Friday, August 31, 2012
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 9:18 PM
|The North Carolina Construction News website|
It is fun to grow.
For a while in the early part of the last decade, without structure, business management systems, and a true sensitivity to the clients actually paying the bills, we had a seemingly thriving U.S. business, at one time operating in five cities. I gained plenty of experience in flying around but didn't know what I was doing, ultimately surviving a near-death business experience in 2005-2006. (The recovery inflection point is reflected in this blog's creation.)
We thought we were ready to return to the U.S. in 2008. Yeah, just in time for the economic crisis and crash. Basing our projections on sales and purported profitability in 2007, we expanded rapidly, incurring significant additional costs just as the economy tanked and everything froze. Wham . . . another, brutal retrenchment.
This time around, the expansion plans will be much more cautious and thoughtful, especially to avoid fixed costs and building on experience, business systems and new technologies. We'll be respectful in our markets, thoughtful in budgets, and responsive to current and potential clients.
If you would like to learn more about these growth plans and perhaps participate (with compensation), just complete this form. I promise we won't bug you -- and you can easily take your name off the list if you don't want to hear any more.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
For viewers in the mechanical (and electrical) trades, here's a little (old) comic relief: The Three Stooges in "A plumbing we will go," including a beautiful 1940 television scene with an extra "live" dimension.
This video, in itself, has absolutely nothing to do with construction marketing, but the use of videos in marketing is absolutely and increasingly important.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Here's a simple poll.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 7:20 PM
Sunday, August 26, 2012
If you wish, I can present the observations developed in the book to your group in a 20 minute feed by Skype, Google + Hangout, or if you wish to cover travel costs, in person. (You can see a sample presentation, sans audio, on prezi.com.)
Your reviews and comments are welcome.
Most online services allow you to view substantial portions of the book free so you can be confident it is right for you before purchasing.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Both have done all the easy things. Now the challenges are intensifying. I won't go into details in a public posting, but there are scales of energy and effort and work involved here which would blow most of us away.
Construction marketing, I've grown to appreciate, can be handled on three levels.
The first, "we don't market" level is unfortunately where most people in this industry operate. They "rely" on word of mouth, or chase low bid jobs like lemmings. If they do any marketing at all, they generally throw their money away on scams, telemarketed "advertisements" and other garbage.
If they took just a little bit of time and some simple thinking (perhaps by reading my Construction Marketing Ideas book) they could easily grow to the second level.
Here, they would have a simple but modest marketing budget, focusing on building a reasonably good website, developing an organized system to capture and encourage repeat and referral clients, and (depending on the market), some association and public speaking initiatives. The true cost of administering this type of marketing would be minor and, with some sweat equity, you probably could build a really good set of marketing processes for less than $5,000 a year.
The third level, the type of marketing practiced by the competitors I met this week, is at another level. These guys might spend 10s or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on marketing. It is thoughtful, strategic, and carefully measured. These businesses have picked off all the low hanging fruit from repeat and referrals and simple website and association marketing arrangements. They need to spend quite a bit more to get to the next level, but their businesses are well enough organized that they can afford the costs.
These businesses, also, will soak up professional advice, consulting and other resources -- to a level that would probably exceed the basic frugal marketing budget you need to succeed.
Which way is best? Well, clearly the first, "no marketing" methodology is stupid. You might survive in business, but you won't go far, and you certainly won't achieve your potential.
Reaching the second level is quite economical and should allow your business stability, security and even the capacity to survive truly hard economic conditions. It is a good place to be if you aren't terribly ambitious to reach the top.
The third level takes more than just marketing drive; you need to think on a whole different and much more challenging and higher level. One thing is certain: If you try to go to the third level before you know what you are doing, you can be burned -- and so you should be very cautious before dumping huge sums of money into rapid marketing and business expansion projects. Things can go wrong, fast.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The 5,000th member has joined the Construction Marketing Ideas LinkedIn group this evening. James Roselle, owner of Innovative Elec in Baltimore, MD, joined shortly after Denny Johnson, general manager at Nebraska Brick and Supply became the 4,999th member.
The group focuses on marketing issues for the architectural, engineering and construction community. There is no cost to join.
As moderator, I try to avoid intervening in the discussions except to remove self-promotional advertisements, spam and the like. You can ask questions, share successes, and seek solutions to marketing challenges.
The group is by invitation. Here is a graph showing the group's growth.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
|The Hootsuite.com Twitter dashboard|
Hootsuite appears to provide some intriguing consolidation and management capacities, but doesn't directly integrate with email and databases quite as well as nimble.com. However set-up proved surprisingly quick and simple, and I could quickly see and manage my social media dashboards (subject to the limits on free accounts, though paid accounts don't seem that expensive.
Quick keyword searches didn't find a whole lot of construction marketers in these spaces yet. Do you have any thoughts?
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Here, I have some painful challenges. In researching my social media e-book Social media and marketing for architectural, engineering and construction companies: What you really need to know to achieve profitable results, I have found it difficult to quantify success. Sure, there are some great examples, such as Tim Klabunde's success in generating upwards of $2 million in business through the Design and Construction Network. But how replicable is his success -- few of us will be able to be early enough in the game to start 40,000-member LinkedIn groups. (My Construction Marketing Ideas group is growing at 10 to 15 members a day and should reach 5,000 members within a few days.)
Today, at the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association (GOHBA) renovators council meeting, I took these observations to a practical level. The association represents renovators/remodelers who care enough about their work to belong, and some are reasonably large and successful businesses -- who can spend tens of thousands of dollars a week on marketing. After my presentation, the largest renovator in town invited me to provide some one-on-one (fee-paid) consulting on social media best practices. He tracks and measures everything and knows (for example) that the printed magazine we publish, Ottawa Renovates, generates useful leads. He couldn't say the same for the various social media platforms.
It seems the biggest social media successes are consultants selling social media services or extreme early adaptors who combine their first-to-market advantages with some luck and general marketing/business development skills.
With these observations in mind, how would I recommend anyone approach social media?
The answer, it seems, is that you should do this stuff if you enjoy it. If you have "office staff" who would like to connect in the social space, then you could assign your employees to help out. Set some controls -- obviously you want to make sure your interactions are appropriate -- but social media allows some "non sales" employees to actually help out in marketing and business development.
I have some other ideas in my social media book, which you can purchase through Amazon.com or the IStore, and other channels. For Amazon, you can link here. For other services, just key in the words "buckshon" and "social" and you'll find the book soon enough. It is only $4.95.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
There are paradoxes here. Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. and Claude Des Rosiers of Boone Plumbing and Heating Supply are both in the building supplies business, though in different sectors (Merkley focuses on brick and masonry supplies, while DesRosiers works in the plumbing and mechanical spaces). Neither are push-overs for business humility (you wouldn't be in business long if you couldn't effectively self-promote) but they aren't encouraging others in the construction industry to support this initiative because they expect it will generate more business, or more positive publicity for themselves. They are doing it because they believe in the worthy cause.
The irony is that the more the business leaders genuinely commit themselves to community service without worrying about recognition for their efforts, the more recognition they receive. They didn't ask me to write this blog posting. I chose to do it. They didn't issue news releases or brag about their contributions. The hospital foundation, however, has recognized their contributions at special awards and recognition events.
The challenge is that to earn this level of recognition you really have to "walk the walk" (or, in this case, "ride the ride") with genuine, meaningful and time-consuming (and often cash-consuming) support behind the scenes, with sincerity and genuine effort. This isn't always easy to do -- unless your business culture, personal values and priorities are aligned to achieve genuinely selfless goals.
Then, of course, you are recognized for who you are. And I cannot think of many things better for a business's brand than to be genuinely appreciated by the wider community (and especially by employees, colleagues, industry peers and clients) that you are true community service leaders.
Interestingly, I could not find any associated data (even to two degrees of separation) with the keywords "construction marketing" in quotes.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
I've seen this in the Design and Construction Network's LinkedIn group, now with more than 37,000 members. Some years ago, in much earlier stages, you could read some really interesting discussions. Now . . . well, the site is full of cross-posted crap from employment agencies scouring for candidates, and junk promotional messages.
I don't fault the group or its organizers. Voluntary moderators could spend hours clearing out the junk and, well, the junk reappears. As the group grows in size, the cohesion and specific relevance to its participants declines. In essence, it becomes something of a very large ghost town.
The Construction Marketing Ideas LinkedIn group is experiencing these challenges. I visit once or sometimes twice a day for a bit of housecleaning, clearing out the self-serving garbage and hopefully encouraging useful discussions. These are, alas, relatively few and far between.
Probably the group would benefit from some proactive moderation and leadership, encouraging discussion, debate, and active networking. But I have a day job, too. How would you handle the situation?
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Undoubtedly, the power curve applies in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. Look at the numbers in the ENR Top 400 and see who is at the top, and who is at the bottom. Then realize that these are the top 400 -- obviously most contractors would consider themselves to be near the pinnacle if they could get anywhere near that level.
Ironically, the Internet has redefined and increased the power curve's impact. In the "old days," some markets would be simply too small and specialized to serve effectively. You really couldn't make money publishing a book unless you sold a few thousand copies, at least. Now, well, you won't make much, but you won't lose much either, with just a few dozen sales or less.
My book on social media and construction marketing, for example, had a "hard cost" of about $120.00. I went out on a limb and spent $100 on the cover design, and another $20 for the services of a specialized e-book formatter. Of course, the book required some time and effort to write, but I'm a writer, anyways. In the last week, the book has sold four copies at $4.95 each. After Amazon takes its cut, the net revenue is about $ 3.45. So, if sales continue at present levels, the book will hit "break even" in about three months. Of course the net revenue at the end of the year will be about a whopping $600.00.
The question is: How do you apply the power curve effectively in your business? It is generally unwise to put all of your eggs into one basket, especially one big and powerful client. (The biggest successes in business these days, like Google and Facebook, are, of course, skyrocketing on the power curve because of their ability to reach deeply into its lower levels.) One answer is to think about big and small in somewhat different balances. Realize you can capture micro-niches and own the market for tiny relationship groups. The individual revenue potential for these groups and niches may be small, but they can open the doors to bigger things.
Another concept which I've been exploring is the application of concentrated, seemingly irrational energy, in places where you can stretch and defy the power curve's norms. As an example, I certainly have a tiny AdSense account, not quite at the bottom of a really long tail, but certainly nowhere near the top. And yet I have phone numbers, personal email addresses, and amazing connections within Mountain View because of some odds-defying decisions to help out as a volunteer in a space few wish to tread.
We won't all be at the level of Bill Gates or Barack Obama but I think we can all discover some excellence and areas where we stretch to the heights of the power curve within special interest groups or niches. When we can, we'll achieve marketing and business success.
You can share your power curve success stories here, if you wish, through the comments function.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Stone believes all sales reps (for residential renovation/construction work) should be on pure commission. He advocates switching anyone on salary to commission, perhaps allowing for a three month transition. He says salary invites excuses for non-performance or at best, minimal performance.
In my publishing business, I've used salary and commission models and have concluded the ideal sales rep should be paid a salary, but evaluated and hired on the basis that the rep could function well in a pure commission setting.
The challenge with pure commission in the recruiting process, in my opinion, is that you really run into "barbell" problems in the competency bell-curve. Really good and talented sales reps will, of course, be happy to work on commission. Really bad ones will take a "commission-only" job because they can't get anything else. Recruiting then becomes a real challenge. You can advertise and advertise, and only a few respond, and of that few, only a smaller few are worthy of even considering.
I suppose these recruiting challenges remain in our salary-hybrid model (we expect our reps to get "above salary" once they 've built their client base and repeat business volume; this can take about six to eight months). When we advertise (using the free Canadian government Job Bank employment service) we can receive hundreds of applications. Fortunately, we have a simple system for weeding out the applications and narrowing the list. In the end, the short list is small.
The salary model allows us to encourage our salespeople to think longer term and with a relationship/community service focus, beyond meeting immediate quotas. It isn't perfect, but I think it provides more stability than a pure hunter-commission-only model.
So, there's the difference between my perspectives and Stone's.
Where do we agree? Essentially, we both agree that salespeople need clear working guidelines and must follow some basic rules, essentially relating to ethics. As well, Stone and I agree that once we set the commission and compensation package and territories/responsibilities, these must NEVER be changed without the salesperson's concurrence. (No salesperson will agree to poorer compensation or smaller territories without some really good offsetting advantages.)
Sometimes the bean-counters get involved and think the sales reps are making too much, especially if they appear to be simply serving existing accounts and not attracting new business. Short term efforts to bolster the bottom line almost inevitably result in a longer-range business disaster, as competent sales reps leave as soon as they can.
An important point to note is that while Stone advocates a commission-only hiring model and we will pay a base guarantee, we simply won't hire anyone who cannot prove their true sales competence and anyone who thinks they can coast without delivering meaningful results won't be around long. You could argue our salary model is simply a variation of the "draw" -- designed to allow a starting salesperson the opportunity to get the bases established -- but I really think there is merit in providing some stability at the base; and then encouraging real performance beyond it.
See our advertising sales recruitment site, adsalessucess.com.
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Then, to the interview. Quality isn't perfect. While YouTube has some interesting editing capacities, I didn't see (at first review) how to crop out end-takes (or in this case, beginning takes.)
So, what you see is what you get . . . uh, not exactly. I'm not a video editor nor am I a website creator or graphic designer. Technical quality at any do-it-yourself project in these disciplines (and yes, the blog counts in that category) is likely to be less-than-perfect. The key is to hire or contract with competent employees or contractors to do the actual work.
Nick certainly can handle the website design for most AEC businesses, at a price you'll undoubtedly find to be affordable. You can see his website at completionwebdesign.com.
In the second case, a marketer left a relatively secure employment to accept a new opportunity about a year ago, which included both salary compensation AND the opportunity for equity/partnership. The partnership agreement had an "out" clause, where either side could end the relationship without cost or vested rights within the first year. Towards the end of the year, the marketer discovered his erstwhile partners were growing cold and hiding information from him. Yes, he received the axe, just in time for the deadline.
I'm quite confident that both of these individuals are not slackers, they were truly contributing to the success of their respective enterprises, and the employers probably erred in dismissing them. I'm also reasonably confident both will land on their feet.
The question is: Is there a better way? I've been perhaps spoiled by the self-employment mantra, drilled into my head from an early age by my now long-deceased father, who, working 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, kept a pharmacy going through good and hard times. No way did I want to follow his example -- stuck in a store virtually every waking hour most days. (And when he at one point hired someone to fill in for him, the pharmacist turned out to be an embezzler, stealing enough money to truly deplete our family's resources.)
Yet self-employment has its advantages, especially when you combine some systematization with reasonably honorable and fair hiring and employment/contracting policies. (The successful marketer who lost out in the partnership, left a successful engineering practice to take the new opportunity -- but he left on good terms, and the practice had enough capacity/backfill to replace him.) I can't say I've always made the right decisions or treated everyone who worked for our organization perfectly, but hopefully I've learned from my mistakes, without seizing up in fear to never take any hiring risks.
- You are always better off in hard times if you have a solid network. Relevant trade associations are great places; you can hang your hat and as a volunteer during your unemployment, while retaining connections, respect and your credentials. However, you need to get involved when you think your job is secure to fully reap the rewards if things turn sour. (SMPS is great for this sort of networking.)
- I've always believed you should work for love far more than money. This can be easier said than done when you need to meet basic needs, especially if you have dependents. If you can, take some risks to find what you really want to do.
- Self-employment isn't right for everyone, but ultimately provides the greatest job security for those who can manage it. After all, you have far more control over your circumstances when you make the decisions.
Monday, August 06, 2012
Lots of touchy stuff here including religion, sexuality, gender, and the implications for our values and sometimes careers. The tool within the test allows you to see how you "react" and then how your perceptions compare to the norms.
I cannot extrapolate the observations here to specific suggestions and influences regarding our construction marketing decisions, but one thing I can see is that the stereotypes, regardless of our efforts to be fair, open an inclusive, still shape our society and our economic and political decisions. Try a few tests for yourself and see how you do.
Sunday, August 05, 2012
At constructionmarketingideas.com, I report on an intriguing Harvard Business Review paper suggesting that "solution selling" -- the mantra of the 1980s and 90s and still much a part of the sales training lexicon today -- has gone the way of other outmoded selling concepts, in part because the potential clients already have the answers the "solution sellers" are purporting to provide.
The argument is that effective selling (vs. price-based order taking) has moved further up the marketing cycle; that you really need to be able to identify clients and assess circumstances even before the "needs" are obvious. Hard to do, you might say, but I've been finding a few examples of contractors who appear to have discovered the way to get ahead of the crowd with useful innovation, resources, and in some cases, highly valuable (but proprietary) information.
I'm working on this stuff with Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) colleagues for an upcoming issue of The SMPS Marketer, and hope to be able to share some of the observations in blog postings in the weeks ahead.
Friday, August 03, 2012
- At Flintco, Birkes is an inspirational and transformational leader for the company’s marketing, business development, and public relations. She was integral in the successful transition of the company from a regional, hard-bid sales organization to a primarily qualifications-based firm with a national focus. The success of the transition is evident in Flintco’s 300% revenue growth, and it is more than doubling past hit rates on negotiated work.
- A past president of SMPS National, Birkes also has served the Society as a member and chair of many committees including conference chair, national secretary/treasurer, and a national board member. She is currently incoming president of the SMPS Foundation Board of Trustees. Birkes was founding president of SMPS Utah and served on the SMPS Dallas/Fort Worth Board of Directors. As SMPS National president, she spearheaded the development of a research-based dashboard identifying the status of key health metrics for the organization still in use today.
- Birkes has distinguished herself as a Fellow of SMPS and recently was one of nine professionals inducted into the College of Fellows of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Her professional and community leadership led to her recognition as one of 50 Women of the Year in the state of Oklahoma by the Journal Record. Birkes is one of 20 executives on the national executive board of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and one of six on the national board of the Associated Builders and Contractors Service Corporation. Locally, she served on the boards of PRSA and the American Institute of Architects Eastern Oklahoma (three terms).
- Birkes has received 30 awards for marketing communications in a wide variety of categories. This includes seven SMPS National Marketing Communications Awards and 14 state awards. She also has won nine first-place American Advertising Federation awards and been recognized by PRSA with its highest award, the Silver Link, for the marketing campaign that successfully took a company public on the New York Stock Exchange.
- As AGC’s national liaison, Birkes co-led with FMI the development of primary research of more than 300 construction companies related to marketing and business development practices in the built environment.
- She has co-authored three books and written articles for several publications and professional journals. Birkes has served as a speaker at national, regional, and local venues for SMPS, AIA, AGC, PRSA, and McGraw-Hill. She also has provided leadership for industry publications including Construction Executive magazine (national operations board), Texas Architect (editorial advisory committee), A/E Marketing Journal (contributing editor), and Marketer (national editorial committee chair).
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
I admit a paradox here -- I've written an e-book about social media, and certainly apply the concepts to some extent, but (this is a rather direct admission), don't "like" social media that much because, well, I'm not that social.
Some people enjoy the give and take of one-on-one and social group exchange, of chit chat, of interaction between individuals and groups of individuals. I prefer a good book or a computer screen where interaction is between "man and machine" rather than with any real person at the other end of the line.
Pretty anti-social, eh. Well, if we go back many years, I had rather serious social functioning issues because of extreme introversion. Lots of hours of group therapy, coupled with some single-minded drive to achieve excellence in my chosen career -- journalism -- helped me reach the stage where I could function in the real world.
But interacting in constant Twitter feeds -- posting pictures and responding day-by-day to Facebook postings, living within Google+ circles, well, these don't provide the satisfaction of blogging, where the words can flow and, heck, if you read them, great, if you respond, okay, but the initial blog communication is definitely one-way.
I certainly appreciate the limitations here. Sometimes even inward-looking introverts need to reach out, to communicate, and to share. The best approach for those of us who prefer to be alone always isto do our best to think about others' real needs and share and give as much as we can, without worrying about return.
Thanks to the readers who have pointed out areas where the social media book can be improved. If you've requested your free copy (deadline Friday, Aug. 3), please point out typos, inconsistencies, missed information, anything you would like to see improved. The result will be a much-improved book on the Aug. 15 official launch date. Follow as well www.constructionmarketingideas.com.