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Thursday, May 31, 2007 -- Value, pricing and the Internet economy

This afternoon, I enjoyed a lengthy business planning discussion with Dee Giarratano, president of, an Internet service with "a powerful toolkit that gives everyone in construction - Subcontractors, Suppliers, Service firms, Owners, Architects, and General Contractors everything they need to manage and track the pre-construction and construction process as well as many ancillary activities."

These are bold claims, made even more surprising by's pricing. Some services are free; others are, Dee says, a fraction of the price of competing services. For example, charges $25.00 for a yearly directory listing -- likely to propel the profiled company to first page rankings in the Google search engine. Resources for project management, reprography, employment and job costing are included in the service package.

Fair enough, but how does this business maintain viability? First, and most importantly, costs are rock bottom. The software engine is developed offshore; the business operates from Giarratano's Atlanta home, and marketing is generally conducted through inexpensive emails and search engine optimization.

In our discussions, we explored what needs to be done to grow and expand the businesses. Dee had proposed a service to enhance and improve the coding of our regional websites (which indeed need a fair bit of development work) but I explained to him that I must be careful about any expenses here -- revenue from online sources is at present limited in our business; and scarce resources can -- in the short-term at least -- be better applied to expand our printed newspaper sales. I suggested to Dee that a modest investment in sales resources and effort might yield disproportionately positive results -- as people discovered the value of his service; referral business would quickly enhance and expand the market. However, I don't think he is ready yet to assemble a sales team.

We also discussed one of the strangest paradoxes of pricing. The lowest price service may indeed be of the highest value, but often the marketplace doesn't recognize this fact -- instead, clients think something must be good because it is expensive. This of course creates a huge profit opportunity for an entrepeneur who is able to combine truly low costs with premium pricing. Most businesses don't go that route, of course -- they charge what they think is a reasonable mark-up, rather than look at what the market will bear.

The discussions will continue; Dee and I share a good sense of frugality when it comes to online marketing initiatives; and there are logical synergies between our network of regional construction sites and his service package.

See this previous story about his business:

The survey

I'm sure you get the uninvited inbound calls as often as I experience. Someone representing one agency or organization or another has just a few questions to ask, a survey. My response generally when I am in a good mood (hopefully most of the time) is to courteously but rapidly decline to participate, just as I decline virtually all inbound telemarketing inquiries. (And if I am in a bad mood -- or in the midst of some really critical work, expecting an important call, perhaps, I am downright discourteous -- something I know I should not be.)

Yet surveys are powerful tools in our marketing arsenal, and that is why I have incorporated a one-question survey in this week's Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter and sent the same question to others on our e-list. I did this with some caution -- while an email survey request is less intrusive than a phone call, it still is something of an 'ask' -- and I am always concerned about intruding; of pushing into your space.

But this question is something different and its importance reflects the essential purpose of this blog and newsletter.

Simply thinking about the question -- and your answer -- I think helps move your business forward. You can then see the unaddressed problem; the issue that gives you the most stress; the challenge you see you need to overcome. With a clear , even if you don't have a clear answer, you can begin finding solutions.

And of course, by asking the question, I'll get a much better idea of what is really important to you and then can focus my research and efforts on topics and issues of relevance to your business.
I think you can see how this type of survey question might be relevant in designing your own business marketing strategy. Framing a simple, but effective, question, and then asking current it to current and potential clients will provide you with insights outside your own 'space' and provide you with vital clues about where you should be heading -- or what problems you are encountering.

Surveys, by the way, are easy to conduct online these days. I use some open source software, but there are commercial services available that allow some free usage and then charge modest fees for maintaining and handling the survey data. If you would like the names of these businesses, please feel free to email me at (or post an anonymous comment on this blog.)

I will keep you posted of the results from my survey over the next few days and weeks -- and you will see how the research, framework and questions in this blog evolve from your answers.

Thanks, in advance, for participating.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bulding my green construction Business: Series Announcement


Thanks for your query on my postings on

I thought, given your query, I might send you a note or two about me and what I am doing.

I have been in construction for the past decade. I worked in the sales, relationship managment, and project management area as a primary for years. When Hurricane Katrina came I thought things would get busy but better in many ways; but I was very wrong. The Contractors got worse in so many ways. Environmental practices, safety, quality, and price fairness went right out the window. I worked with several contractors who were out and out frauds.

In short, I found that my wish for us to build it back faster, better, and greener had been a distant chance at something that would not happen. Instead, it has turned into slower, financially fraudulent, worse environmentally, and overall poor quality. After getting screwed out of some 30K in income from one contractor and 10K from another, I made the decision to build something under the framework and the principles that I valued. This meant I would build Spry Construction as a means to provide respect for the customer and the environment.

More still, I realized that I would be able to take low and fixed income people and renovate their homes using energy saving methods and materials to reduce the overall cost of operating the home. This generates a higher quality of life for these low income people and really does not raise the cost to any substantial way.

As for this as a marketing method, it absolutely works. I am winning bids based on the fact that my green building mantra can be translated to "caring" for the customer long before we sign the contract. I have effectively differentiated my company from others when I am competative because we care enough to protect the customer from things that can hurt them or cost them more money over time; and this seems to matter. A great example; I have two customers right now that have bad allergies, and asthma in their family. When I explained that we would be using paint that would not "gas" over time and what the gas has the potential of doing...I got the deal...just by cutting out a few carcinogens and taking care to address air quality.

This feels good because it works in marketing but it works because it is right. Once a customer gets a tiny bit of education on this subject, it just clicks for them in an emotional way that brings the deal to close and creates a wonderful result for the world and the client.

I hope this has helped in addressing your query.

Please feel free to give me a shout should you have any questions or comments.

be well

Paul Herring, Owner
Spry Construction LLC

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Building My Green Construction Company #13

Is this video -- one of a series -- a truly inspired marketing initative? I'm not sure because while I've found the set of videos "Building My Green Construction Company" on Youtube, I haven't yet been able to track the identity of the video blogger or the actual name and website of his business.

Why passion is important
I think this newsletter article, Success vs. fulfillment. Which is it for you? by Jeffrey Gitomer explains the importance of passion for true success better than anything I've read in a while.

Gitomer's writing effectively elaborates on one of what I think are the three pillars of real achievement outlined in my earlier piece: Passion, Sincerity and Respect: The Foundation of Construction Marketing Success

Monday, May 28, 2007

Rainmaking intrigue

This article, promoting a commercial 'rainmaking' service' offers some intriguing ideas regarding systemic lead development and marketing to high level executives.

I can't recommend the company recommended in this promotional story -- I've never used the promoted service, and the story is presumably 'planted' by someone representing Corporate Rain, Inc.'s interests. But the systematized lead development and sales strategy may well be valid, and you could apply some of these concepts in your own business.

The Stanley Cup

Today, Ottawa is getting ready for the first game of the Stanley Cup finals. The NHL hockey team is across the continent, in Anaheim, California, not far from Disneyland. Ironically, the goalie who won the cup last year in Raleigh, N.C. for the Carolina Hurricanes, is on the Ottawa bench -- as the back-up goalie. If everything goes as well as it should, he won't play a game but Martin Gerber will win his second Stanley Cup ring in two years (great players spend their entire careers and never win the prize.)

There are many levels of economics and relevance to me. I remember well standing at the footings of the Palladium (now called Scotiabank Place) when the building was under construction more than a decade ago. My son, Eric, discovered the sport during his first major league game when he was six -- we attended on a contest prize ticket. I could see the fascination with the game in his sparkling eyes, and proceeded to sign him up for the minor hockey program -- last year, he was the second top scorer on his team and I have served as the team manager for two years.

And next Saturday, we will be going to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. Now, tickets for this event are hard to find -- some people lined up for three days outside Scotiabank Place to get in line for tickets, but I used a little resourcefulness,coupled with a little luck. I know the team is gradually releasing tickets -- either hold backs for seasons ticket sales they don't now expect to achieve, or 'retractions' of tickets bought by brokers for resale. And, voila, on Saturday, I snared two tickets, for $220 each! (Yesterday, worse seats went for $1,100 for a pair -- with a cheap Senators jersey thrown in, presumably to get around anti-scalping legislation.)

So what does all of this have to with construction marketing, business, and this blog? The relevance is indirect but nevertheless important. In Canada, at least, there is a strong correlation between the demographics of construction and hockey -- you'll find owners, sub trades, suppliers, and more are involved in the game, both on a business level and personally.

The other elements include the relevance of sports marketing, the skills involved in building a great team, and the entire business of building sports arenas -- a significant sub-set of the construction market. But this may simply be icing on the cake. I'm growing with my son. And next Saturday, in the cheap seats, we'll see the best skills at the most important game, locally, at least.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Original cheeky viral video campaign

Here, thanks to and the my Bloggeries review, I'm starting to learn how to adapt video and visual imagery to the blog -- here, a rather cheeky Australian video that connects sex to marketing.

Am I getting in trouble here? I remember well the very early days of my business, in the second issue of Ottawa Construction News back in 1990, when I contracted with a scantily dressed model, had her wear a hard hat and snug jeans, and put her image on Page 1.

I received more response (alas negative) to that marketing approach than almost anything I've done since. It seems the local members of the National Association of Women in Construction were offended along with (and this was very important) my advertisers! Would things be different today? I'm not sure, and am raising the point now.

Michael Gerber

Are the marketing consultants worth the money?

This is a touchy subject. Are marketing consultants like Michael Gerber and Henry Goudreau worth the money you will need to spend if you wish to receive their full service package? Prepare to spend more than $10,000 -- and keep spending -- if you go all the way with their service offerings.

If you look at their websites, or contact their organizations directly, undoubtedly, you will discover real testimonials describing how they've improved their clients' profitability and success -- and helped turn struggling companies into truly viable enterprises. And I don't doubt they are worth every cent of the money they charge, if you are ready to implement their strategies and follow their guidelines.

But my sixth sense, and some direct experience with Gerber's organization (I cannot claim the same experience with Goudreau or other marketing gurus) is 'be aware' and recognize that in many cases you are paying a small fortune for information that is available elsewhere, or is cookie-cutter stuff where, for the same amount of money, more individualized and much more effective consulting services may be available locally.

For example, take this one less-than-positive (among other very enthusiastic) reviews about Michael Gerber's book, "the E-Myth Contractor":
It puts a hook in your mouth., Oct 21 2003Reviewer: A customer
This book is filled with wonderful ideas and philosophies. They all make sense and seem to put you on the path to the realization of your goals. The problem is that not all the keys to making the ideas work that you could actually put into practice are provided in the book. The idea of the book seems to be to get the reader excited and then point them to a web site where one can sign up for classes (at a healthy fee) to learn the fundamentals of the systems and how to put them to use. The limited scope of the book was no doubt designed to provide the author, Mr. Gerber, with more income than he receives just through book sales. I would be very cautious before getting hooked because the "rest of the story" is provided in a lengthy process that is quite expensive.

Now, I'm not going to suggest Gerber, Goudreau, and other consultants aren't worth every cent of their money -- as noted elsewhere in this blog, pricing is a complex thing, and sometimes in marketing it makes sense to charge more -- because you define your market and attract the right kind of clients. And because these organizations attract more money from people willing to pay, the culture of their organizations is that you may find real uplifting networking value. In fact, I would advocate, if you are truly strapped for cash, and you decide to use one of these more expensive consultants, you will really get your value for money -- because you will care -- and do everything you are told, simply because of the level of commitment required from your end.

But I also advocate taking your time, thinking carefully, and realizing the true cost and value for money of the various options in consulting available to you. More on this later.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Bloggeries review

This blog has been reviewed by Bloggeries.

Overall, I agree with the assessment. The graphics interface isn't as well developed as it should be, and the linking and organization can use some improvement. But, after all, I'm a writer, not a web designer. (I'm also based in Ottawa, Canada, not North Carolina, though I have a special affinity and respect for NC.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Quality leads?

I continue to be perplexed by the best answer to the question of how to find "quality leads" in the AEC environment. The need for leads is huge and seemingly unquenchable, if the number and apparent viability of leads services is an indication. There are big multinationals like Reed Construction Data and McGraw-Hill, regional players, and specialist Internet data mining services. And of course there are retail lead gatherers, who market their services to the general public and then sell their research results to individual contractors. I am thinking here about organizations such as ServiceMagic and a new Canadian business serving the Ontario market,

These leads services have some value -- in fact may be vital for the survival -- of many specialty contractors and sub trades; and perhaps some start-up general contractors. But do they work for architects, engineers, planners, and early-stage developers?

I'm not sure.

In response to a question on the SMPS Listserve requesting comments on a commercial leads service that provides data in some U.S. regions, Brian Muligan, Business Development Officer at Atlanta-based contractor Sharpe Construction, Inc. offered several insights. Essentially he said the leads services rely on the professional practices (especially architects) for leads information for general contractors and sub-trades, and are often willing to work out quid-pro-quo exchanges for information about early stage planning information, of relevance to the professional service firms. He also said there are regional variations and cost considerations -- some leads services work better in some markets, than others.

However, marketing consultant Frank Smith, also from the Atlanta area, responded rather bluntly to Mulligan's posting:

"Speaking from my experience of 35 years in the A/E marketing business, if you really have time and money you want to waste, subscribe to any of these "cheat sheets". (This does not apply to contractors.)"

I've emailed Smith to elaborate and explain his rather blunt statement, but think I know where he is going (I may need to publish a correction or adaptation in future issues of this blog, however).

Simply put, if you need to rely on leads services, and you are in the professional services, your relationship base is not well developed and you are -- if you spend time and energy following up on the leads from these services -- chasing after phantom business; or if it is real, business that is unlikely to be profitable. By the time the leads service finds out about the project, it is too late. The job is probably 'wired' for one business or another, or the appropriate alliances and strategic relationships have already been formed to put in the most powerful 'open' bid presentation.

So, how do you build your marketing funnel and keep enough work flowing to be profitable?
First, it is clear you need to listen to, and connect most closely, with existing clients. Second, it is undoubtedly helpful for you to belong and participate in appropriate professional organizations. These are organizations at the client level and, to some extent, the ones within your industry. (For example, I constantly advocate SMPS membership -- partly because of the information the association provides, but more importantly, because of the relationship-building opportunities; especially useful if you have a multi-city practice; or are a local leader and wish to position yourself for joint ventures with outside organizations.)

Finally, and most challenging, you need to create a really strong outbound presence -- publicity is really helpful, through books, articles, and possibly (gulp) blogs! You want to position yourself as the relevant expert so you are called or simply well placed to learn of the lead well before the opportunity is publicized by the commercial leads services.

My bad (the permalink that didn't work), and the cure

OK, so I set up a permalink, which became the most visible one on this blog (and in my opinion the most useful), to the sales and marketing forum at -- and didn't check it! Unfortunately, in my instructions to set up the link, I repeated the http: message -- so of course it didn't work. Ten seconds of effort to verify the link worked would have saved much confusion for readers. Sorry. It is fixed now.

However, on reverifying the link, I found this interesting thread, worthy of further consideration. The original poster asks whether a quarter page ad in two publications is more effective than a half page ad in one. The other posters chime in with some essentially solid advice about effective print media advertising. Interestingly, as far as I can tell, these are real advertisers/contractors -- not publishers selling their particular product.

Among the advice pointers:

  • Repetition is essential. One poster made it clear that you need to give at least six months for your ad to work;
  • Accountability and measurement are vital -- make sure each ad you place has some distinctiveness, so you can determine whether it is working in the particular publication;
  • Use co-op dollars where possible (get your suppliers to help you pay);
  • Print advertising can draw business but is very helpful in branding and creating a positive impression;
  • Consider the ad as part of a multi-stage process -- perhaps offer a free report or something to draw the response you are seeking; beginning the relationship-building process;
  • There are differing views on creativity and ad design -- should your ad follow the 'standards' or be totally different?
Overall the posters provide a truly effective crash course on print advertising. Their real-life field advice is definitely worth following.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Information, free

My Google Analytics software tells me that several people have visited this blog to find the free Vocus, Inc. paper on achieving blog publicity. I speculate that readers of this blog received the same promotional email that I did, then, instead of filling in the form and giving their information to a Vocus sales rep, googled the topic, found that I had posted it on my blog, and visited this site to get the information they were seeking, without going anywhere near Vocus's data capturing login.

This is not a problem for me, or (I think) Vocus. I'm sure that most qualified responses to the offer completed the information requested -- after all if you really don't want to be 'seen' by Vocus you are either a competitor or a tire kicker -- hardly someone to waste the time of one of their sales representatives.

Of course, there is still the issue of communications, commitment, and the like. How much energy should you invest in reaching potential clients who don't respond to you or don't want to be identified? Are e-letters and 'white papers' worthwhile? I will say 'yes' -- especially since they allow you to unobtrusively engage the clients with your business and connect to what you are offering.

My own newsletter, for example, provides an easy-to-manage connection. If you request to be on the newsletter list, you'll receive the bi-weekly communication plus occasional additional emails. If you wish to opt out, it is easy to cancel. The reach of this newsletter is far more effective and far less expensive than any other form of communication.

Obviously, you are not going to sell big-ticket AEC services through direct response newsletters and even blogs! These are simply a component of the marketing process; the real achievement, ultimately comes from the quality of your work, and the interpersonal relationships you achieve with your clients, colleagues and suppliers. The marketing 'buzz' you achieve through any promotional initiative simply reinforces and supports the softer, but much more important direct contact and relationships you build in running your business or professional practice.

The most important question

Book writing and marketing coach Denise Michaels has asked me to conduct a one-question survey:

"What is the most important question about marketing your business?"

The idea, of course, is to pinpoint the most important issue(s) affecting the marketing process in the marketing of AEC services. By keeping the question simple -- and open ended -- hopefully we will determine what is really important to your interests (and not just my perception of what is important).

If you would like to get a head start, please email me directly at (or use the comment function on the blog). As a reward, if you are one of the first three to respond, I'll send you a free copy of the book when it is published!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Architects and marketing

I had a wonderfully insightful and satisfying meeting with a group of local architects (in Ottawa) today. We are profiling their practice in the next issue of Ottawa Construction News -- we last wrote about them about four years ago. Suppliers and general contractors, again, are advertising in support, so the feature will be successful.

But this discussion transcended the usual 'brag' session about projects they wish to publicize. We looked instead at the broad scope of the relationship between the architects, engineers, general contractors, tradespeople, and owners, and the wonderfully complex dynamics in the new infrastructure marketplace, with so-called "3P" projects the norm now. The public-private partnerships take private funds, and often private management, to operate public facilities. As you can imagine, conventional practices are put to a challenge here -- who is the owner? In some cases, it is a consortium including the general contractor, a financial institution, and professional services such as the architects or engineers.

Then, we explored the interchange between the general contractors, trades, and architects and designers about change orders -- and the differing perspective of responsibility. Are GC's cooking up change orders to pad their profits, or are they simply struggling with incomplete or inaccurate drawings. As people working in this industry well know, the ideals of collaboration sometimes degenerate into conflict -- including expensive and often futile litigation.

Why is all of this so important? The jobs coming to the marketplace these days are often invitations for consortia to bid for the entire package -- this means, the process of setting up the business arrangements is much more complex than discovering an RFP, filling in some paperwork, and hoping to be selected. Professional practices must align themselves with the right consortium -- and these are often invisible unless you know who is who. Preparing bids in this environment requires more than a usual amount of preparation, planning and teamwork, even before the RFP is introduced. As the architects told me today, they find about these jobs when they are called by one of the participants -- in other words, their marketing success is defined by the inbound inquiry; not outbound solicitation or proposal preparation.

Yet, to achieve that inbound inquiry, they must have a reputation for good work -- and sufficient community visibility that they are considered. That is where media publicity is so helpful. It keeps the architect's names and reputation in front of prospective clients; or prospective bidding consortia.

This, indeed, is a much more challenging -- and rewarding -- kind of competition than just looking for public tender opportunities, or bidding in open competitions.

The SMPS Listserve

One of my most valuable resources for Construction Marketing Ideas is the SMPS Listserve. This is really old (by Internet standards) technology. Members post questions or suggestions on the email server, and over the next hours/days, receive answers.

Many questions are highly technical or specific -- for example, the member may request referrals for a specific support service (such as a local photographer) in areas outside their home town. Others touch on much broader issues affecting marketing concerns.

One recent post, for example, asked about the most effective presentation software and options to Powerpoint. I've reported on the responses -- which initially focused on the theme that the presentation software is much less important than the people in the presentation. The original poster returned to the Listserve to clarify that she knows that the human element is most important, but wants to look beyond that to see how presentation resources can be used to enhance the process.

The Listserve can, in theory, clutter your mailbox (though you can ask for a daily digest), and there are periods when people respond to the entire list when private emails are more appropriate. But the lack of complexity, ease of use, and extremely rapid response offset the Listserve's limitations.

You can only gain access by being a member. So I'll reference again the hyperlink Most likely, if you are in the U.S., you'll find a chapter nearby. If you are in Canada, like I am, resources such as Listserve provide value even though you won't have the local networking available through chapter membership -- but maybe, sooner rather than later, we will have enough Canadians to form chapters here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Coke, Pepsi, and Jeffrey Gitomer

Do you agree with Jeffrey Gitomer's point of view here?

I'm going to disagree. He advocates giving clients a choice -- in this case, for restaurants and hotels, to offer both Coke and Pepsi. But I advocate a simpler attitude -- on minor matters, do we need to have more choice than necessary?

If we passionately believe one brand of soft drink is more important than another, we will vote with our wallet books -- we will chose to stop patronizing one restaurant chain or another because they are selling one brand or another. But clearly we don't. It is easier to have a simple one-size-fits-all answer, and since the difference between the two products is marginal, except if you have a special interest in the matter (like you are a Pepsi employee, or you are one of the majority in Atlanta, GA), then who cares which brand they sell.

How is this relevant to AEC marketing? If you take Mr. Gitomer's usually wise advice seriously, you are going to give choices to your clients on visibly high profile but objectively unimportant issues. That, may of course, may make sense. But if your 'one and only' choice is because of the quality of your supply chain relationship -- in other words, you have trust and respect for your supplier -- the equation definitely shifts to the 'exclusive choice' model -- especially if your key supplier is helping you out on the marketing. Of course, if the matter is objectively truly important to your client, then you need to be more careful -- a little choice here can go a long way, I believe. (So don't serve Pepsi to a client whose home base is close to Coca-Cola's headquarters, unless of course you know the client loves Pepsi!)

Five Golden Rules for Blogger Relations?

Vocus, Inc. says it is a "leading provider of on-demand software for public relations management."

They offer a "white paper" on blogger relations. Of course, to receive this, you need to sign in and give your email address, and they ask for your phone number.

But, since the file they send is a regular weblink, I'm going to post it here so you can read it without your needing to give away any of your private information to them. (And in doing so, they may have achieved their objective of disseminating their message).

Visiting the blog

This weekend, for the first time, I sent out a broadcast email to virtually my entire database (about 5,000 names) inviting visits and comments to this blog. The result, not surprisingly, has been a traffic spike for the largest single-day 'traffic' in the blog's history -- much appreciated -- and several off-line comments (also appreciated). As Monday was a public holiday in Canada, I'm repeating the invitation for comments here for readers just discovering the blog.

You can respond using the blog's comment function (your response can be anonymous -- I of course can edit out inappropriate comments) or you can email me directly at Your suggestions, observations, insights and questions are welcome.

Pricing, value and free services -- the balancing act

This is a business paradox I haven't completely resolved. What is the best price to set for your product or service? The answer, it seems, is all over the map -- but if you are seen as pricing 'all over the map', unless you are careful, you can get in very big trouble. For AEC services, as for most businesses, pricing strategies are crucial to your ongoing business survival and viability

The free offer or inducement

"FREE", "no risk trial", or similar deals where the client is not expected to pay a cent are supposed to draw in business. And I suppose these models work, because they are used so often. Some new-era Internet entrepreneurs advocate putting it all out in open, free, and essentially allowing the readers to pick your mind without spending a cent (or even registering, or giving valuable information to you). Their premise is the more generous you are, the more you will achieve voluntary buy-in for paid services of various sorts, and then you can charge what the traffic will bear. (See the really useful stuff from marketing guru Seth Godin, for example.)

The information in free articles, blogs (mine included), and other resources is supposed to result in trust, respect, recognition and business. The paradox is that while the 'marketing funnel' can be measured, in my own business, I don't yet see a correlation between the generosity and income. Should I stop blogging, then? Since I enjoy it, I will continue, but I haven't validated the business model advocated by the marketing gurus, just yet.

Competitive pricing

Here, you price purportedly to undercut your competition and win the work. You see this in the retail world, (Wal-Mart is a great example) and of course in the open public bidding world within the construction industry. (And certainly it applies even in closed bids where the client requests quotes from more than one serious contender.)

Competitive pricing is of course a challenge, if you price too low. You need to have extremely disciplined internal management and cost control capacities to make money in a competitive pricing model -- and thus need to find a way to lower your true costs or be ready to decline work if the market price is lower than your break-even.

Value pricing

The holy grail of pricing, of course, is to be able to charge what a client will pay at a price far greater than your internal costs. You can do this if you are the best (and known as such), have a monopoly (it sometimes happens), or you have leverage over your clients and markets that you can use effectively.

The challenge with value pricing is achieving some degree of stability. You also need to combine it with fairness. The value can diverge depending on the client's experience with your business, or external factors.

The balancing act

I remember well how a successful lawyer charged me a price for data services that seemed fair enough, until I discovered that the price was well above what I should have paid competitively. I was, to put it mildly, angry. The lawyer acknowledged he had priced based on my perception of value rather than the true market competitive price and, to maintain and restore my trust, repaid the overcharge. Later, I needed his professional services. His billing rate was on the high end of the scale, but I paid, without hesitation, knowing his competence was well worth the extra price. (I wish I could tell the 'real' end of this story, but that would provide too much disclosure for this blog, unfortunately.)

So, how do you price your services? Carefully and thoughtfully, I would say. This is one area where a little attention can bring in much return -- you may be underpricing, or you may be charging too much. Take some time, think about what you are doing, and why, and consider some options. You may find your profits increase dramatically.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Comments invited!

I've just sent an e-letter to the blog's Constant Contact list inviting comments. Please feel free to speak your mind about the usefulness of this blog -- and suggest, if you wish, how it can be improved.

You can use the comment function or email me directly at If you are commenting on the blog, you need not disclose your identity -- the blog has a moderation function to prevent spamming -- but I'll post all real (that is, human generated) comments.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The best presentation tool -- Human beings!

Bernie Siben has it right here when he points out that if you are making a proposal presentation the human interaction in the process is the most important element -- slick PowerPoint presentations may do more harm than good.

The point he makes is that if you've reached the short list for a formal in-person presentation, the prospective client is satisfied with your basic technical ability and competence -- you wouldn't have reached the short list stage if you didn't meet the essential objective qualifications. So the last thing the prospective client wants to see is a slick, standardized, computer generated presentation -- the potential client is interested in you, your team, the 'fit' and the connection your team generates with their organization. They want to feel that they would enjoy working with you and your team.

Sure, PowerPoint and other technical resources have a place in the presentation room in certain circumstances -- you may need to show some slides, evidence, or imagery. But I think Bernie is right to advocate not relying on these resources as a crutch or to avoid the importance of interacting with your clients.

(Note as well, I believe it doesn't hurt that much to show yourself as less than perfect or slick. If you bring technical experts to the meeting and they are shy or nervous, provided they are also enthusiastic, knowledgeable and competent, I think they will score more points than the person who looks perfect but sounds like he or she was recruited from Central Casting. Would you rather do business with someone who knows what they are doing, or is a good actor!)

Does 'free' work?

This posting provides some useful insights on how and when to offer free sample services to draw business. It is of course geared to the residential rather than commercial markets.

I am adding the "sales and marketing" thread from the forum to the permalinks.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Missing a sale

Michael Stone's article here about what to do if they don't say 'yes' on the initial call is useful -- so are the others on the Servicemagic Pros link page.

Birthday greetings

It's my birthday today, and my son's, as well. He's 10. Since Eric arrived, the flavour of the birthday has changed, much for Ithe better. We enjoy our special day together though it makes some extra work for Vivian, with two 'birthday boys' in the house.

Several suppliers and at least one client have sent birthday greetings. Of course, much contact management software makes it easy to remember birthdays. The gesture of the birthday greeting, like the thank you note, is both simple and inexpensive, and adds an extra sense of connection and relevancy.

I especially appreciated Burke Wilson's greeting. Burke sent a handwritten note, translated to an email image. Burke is the responsible for partnership development with Sharpe Images in Winston-Salem, NC.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Marketing, time and employees

Today, our Canadian sales team had a special planning meeting for contract advertising marketing. We chose today because this weekend is a public holiday in Canada -- and we wouldn't do much useful work otherwise. So Chase flew in from his home in St. Catharines (near Niagara Falls) and met with Natalie and I to determine which businesses to approach for ongoing advertising. Natalie had used a programmed proposal technique successfully at her previous (non-competitive) employer, and I encouraged her to lead the meeting in implementing a similar strategy here.

The day went well, and we wrapped up the meeting a couple of hours early. We don't believe in wasting money in our business. Chase flew in to Ottawa from Toronto on a super-cheap ticket (in fact, through some quirks in Air Canada's pricing, the fare was actually Minus $4.00 (that's right, a negative fare, though we had to pay taxes so the airline didn't actually hand us cash to fly). Chase had a layover of about four hours until his scheduled inexpensive return fight with another airline.

Creativity took hold, along with the flexibility that is possible in smaller organizations but not larger businesses. I purchased him a fully refundable executive class ticket on Air Canada, with the condition that he not actually use it. The ticket gave him access to the business class lounge. Then, driving to the airport, I decided we could continue our meeting at the lounge, so I purchased my own refundable ticket. Off to the airline lounge we went, enjoying some refreshments and additional business discussions. At 6:00 p.m. we returned to the ticket counter, had the tickets cancelled and refunded and headed home -- him to Toronto on the discount ticket, and me, to my home near the airport.

Obviously, I don't recommend this type of behaviour for larger businesses -- it obviously would create an auditing and record-keeping nightmare, let alone create a huge potential for abuse. But just as big businesses have their very real advantages, we should also appreciate the distinctive advantages of the smaller company.

As for the specific marketing technique we discussed and implemented at our meeting, it will not be reported on the blog, especially if it is successful. There is no need or reason to share this type of proprietary business information with our competitors. However, the project observes the basics: We have a budget, schedule, and clearly measurable indicators to determine its success.

Trade show booth tips

Skyline Displays' most recent newsletter includes some worthy booth staffing tips.

Skyline is a reputable organization -- we've purchased our trade show set-up from them, but I will share with you an alternative approach to finding your booth, if you are willing to take a little risk in exchange for some big savings -- Ebay!

If you wade through the listings, and separate out the brokers, and stuff, you may find some real bargains. Of course factor in shipping costs, the real client reputation, and the practicalities and risks of buying a booth set-up without having service and support before going this way. However, if you are spending our own money -- not your boss's -- or your boss is like me and respects employees who think creatively and regard their company's money as if it were their own -- you may find this is a truly rational approach.

I used Ebay for our table top display. The cost -- for a display that retails for $500 to $1,000 or more -- only $35.00. (It has previously been used by a pharmaceutical company, but all we had to do was throw out a detached plastic piece that gave away its former identity.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Practical publicity -- doing it right

Peter Schürmann of Redwell Canada Inc. has shown how mastery of media relations and publicity can pay big dividends. He distributes a rather novel product -- an Austrian-based radiant heating 'frame'. You stick the frame up on a wall, and it heats the room using radiant heat -- more efficiently than conventional heat, and without the need for duct work, wiring, or furnaces. The technology has interesting practical applications. You, for example, can install a mirror version in bathrooms -- the mirror never fogs up, and if you put a towel over it, it would warm the towel up for extra comfort.

OK, this might be an interesting product, but how do you sell it? Schurmann saw an article by a Globe and Mail columnist in Toronto about the advantages of radiant floor heating. He sent her a note; saying he agrees entirely with her observations -- and then outlined his product's unique advantages and qualities. She called, impressed, and wrote the 'perfect' story -- especially well timed, because he was exhibiting the product at Toronto home show just after the article appeared in print.

Schürmann says at least 200 people came to the Redwell booth saying they had seen the article, and wanting more information. And of course Redwell is using the article in its trade show exhibits, and on its website.

Fair enough. Schürmann knows how to 'work' the media effectively. He saw me at the Toronto Construction Association Members Day event, and knew I was there as a journalist. He approached me to sell me on his story. I told him that frankly we constrain commercial promotions of individual businesses into advertorial features -- they, after all, are the mainstay of our print business revenue.

But after our conversation, I visited his booth, that happened to be near ours. Jason Chase reported on his sales successes at the TCA event (I was busy gathering notes for the editorial component) and we observed that Schürmann knew how to obtain publicity without even the slightest expectation of needing to pay for it.

So how does he do it?

  1. He has a good story. The product is interesting, after all.
  2. He has achieved publicity in credible media. News reporters, like most of us, run in packs. When one is interested, others follow.
  3. He seized on a related story, and sent a personal, appropriate communication directly to the writer, outlining his own story. Good move. It isn't pushy, it is relevant, and the writer responded accordingly.
  4. He sizes up reporters and approaches them, seeking their involvement and participation.
So he succeeded, as well, here with this blog. I've provided a hyperlink and some publicity he wouldn't have achieved otherwise.

Done properly, media publicity is the least expensive and most effective marketing you can arrange. Schürmann shows how it can be done.

An association gets it right

Today, I'm heading to Toronto (on a $14.00 return airline fare war ticket) for the annual Toronto Construction Association Members' Day. This event combines some educational sessions, free food (and beverages), and the opportunity for members who wish the opportunity, for a free display set-up to promote their business. There is no charge -- no one stands at the door seeking 'donations' -- and generally the weather outside the Construction Centre in Richmond Hill is beautiful this time of year.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how this event creates good will between the association and its membership; adding to a sense of value and community. These days, many association events have a fund-raising element to them -- fees are to be collected, or companies are urged to sponsor with thousands of dollars in contributions. There is nothing wrong with this approach, of course, but it is refreshing to see an association knows that occasionally it makes good marketing sense to let go of the take, and simply give.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Relationship building and sports marketing

Tonight, our hometown team the Ottawa Senators is playing to clinch the divisional finals and move on to the Stanley Cup competition. The city, naturally, is going a bit 'hockey mad'. I'll be one of about 30,000 fans in the stadium, packed to capacity. We're making the game a treat for Eric who turns 10 on May 19 (also my birthday, so we always share this important day in our lives).

This is fine enough, but what does it have to do with construction industry marketing? If you talk to the hockey team management and sales staff -- as for any professional sports franchise -- you will say 'everything'. Corporate seasons ticket and suite sales are a big business for professional sports teams; they are the gist of their marketing programs, because of course it is expensive and hard to fill every seat for every game -- but with seasons ticket sales, the team has 'sold' the seat regardless, and can budget accordingly.

Fair enough, but do season's tickets work for the clients? I've been looking for empirical evidence to back up the assertion that the tickets are valuable for client development, sales, relationship building and maintenance, and employee morale, and certainly see enough of that material on various teams' promotional sites. But where is the hard evidence?

So far, I haven't found anything analytical or independent -- something written by an organization other than a team's sales department. However, I have begun collecting some subtle but important indicators that the sports marketing works, and is worthy of corporate attention.

For example, in Ottawa, Direct Energy invited a group of home builders to a special program to outline new energy efficient equipment to be installed in new homes. They invited builder technical representatives to the session, held at a facility near the local hockey arena, and after the two hour presentation, handed out suite seasons tickets for that evening's game (along with access to the VIP buffet restaurant before the game.) I certainly enjoyed the deal and could see how the subtle and powerful goodwill could be created by the process. However, I also saw the risks of this type of marketing. The young guy sitting next to me in the corporate box, enjoying his unlimited free beer, said he really didn't have any authority at the company where he worked -- he was just told he could go. The corporate people giving out the tickets, and the users accepting them, were truly divorced from the actual cost of the tickets -- it wasn't their money, after all.

On the other hand, I know a local lawyer who also has seasons' tickets. I'm sure they represent a true personal and measurable cost -- he sees the money going out. But he also knows that the tickets are an amazing opportunity for him to share valuable time with key clients, or to connect or reward people who he works with. He renews annually.

The evidence of the value of seasons tickets and corporate box suite rentals/leases appears to be the fact that they 'work' for the sports teams -- they are increasingly important sources of team revenue, and clearly the renewal rate is satisfactory. (In fact, in Toronto, you need to deal on a secondary market to get access to the Air Canada Centre).

Maybe I'll find an academic paper connecting the dots and showing the empirical business/marketing value of these tickets. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with intuitive impressions and observations -- something I'll undoubtedly perceive tonight.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Words of Wisdom

Bill Caswell in his most recent newsletter, quotes John Wooden, who coached UCLA basketball teams to 88 consecutive victories -- a winning streak unparalleled in sport. On evaluating his success, Wooden said: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to be the best of which you are capable. He offered a number of wisdoms related to his approach to, and attainment of, success, namely:

"Little things make big things happen."
"The star of the team is the team. 'We' supersedes 'me'."
"Be yourself. Don't be thrown off by events whether good or bad."
"Have utmost concern for what's right rather than who's right."
"Stay the course. When thwarted, try again; harder; smarter. Persevere relentlessly."
"Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way."

Caswell references Wooden's book, Wooden on Leadership, (2007).

The blogging phenomena

BusinessWeek magazine in a recent report on blogging says there is a sign that the number of new blogs being created is declining, and validated that many people start blogs only to give up on the process. "A total of 70 million blogs have been set up, but March data from blog search service Technorati show that only 15.5 million bloggers updated their sites during the last three months, up slightly from 15.3 million in October."

However, the magazine also reported that some blogs are becoming significant businesses -- and many of the leading blogs are extremely influential.

The reality is that blogs are not right for everyone; and like many things that are easy to start but much more challenging to maintain, most people who experiment with blogs give up on the idea pretty quickly. The challenge in creating a successful blog is that you need to get everything right -- the bloggers personality must resonate with the readers; the topic must be relevant to them, and the blogger -- barring the rare situation where star status is achieved -- needs to be realistic about expectations. This is the reality of the Internet; millions can view the blog, but only a few will, in most cases. Then, the priority should be in encouraging the right people to visit.

Nevertheless, I think a lot more construction, architectural and engineering businesses could have successful blogs; blogs that bring their owners and key personnel much closer to their clients, colleagues and suppliers. But to make it work, you'll need a very special combination of freedom and commitment -- freedom to allow individual expression; and commitment to continue the process until the blog 'catches' with the market -- and that can take some time!

Dreams, goals, manifestations . . . and luck

As the sun rises this morning, I think about the big picture, and the many small details that make up life's choices. The little things, in themselves forgettable, that are more than minor passing details.

Of course many of the things shaping our choices are happening right now -- my thoughts are with several matters that, while trivial in their substance -- could ultimately mean something more. (They also cannot be reported openly in this blog, meaning this entry is more cryptic than I would like.)

These points of contact -- when seemingly unrelated matters develop an association and then connect the dots in surprising ways -- may be just coincidence, but I've learned that coincidence is sometimes more than it seems.

In a pragmatic sense, marketing success comes when you are able to connect the dots sufficiently from perhaps seemingly inconsequential resources, discern the 'coincidences' and act on them effectively. In the classic case, within the AEC sector, you discover a contemplated project long before the leads services know about it, and it just happens that you know through your relationships which buttons to push, and how to manage them. Most interesting, I think, are those opportunities that seemingly come out of the blue but, when you look more closely, tie back to one of your previous actions or decisions. Yes, it became an easy 'sale' that you cannot simply replicate (or maybe the seeds of a system that works time and time again). But your success is usually rooted in some seemingly unrelated, previous decision.

Today, I have a lot of seemingly unrelated and mostly minor challenges and issues to resolve. At one level, this is going to be a stressful process, hardly worthy of the juggle of time and effort to make things work right (and things could still go bad.) But my sixth sense is that it is all going to work out well -- and the apparently unrelated issues will resolve in a creative and heart-affirming solution.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Making news

Today, more than ever, I had a reminder lesson in the imbalance of resources between media and public relations. The Ontario (Canada) labour minister flew to Ottawa to deliver an announcement that the legislatively mandated Tarion Warranty Corporation would now share information with Ministry of Labour inspectors regarding unregistered (and therefore illegal) builders. The idea is to improve enforcement research to attack the underground economy.

This is a worthy enough story, which we will report on within a few hours at, but the other story here is the size of entourage for the announcement compared with the number of media for the 'media event'. Staff from the Minister's office and Tarion filled the room. There were a couple of local Provincial Parliament members, and a few people from the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association, including its president, Bob Ridley, who acted as MC for the announcement. OCHBA Executive Officer John Herbert, who encouraged me to attend, was in the room as well.

As far as I can tell, I was the only member of the 'working press' in the room, and my presence there is largely shaped by the contract we have with the OCHBA to produce their internal newsletter.

The Minister's office of course issued news releases and put them over the news release wire. I don't yet see signs of other media picking up the story, though I'm sure a few briefs will find their way into the press.

We'll cover it with some depth of course because it is important to our readers. But think about the resources that were assembled to 'broadcast' this story -- and the apparent indifference of the media. At times, it seems, doing everything 'right' to get press attention just doesn't do very much, and I'm sure reporters get cynical when they see all the money and energy devoted to managing the story.

Of course, as reported in an earlier blog entry, the new rules of the game for media publicity are not to worry about the media -- issue news releases frequently, and often, regardless of whether news media will pick up your story, because (through the web and search engine algorithms) the news releases will be read by the people who count -- those who actually truly could be interested in your product, service or cause. But remember, as well, that information clutter and overload are truly overwhelming, and getting real and meaningful attention is an uphill battle.

Can I offer a magical solution to this challenge? No. Too many variables influence newsworthiness. For example, as the Minister of Labour announced the enforcement measures on the underground economy, another Minister announced a multi-million construction project for the local Children's hospital. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know which story is more interesting and important both to the larger community and to the construction readership. Still, I have something of an exclusive for the underground economy topic, and so will run the article.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jonathan Kranz

Some good ideas here -- reflecting the new era best practices for marketing and copy writing.

Finding and keeping good subs

Michael Stone's Markup and Profit blog has a useful entry on finding and keeping good subs.

I especially appreciate his observation about honoring the sub that provides a quote on a successful job, with the work, and not bid shopping (while respecting a sub's legitimate request for a price increase when warranted.)

Always be fair. If a situation comes up that is not in your sub-contractor agreement, err on the side of fairness to the sub. Remember, they have families and a business to take care of just like you do. Trying to chisel a sub out of a dime is going to cost you dollars in the long run. Many general contractor’s never figure that one out, and wonder why they can’t find and keep good subs.

Here is an idea that I used almost from the start of my career in sales in 1969. If I asked a sub to give me a quote on a job, and they did, if I got the job, they got the job. I didn’t shop them around; I didn’t get three bids on each job. If they helped me put an estimate and proposal together, they got the work. I had many of my subs that went back 5, 10, 15 years and more with me. My roofer went back over 30 years. Once a job was quoted, I expected the price to hold for that job. But my subs knew me well enough to know that they could come and tell me about price increases at any time. If they needed to quote a higher price for the next job based on a legitimate price increase, that was okay. I never fussed at them over prices. It is a fact of life that if their price goes up, yours goes up. Now if a sub started running the price of their work up for unnecessary reasons, I made sure I knew my numbers well enough that I could call them on it. Running prices up just to try and get more money out of me got them a one-way pass out of the relationship.

What does this have to do with marketing? Within reason, I believe that the way you treat your subs reflect on how clients treat you. If you are able to build the chemistry of trust and mutual respect within your supply chain, projects will proceed better, and you'll receive more repeat and referral business -- and that is always the best kind of marketing in this industry.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Unnecessary complexity

Bernie Siben blogs about an RFP that is over the top in detailed requirements -- yes, if you look at it fairly, the public organization has designed the form so that things are truly 'fair' and the responses would allow a complete measurement based on 'objective' criteria -- the the cost for most smaller AEC consulting firms in preparing the proposal would far exceed the potential work value -- so the number of interested bidders will be lower than should be; and the client, presumably, will pay a higher price.

This reflects my observations on excessively complex bids, an article of relevance especially within Canada.

Corporate M&Ms?

Mars is marketing corporate M&Ms, which can be imprinted with your custom logo and message. This may be useful for certain trade show/marketing packages, but I hasten to add a big 'beware' in using candies for marketing . . .

These days, some of the most senior decision-makers may be at the stage in life where health concerns are important. I, for example, am pre-diabetic. This is not a life-threatening situation, providing I use caution and watch my eating habits, weight, and exercise levels. (It is always worthwhile to get an annual check-up -- this is one of those conditions that is 'invisible' but if you catch it in time, can save much grief later.) Although candies are less of a 'threat' to me than starches like rice, white bread and most cereals, a candy 'gift' might send the wrong signal. (Here's a gift that will make you sick...., ugh!)

Anyways, I still like the creativity here and it might work for you. Here is the web link.

Work pacing

I'm not exactly sure why, but yesterday I suddenly felt an urge to take it easy -- to slow the pace, to sit on the patio outside the house with the laptop and something to drink, to not force any serious effort, calls, planning, or activities.

In a way this is a strange decision. I clearly have much work to do in a compressed schedule over the next two weeks. Operational work (I am still the interim editor of our Canadian newspapers) and planning work, as we prepare our strategies to grow the business. And we had just come out of a scare where the projected sales volumes for next month were below the red line -- until a flurry of good news calls and responses changed the picture Wednesday late afternoon and early evening.

Maybe I'm resting from the relief that things are turning out okay; and the realization that while it is fine and important to work hard, it is also important to for me to be able to catch my breath on occasion. The weekend is approaching; there isn't much that absolutely needed to be done by me yesterday (or today), so why not slow the pace, rest, and enjoy something of a long weekend? I'll be recharged and ready to go on Monday morning and will make up for the 'time off' with some real 'overtime' next week.

I feel sorry for people whocannot relax; reflect, take time off, and have vacations -- or simply 'quiet days'. Now, I'll get to work on some projects that really need attention and are best done when there isn't too much stress or pressure.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"The Dip" manifesto

This 11-page piece by marketing guru Seth Godin is worth reading.

Enjoying the roller-coaster ride

One common element in sales is the frustrating lack of predictability -- and even more frustrating variability between reward and effort on individual files. In other words, selling can involve thousands of hours of hard work, dedicated effort, and struggle, to end up with nothing. Then, the next minute, a whopping big sale arrives with not the least bit of effort.

Of course people and organizations temperamentally suited for sales know these circumstances exist, and accept their circumstances with maturity and confidence. Then, well-run organizations (and well-disciplined salespeople) do what they can to minimize the roller coaster; at least the downward ride part.

This is where marketing comes into the picture -- marketing effectively integrated with sales. Marketers can use various metrics to evaluate their success in generating leads and interest for the sales team; or they can set the stage so that salespeople will receive a warmer reception when they approach them. Separating the two elements of marketing and sales and building institutional walls between them is not a good idea; but expecting operating personnel in other areas of the business (for example professional engineers and architects not carrying the 'rainmaker' designation) is asking for trouble. Simply put, putting the wrong person in the wrong job is not wise, and in most cases the traits required to be a good salesperson, marketer, or professional service provider are quite distinctive. A few people have common traits (ie, a salesperson who also appreciates marketing disciplines, or a professional person who is very good at sales -- the classic 'rainmaker'); they of course are exceptionally valuable to any organization.)

So yesterday, between four and seven p.m., our sales team found themselves recovering and seeing ascendancy. Sales efforts coupled with marketing were paying off; people were saying, suddenly, yes (one person called apologetically to explain the reason she hadn't returned earlier calls).

We traced some of the successes back -- and found good marketing at the root. And then, further, we saw ways we could integrate sales and marketing for future projects. Adding to the fun, as publisher, I use my technical and journalistic skills to help set the stage here -- combining some journalistic integrity with good strategic marketing (it is also how I am most effective at selling.)

In conclusion:

  • Think of marketing, sales, and operations as integral and interconnected activities;
  • Don't ask someone to be who they are not; if your best engineers don't want to sell -- don't make them do it; but if you have people with combined abilities (and especially if you have professional skills you combine with sales/marketing skills) encourage that combination.
  • Enjoy the ride. It can be bumpy.

Writing time

Brief entry this morning . . . I've started work on the article about blogging for the SMPS Marketer magazine, so the writing 'energy' that would go into the blog is directed into the article writing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Returning calls

Okay, its that time of day. We're in a sales business, after all, and we make outbound calls, and try to set up proposals, and the like, and then, sometimes -- well often, we find ourselves caught in that trap of unreturned calls.

There usually are good reasons for the silent treatment. The person we are trying to reach is busy, and the proposal we've made on the initial call could be creating some awkwardness. The 'other side' cannot say yes, cannot say no, so the best thing to do is to say (and do) nothing!

I suspect this disconnect occurs most often when our proposal in the initial conversation, while technically appropriate and relevant, is not really connecting with the organization's best interests -- at least as we have presented it. The problem is we are left hanging. A good, solid, straightforward and direct 'no' is always better than silence. Ask any sales rep. (Of course the person at the other end may be giving the silent treatment, because for some salespeople who can't take no for an answer, the 'no' is an invitation to further badgering and pressure. Just one or two bad experiences probably create the defensive and appropriate response.)

However, if you know your stuff -- and know your limits -- returning calls promptly and straightforwardly wins you many points; and much respect. I admit I am not always perfect in this regard, but I try to be fair -- only drawing the line at scams and phony offers. (Broker dealers and telemarketers representing themselves as government agencies will get the cold treatment from me, always!)

Try it if you wish. Call me (I won't publish my number here but it is easy to find) and see how long it takes for me to get back to you.

This blog posting has some relevant and useful insights on the topic, I think.

So, to be a successful blogger you need:

A personality
You cannot really write an 'institutional' blog, the character and individual of the writer is vital for its success. That is why in part many bloggers of larger organizations are CEOs -- or the organization values and encourages individuals expression.

A passion (for writing and/or the cause)
You need to like writing -- this is primarily a written media, yet -- and it helps that you care about what you write. (Video blogs will soon be more frequent; in which case you will probably need a passion for speech making, acting, or docudrama writing!)

An interactive audience
Blogs succeed primarily when the blog readers/viewers interact with the blogger. The two-way dialogue gives the blog its validity and effectiveness.

I think most blogs that don't survive fail especially for the first two reasons. The third issue; reader response, validates the blog. Notably, however, response is not just measured in comments -- it can be the personal communication off-line between the blogger and readers, and indicators through web statistics of a large and growing number of repeat visitors.

(Your comments, therefore are welcome. You can be anonymous. I can edit comments -- generally the ones that don't make it to the comment file are obviously blog spam.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An impressive engineering blog

In response to my request for observations about the utility of blogging for the AEC sector at the Construction Writers Association conference, Jane Howell, director of communications for the American Society of Civil Engineers, sent me the following truly insightful note.

ASCE's president, Bill Marcuson, began publishing a blog this past fall. As someone who had never before even visited a blog, I can't say he was initially enthusiastic about the idea. Now, everywhere he travels, he is approached by people who tell him how much they enjoy reading his blog. (The 'word-of-mouth' far surpasses the number of comments posted on the blog, which averages about four per post.)

This blog wasn't intended as a marketing blog, per se. Since our president attends industry events around the world during their one-year term, this blog was viewed as one way to share some of those experiences with a broader segment of our members. We do, however, regularly talk with Bill to discuss topics for the blog and to identify possible connections to other programs and activities. For example, recent blogs have mentioned our OPAL Awards gala and conferences. Other posts, such as one reacting to the shootings at Virginia Tech or recommending books about leadership, purely express Bill's thoughts.

We think this blog has been successful enough that we'll ask our new president, David Mongan, to write one when he takes office in November.

Blogs are about people first and products second, so I would think it might be harder to justify hosting a blog as a primary marketing strategy. Instead, identifying the most-read blogs by your customer base and posting as many comments as possible that relate to the blog post but also point out the benefits of your product might be the most effective strategy.

I will add Bill Marcuson's blog to the permalink list. Jane is right that "blogs are about people first and products second". This human element is of course the thing that makes blogs somewhat risky, on a superficial level, but creates a healthy marketing environment where personal relationships merge with the the business or organization's services or products. In the ASCE's case, clearly the blog is working for the association's benefit.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Talent and expectations

This afternoon, I combined operating work for our business with some forward-looking research for this blog.

I surveyed some Construction Writers Association members to see if they had any familiarity with blogs in the AEC sector. After all, it seems reasonable that writers would be among the first to know of blogs. So far the result reflects earlier observations -- blogs serving this industry as yet are few and far between.

Meanwhile, our newest salesperson set out to do his work. We have an operating manual, but our business isn't overly structured (we of course hire people suited for this type of business). Refreshingly, he has developed new techniques that are not yet in the book -- but may go there. This is the part of business life I enjoy the most -- seeing talented individuals, using their own initiative, improving on the concepts and systems they are given to use. (The negative corollary is when they stick at a rote-like routine, banging their heads up against the wall, again and again, without change.) We exchanged emails, and had a phone conversation, and I followed up with some clients where he needs my assistance.

In between, I received a call from someone in St. Louis (see
interested in working with us to establish a construction newspaper there. I told him that even though I think St. Louis can probably support a solid construction newspaper, and it is a market we would like to explore, we are still reviewing our growth plans and so he will have to wait a while.

Then the door knocked on my home office. 4:45 p.m. Eric smiled. I had told him that I would play with him at 4:30. I asked for a few extra minutes to finish up some files, then got down to some serious Spongebob play.

Putting the pieces together, between projects that generate current revenue, conceptual efforts (like this blog) that link the present and future, and visualizing the future, I believe we made some progress today.