At the Design and Construction Network Happy Hour in Washington on June 30:
Successful construction-industry marketing is all about winning a place within your current and prospective clients' inner trust circle. When you get there, your relationships don't feel like business, they are more like enduring friendships. Money is still important, but your clients don't begrudge you your price (and profit) because they know you have their best inters ts at heart.
If your clients are "forced" by regulations or standard practice to ensure there are competitive bids, they will wire things so that you virtually always win. (I still remember a Labor Day weekend email containing the complete bidding documentation of a competitor sent to me by the bidding authority. No, I didn't ask for this confidential information, or imply even indirectly that this unofficial communication should happen. It just did.) In the U.S. public sector work especially at the federal level operates under Brooks Act rules, which takes price out of the picture and puts relationships and trust at center-stage.
The first construction marketing success question is how you win this trusted place? Equally important -- and providing a great clue to the the second question's answer, is "How do you retain the trust?"
The second question of course is easiest to answer. You retain the trust by delivering the goods with sensitivity, respect, and a sense of community, compassion, security, and adventure. In other words, you do your work so well and with your clients' interests so much in your heart that they would be insane to leave you.
(If you have in good times had a successful business by 'relying' on referrals for new work and repeat orders, you mostly have the second question answered correctly.)
Most importantly, you need to solve the second question before you even try to answer the first question. In other words, if you cannot truly deliver value for your clients, you must stop, think carefully, and either revise your business or do something else. You will be spinning your marketing wheels.
Nevertheless, even if you are great at what you do, you still need to answer the first question. You need new clients to replace ones that leave and to grow. You need to show people who don't know you, or who know you but aren't ready to accept you, that you are worthy of their consideration. Solutions include:
Connect your current, satisfied clients with new/prospective clients
This is where organized referral programs are helpful. These could be as simple as inviting clients for a meal and seeing if they know friends or colleagues who would do business with you, or as sophisticated as co-ordinating Networking and Thank-you events for your current/prospective clients.
Achieve media recognition and respect
Positive articles about your business in credible news media provide powerful trust-developing capacities. You aren't selling, you are delivering. The best media publicity is mostly "free" in that you don't pay directly for it, nor can you control every word or image that is published, and you don't have marketing control over the time and schedule of the publicity. Advertising-supported editorial (advertorial) publishing can be an effective compromise. It is what we do best and we can often provide this service without any cash or financial requirement from your business. See the Design and Construction Report for example.
Connect with your community
In the consumer market, this includes sports and community groups and associations; in the business market, you'll gain much traction by contributing to relevant client-centric associations. (Yes, participate in your own trade association, but your marketing clout will be highest when you participate in the association reflecting your clients' interests.)
Get your web presence in order
You need a great website optimized to attract leads and client interest within your marketplace. Most people now head to the Internet when they are looking for someone new, or to verify the credibility of someone they have heard a little about. High search engine rankings are better than top billing on the old Yellow Pages (these still work in some places), or community classified ads because they convey both credibility and provide immediate connections between potential clients in immediate need and your business. (We can help you out here, of course, especially if you have discovered this blog through the search engine process!)
Will any of these resources provide a quick-fix to your business/marketing challenges? Certainly, you can quickly develop your current and previous client relationships and build on them.
You may hit it off immediately with someone new, "Love at first sight", but obviously if you are banking on this happening with strangers, routinely, you are asking for trouble, both personally and in business.
What about price? Can you win trust by lowering it?
I think this is the hardest and most foolhardy way to win marketing battles. Do you really want to work with clients who hammer you down so far that you can't earn a profit?
And if you are marketing on price, how will you ever make enough money to make your business worthwhile? The only exception is if you have such a technological or operating advantage that you can truly be profitable while undercutting your competition. But most of us don't have that advantage.
As you read this, you may be scratching your head. You are being under-cut by fly-by-nighters, your loyal clients have deserted you to save some money (even though you provide great service), and you aren't worried about whether a potential client is an outsider, insider, or some fly on the wall. You just need business, quickly.
My advice for you is to take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, reduce your business expenses and overhead as much as possible, and spend an hour a day studying marketing. Then compile a list of your current and former clients, and figure out some "gives" (time not cash!) to justify a call or visit.
As you do this, start your community/association connection and publicity strategies. Call or email me at 888-432-3555 ext 224 or firstname.lastname@example.org for some ideas.
How do you know you've reached the point of transition when you turn from an outsider to an insider? That magic moment occurs when someone you know and respect calls you, without hesitation, and either offers you business without worrying about price, or forwards a referral, seemingly unrequested. At that moment, you can celebrate true marketing and business success.