person handle crew management, but not customer management. A customer relations person handles the customer, including upsells. He must pass requests from the customers to the operations person, who dispatches the crews. This model allows for optimizing sales opportunities on the customer side and production on the operations side, and it enables personality types to stay in their area of strength more of the time. However, there’s a risk in communication breakdown in this model. Messages from the customer may get diluted in content and urgency or fail to get passed along at all.

Both structures can be employed successfully. On the customer-facing side, the accountability is for sales and retention, and on the operations-facing side, the accountability is for safety, quality and productivity.

Finally, the structure has to handle the upsells, or the installation part of the maintenance business.

This side of the business is entirely different than the maintenance side. It’s ever-changing versus repetitive and predictable.

Most businesses separate this portion and put it under someone with strong logistical skills and decision-making abilities who’s also production-oriented.

When those dealing with maintenance are tasked with producing the enhancement work as well, the urgent nature of it can be all-consuming.

When does a dedicated enhancement production resource make sense? There’s a point when the salary pays for itself in margin points and increased sales volume. If there’s $1 million worth of revenue, three to four points of gross margin are worth $30,000-$40,000, and an AM who is freed from production responsibilities should be able to sell at least 10-30 percent more.

As you think about structure, seek counsel, plan ahead, resist the temptation to build around current personalities, accept that it’s not perfect and build a model you can replicate.

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's associate editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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