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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The spam blog . . .

On turning on the computer to update the blog this morning, I received this notice from Google:

This blog has been locked by Blogger's spam-prevention robots. You will not be able to publish your posts, but you will be able to save them as drafts.
Save your post as a draft or click here for more about what is going on and how to get your blog unlocked.

This is really good newes, actually. Although I don't know how google's alogrithms could define this blog as a possible spam site, I'm glad they take this kind of abuse seriously.
Here is Google's explanation of the problem, and the process of correcting things:

When you can read this post, you'll know the problem has been resolved.
The weekend off....
Just as I regained the ability to post here, I'm embarking on a brief long weekend trip to New York and New Jersey. Won't have my usual Internet access, so you won't see updates until Tuesday -- but then will resume with fresh material and insights. Thanks fo reading.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Newsletter today
Writing energy that usually goes into this blog went into the bi-weekly newletter today -- along with content for our printed, Canadian products. More later . . .

Monday, August 27, 2007

The new, powerful person

These thoughts of Carl Rogers quoted in Raymond Aaron's "Insight of the day" are worthy of consideration.

In his excellent book, On Becoming a Person, Dr. Carl Rogers spelled out some of the characteristics of the new, powerful person who is emerging in our culture today...and the vital, different set of values he both maintains and lives. "I stressed," he writes, "his hatred of phoniness, his opposition to all rigidly structured institutions, his desire for intimacy, closeness and community, his willingness to live by new and relatively moral and ethical standards, his
searching quality, his openness to his own and others' feelings, his spontaneity, his activism and his determination to translate his ideals into reality. I am talking," he wrote, "about a relatively small number of people.
But I believe that these people constitute the change agents of the future. When some part of a culture is decayed at the core, a small group with new views, new convictions, and a willingness to live in new ways, is a ferment that cannot be stopped."

Aaron's "Insight of the day" is a solid example of a simple, viral, and easy-to-maintain daily email.

My error
Yesterday, I published a negative post before giving the person involved an opportunity to communicate and respond. This is not right.
Here, I failed to follow the 24 hour rule: If you have something less than positive to say, either in a blog or an email, rarely will it hurt to save it for a day of thoughtful reflection.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The patient quest
Marketing in the construction industry, at least for the big stuff, is an agonizingly slow and complex challenge. Clients do not decide to build and then give out orders for $500 million hospitals, or even $2.5 million commercial building renovations, by waking up in the morning, walking into the nearby convenience store, and saying "Give me two."
While there are obviously critical moments -- RFP deadlines, presentation meetings, assigned site visits, and the like -- the marketing process can seem to move like molasses, and you can, at times, wonder if you are making progress. This may be especially the case if your boss is breathing down your back for results, or if you are the boss, you are looking at your monthly overhead, and wondering what your next project will be after current work winds down.
Of course, if you are a larger business, you can systematize the process -- you will measure your success over many initiatives, perhaps from several locations, and you will have tracking and control systems in place to assess your results.
It is more difficult -- but not impossible -- to use similar principals if your enterprise is smaller.

  1. Start with an annual (or bi-annual) planning meeting/retreat. Bring in your key people from ever where, and key does not just include a small core of marketing people and executives. You may wish to engage outside consultants for this service, at least until you have established the routine. We use Caswell Corporate Coaching Company.
  2. This will give you a marketing plan and budget; and help you decide your priorities, allowing you to track and measure your achievements. Don't worry. The plan often doesn't 'work' in practice -- but you will find you are far better off knowing the direction you want to go before setting off wildly; the planning process also creates a built-in discipline (and keeps you from going wildly off track on irrational wild-goose chases
  3. Listen to your 'gut' -- does it feel right, are people sending out signals worthy of response; is there something you need to deal with, now. This is especially important with current client relationships. You can usually catch early signs of dissatisfaction if you listen. You want to keep your current clients; if they are showing signs of not informing you of future plans and projects, you risk losing your most important advantage -- your inside knowledge and good relationships with the people you are doing business with, now.
  4. See if you can build into your plan some 'smaller stuff' that can be systematized and marketed with less of an all-or-nothing approach. Of course, the smaller stuff could be a headache -- a lot of little pesky jobs with finicky clients could quickly get you in trouble (remember the 80/20 rule -- most your good business -- and big problems -- are going to come from the 20 per cent at the top, and bottom.)
  5. Finally, and most importantly, spend at least 20 per cent of your time learning and gaining insights into your market and best marketing practices. Your edge will come from your combination of personal relationships (primarily with current clients) and your ability to seize and adapt trends and respond to the changing environment, providing you manage the process -- listening to your instincts, while respecting the need for thoughtful planning approaches.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Smart, simple marketing

Nick and Sarina Caravatta operate a temporary labor service from an almost invisible location on one of Ottawa's poorest streets. Their business, providing temporary workers largely for the local construction industry, certainly lacks glamour or ostentatious wealth -- don't expect to see the likes of Conrad Black in their establishment -- but they understand the basics of sales and marketing; know your business, differentiate, and don't waste money.

They first came into the picture back in the spring, when a former employee sold them on a modest advertising feature in the internal newsletter of the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association, which we publish under contract. Their Labourcorp Temporary Labour Services business is an OCHBA member -- and I could see from their dispatch board that several prominent member firms use their services.

Our proposition: If you purchase a modest ad in this feature, we would write a modest story about your business in the theme issue. They accepted.

Well, we ran the ad, but didn't write or publish the story. I realized the error shortly afterwards, and offered a make-up ad and story. My bad -- we screwed up again; in fact I completely forgot my commitment. Nick didn't. He called to check in and remind me.

It is one thing to screw up twice; it is another to take responsibility. Since the original mistake occurred several months ago and it is not practical now to write the story in the Impact! I told him we would simply treat this as a regular news feature in Ottawa Construction News; forget the advertising element. (When you own the publishing business, you can occasionally bend the rules, though I am generally extremely careful about meddling with editorial integrity.)

Well, regardless of the source of the story, there is something really genuine here because the Caravatas' business operates at the extremes of the economy, and therefore is of real interest to anyone in journalism.

How do you create a viable business at the bottom end of the labour market -- the environment where drugs, poverty, and downright destitution are the norm rather than the exception? I wondered about these things as I got out of my car on the seedy street where their business is housed, carefully checking to ensure I had locked my car doors and nothing valuable could be seen through the windows.

Walking into the less-than-elegant (but clean) waiting area, where day labourers are reminded not to wear muscle shirts or torn clothes, I met the Caravatas. They explained how they make things work.

  • Their workers are paid weekly not daily as is common in the sector. This means the employees have some degree of reliability and stability -- it also means that they aren't rushing to get off work right on deadline each day to get their pay (the office stays open late on Friday, payday, to ensure the money flows when it is due, and if you work on Thursday, your pay will be ready on Friday, however.)
  • Workers are treated with respect. There is a counter, but no glass wall; no peepholes, no "us or them" attitude -- Labourcorp realizes its employees may be among the working poor, but they are working, and that is what matters. (There are incentives and recognition for reliability and stability, as well.)
  • Employers are also treated with respect. They get the workers they need -- who are shuttled by Labourcorp to the job sites, often at difficult-to-reach locations.
As for marketing, the Caravatas don't spend money on fancy digs; or a highbrow image. They have a simple website (I would can the music, but otherwise it does what it should do), and they don't waste money on careless or indiscriminate advertising -- but know the value of advertorials, especially when the marketing is geared to their intended audience.

Most importantly, they appreciate the importance of differentiation and distinctiveness; in this case, by rethinking some of the conventions and stereotypes of their sector, they attract better and more reliable workers -- and thus can charge slightly higher fees (and pay their employees slightly more than the norm). These principals, I believe, are valid for any type of marketing, even if your business doesn't operate at the edge of poverty.

Getting seven out of eight right is pretty good

I like seven of the eight suggestions in a recent promotional email from construction marketing guru Henry Goudreau, so will share them here.

Here are eight things you can do to find business in a tough market:
1. Look for new prospects to call. Call on prospects you never thought of calling
before. Get on the phone ... make a deal ... make some money! Stretch your imagination. Go out and generate some positive activity.
2. Spend at least ONE HOUR a day on the phone telephone calling these people. If business is slow, you've got plenty of time on your hands to accomplish this. Start calling people ASAP. There's a huge difference between being busy and being productive. Your assignment is to look for customers. Don't think about it, JUST DO IT!
3. Create a dynamic USP and Elevator Speech. (Editor's note: See this entry on the "Elevator Pitch" from May, 2007.) If your calls are ending in less than 10 seconds, you're doing something wrong. You might not be peaking their interests. Go to Volume Two and review how to develop a great USP and Elevator Speech and learn to ask the right questions.
4. Expect voice mail. That's right, everyone is using it, probably you too. Note the time of this call and try another time either at the beginning or end of the day. Meanwhile, move on to your next call.
5. Expect rejection. No one is waiting for you to call so they can buy your services. Expect rejection. Your job is to find the decision maker who makes the decisions, qualify them and develop them.
6. Ask great questions. Don't talk about yourself learn to ask the questions that will reveal to you what it is they really want. Try to discover their problems and what they need.
7. Identify decision makers. Only work with decision makers, find a way to get around the gatekeepers.
8. Always ask for commitments. A commitment is a commitment, big or small. Ask for the deal or ask for another appointment face-to-face so you can get more information that will lead you to "wet ink." Always ask for a commitment.

The only point I disagree with is his observation: "Only work with decision makers, find a way to get around the gatekeepers." In the sense of not trying to actually 'pitch' to gatekeepers, I agree, but the fact is, gatekeepers are there for a reason -- and they are actually decision-makers of the highest order since they control access. Ignoring that, or regarding the person (or voice mail) that screens calls or 'denies access' is inviting perpetual frustration.

Respecting their role, and having a clear understanding of your purpose and the legitimate basis of communicating with the 'boss' is vital -- if you don't have it; if you are just banging out the calls with a rote process and not much thought -- you will (especially in a smaller market) quickly burn up your leads and end up with little to show for your efforts.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The team at Sylvain Contracting in Salem, NH

Sharing the numbers
In an intriguing thread on some business owners are sharing rather central business numbers -- specifically:

How much is your average sale amount?

How many jobs do you do per year?

What is your average gross profit percentage?

Marc Sylvain at Sylvain Contracting in Salem, NH provided the answer to his own questions:




He then explained why he doesn't mind sharing with the world (and competitors) what might seem to be vital, confidential business data.

"I like to network a lot. The folks I really like to network with are those that are doing better than me. Lets face it. I f you want to be a millionaire you don't hang out with bums. You hang out with MULTI millionaires. I do a lot of financial mastermind groups and we are always sharing our info. How else would someone know how to help me if they didn't know my situation? How could I possibly help anyone unless I knew theirs? Sorry.........Didn't think this was a secret that I needed to keep to myself."

To me, this is sound thinking, and good marketing. Others are also sharing their data on the thread. I think it is worth reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Working through local market rules
Yesterday morning, I flew to Toronto, picked up a rental car, and spent a couple of days visiting developers, association executives, and building product manufacturers to gather materials for our upcoming editions.
These trips are always useful for insights. One of the most interesting observations occurred at the head office of a successful building products manufacturer and distributor. (As my interviews were conducted for an advertising feature, and the company has not cleared these observations for publication, I will not identify the business or specific product.) The company has innovated and patented a product with a special feature that truly reduces costs.
A good idea, indeed. But the company, which has a large share of the market in the Greater Toronto Area, hasn't sold much if any of its innovative product in Ottawa (just five hours away by car), even though it owns a successful related distributor and manufacturing facility in the second Ontario city.
Why can this product, then, sell so well in Toronto, but not Ottawa, I asked. It turns that in the Ottawa market, larger sizes of this product are in common use. These are uneconomical to ship from Toronto -- and in the price-sensitive market, where just a few cents makes all the difference, the transport costs are great enough that the manufactured product in Toronto won't sell well in Ottawa. Why not manufacture a similar product in Ottawa? (The company has a manufacturing facility in Ottawa.) Turns out the production runs wouldn't be economical in the smaller market.
Why does Ottawa use the larger product sizes than Toronto? In the normal market conditions, the larger product sizes can be less expensive, special patented feature or not, and in Ottawa, houses are generally built to order, with enough room nearby to store the larger pieces, while in Toronto, the subdivisions are built as a single block, and space on the work sites is small -- thus precluding the use of the larger sizes.
There are other issues, including the work habits and procedures of local tradespeople.
Why was I asking all these questions? I wanted to know why something both innovative and effective and truly well-liked by users (lots of repeat business) could sell so well in one market, and not in another, close relatively geographically and economically. And the answers I received reminded me that the construction industry, despite globalization, standard practices, and common values and traditions, is still in many ways very much a local and regional business.
So, if you wish to expand outside your 'home' market, be careful, research carefully, and don't bet your business on the expansion (but don't necessarily give up -- you may just blow the local competition away with better practices, more efficient processes and lower costs.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Image from (Brailsford & Dunlavey)

The high cost of bidding and RFPs

How much does it cost to prepare bids and RFP responses? Are there problems with owners and consultants either downloading bidding costs on your business; or are the requirements to prepare the bids increasing your costs substantially?

These are rather important questions because in the construction industry and allied professions, the ultimate point of marketing is to win the opportunity to bid on projects you have a good likeliness to win, and profitably conclude. So we've set out to find some answers to the bidding cost questions with a special survey, which you may have received if you are a subscriber to the Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter.

You can complete the survey by going to this link. I welcome your comments.

Resolving the Craigslist challenge and dilemma
Craigslist is revolutionizing the methods people use 'classified ads' to purchase, sell and rent things. It is destroying the bedrock of revenue and relevancy for daily newspapers and local "buy and sell" publications, and is defying the principals of economic 'magnetization' (in simple words, it is giving away its services at a price far below the market is willing to pay).

In fact Craigslist is entirely free, except in a few major cities like New York and San Francisco, where there is a modest fee for job postings and certain property rentals. And these fees were driven not by Craigslist, but by legitimate advertisers and users, who could not see the real offers through the spammy-scammy junk posted on the sites there.

But even in markets (the great majority) where Craigslist is free, it has a unique set of rules. You cannot post more than one offer at a time, and your listings under the given category are upstaged by newer listings as they are posted. These rules, and some others, of course are designed to prevent spam from overtaking the sites -- and because of this, the sites have attracted a loyal following and work for advertisers better than many expensive fee-supported services.

This generally means that you will, if you are going to get a response at all, receive a flurry of inquiries when your listing first appears; then things will stop. Of course this flurry is usually enough to sell anything where there is some high demand or interest. Craigslist also allows you to post photos of the things you are selling.

Does it work? I've primarily tried the service for Help Wanted listings (we are looking for sales representatives, with a decent starting salary). When I post in Ottawa, I receive usually two or three legitimate applications right away, plus a few solicitations for third-party leads or telemarketing services (even though I click the box on the form saying that third party solicitations are not welcome.) I need of course to compete for attention with various commission-only opportunities. At least in my market, Craigslist doesn't really work for me -- the free government employment listing service is much more effective (people can easily screen out the commission-only opportunities, and do), but I probably would try it in cities where Craigslist charges the modest listing fee.

My good friend, who sold his community newspaper business a couple of years ago, is breathing a sigh of relief that he has his capital gains in hand -- after trying Craigslist to rent an apartment he owns. Within a day, and without a cent of money, he had found just the right tenant; with no problem (after renting) with all the nuisance calls from people wanting to rent the already-rented property.

Some contractors on using Craigslist say it is a great resource for them; others say they get very poor results, or only 'tire kickers' or extreme bargain hunters.

Others are frustrated by the service's limitations designed to overcome spam challenges. For example, even though you might have an opportunity in multiple cities or variations in your offer, you can only post one at a time-- your additional listings will be rejected either right away or after users discover the multiple listings and report them.

Not surprisingly some entrepreneurs seeking the loopholes to give an advantage, have come up with work-arounds, including software to allow you to design your multiple postings to escape Craigslist filters. I am not about to recommend these products or to rush to encourage another possible solution -- enlisting offshore or low cost services to manually post the entries systematically for you. But these resources may be tempting in markets where traditional free Craigslist rules apply.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Social Networking: Revisiting facebook and linkedin

Today, after renewing a friendship with one of my university student newspaper colleagues (after about 30 years), I appreciated even more clearly the power of the new social networking sites such as and Yet I also realize while these are very important resources, you should not misconnect your perceptions of these resources with conventional marketing methodologies.

In essence, the web networking sites work effectively because of their built in screening systems; you really need a valid relationship with someone (or some group) to properly connect. You won't get far trying to spam your marketing message by broadcasting it across the network (though I see efforts, including the usual Multi-Level Marketing 'opportunity' gunk.)

The more I review these sites the more I realize they are simply able to help you within the framework of your traditional networking and connections; in other words, your friends and friends of friends may help you find leads and opportunities, but unless you have business there, you won't be overly warmly welcomed by just barging in. And I don't think these groups are substitutes for the appropriate trade and professional organizations, either peer or client based, especially ones with local chapters in your area like the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).

Nevertheless, I am learning more as I discover these sites potential and I'll share further observations later (and certainly welcome your comments and suggestions on how to make use of these sites.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Too many choices cost sales

A story by Nadia Sawva and Clark Steffyin Employee Benefits News reports on a study from UCLA about jam at a grocery store. You may wonder what this has to do with construction marketing.

A lot -- especially if you are in a situation where you can offer a diversity of solutions to a problem or to satisfy the needs of your prospective client. Based on the UCLA study, you will want to narrow down the choices you offer.

The store the researchers used offers a diversity of jams.

The researchers set up a sampling table, and invited one group to choose from 24 varieties.

Then they set up another table, and offered onlysix varieties.

With the extensive selection, 60 per cent of of the people passing by the booth stopped to sample the jam; with the six-only selection, the number of samplers dropped to 40 per cent.

But here is the significant item in the research. At the table where people could sample only six varieties, 30 per cent of the visitors purchased something. With 24 varieties, only three per cent purchased anything. In other words, offering additional choice increased 'traffic' -- but cost real business by an order of magnitude.

The explanation for this dichotomy has something to do with the way we make decisions. We say we want choice, we want options, but when it comes down to it, we have trouble making a selection when too many choices are offered so we respond by not making a decision at all.

This is apparent with financial services, and the article described how investment plans administrators should narrow their choices so that people don't just avoid the decision.

I suppose in practical terms, when we "have" to make a decision -- like purchasing a car or house -- we do our own narrowing down to make a decision. But when we don't, or when the choices are too complex and detailed, we invite the prospective client to 'think it over' until someone comes up and say -- this is right for you -- and you know it is right, and purchase.

In practical terms, you will want to frame your options and choices carefully; perhaps giving the sense of freedom but not overwhelming the people you are doing with with too much obvious choice.

Looking for work
Earlier this week, the co-ordinator of a local church asked if he could place an ad in our publication inviting contractors to submit expressions of interest in renovating the building. We of course were happy to accept this ad -- on two levels. We are receiving revenue from our advertiser and this ad, of course, is one that our readers very much would like to read.
The church co-ordinator asked if we could distribute the notice online. Again, I saw no problem with this. It is one thing to send a couple of thousand emails out trying to sell something -- watch out for the spam complaints -- but quite something different to tell your readers you have a ready market.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Coffee coupons, an early start and late career

Craig Cosgrove (second from right in this photo) represents Alpine Construction Supplies, an Ottawa-based business that hardly rivals Craig's previous long time employers; multinationals one of whom (Dow Chemical) employed more than 35,000 people. After a long career as a technical representative, he lost his job in a downsizing operation. He found employment -- too briefly -- at a competing multinational.

So, out of work much later in one's career than one would like, he needed to do something else -- and ended up at Alpine, which employs just a few people and has some exclusive distribution rights for specialized products in eastern Ontario.

Last night, he greeted me at an Ottawa Construction Association barbecue. I knew Craig many years ago from voluntary work we did with the local chapter of Construction Specifications Canada (affiliated with the U.S.-based Construction Specifications Institute). He still does the type of selling required to move building products from manufacturer to end-user, but as we viewed vintage cars and motorcycles owned by OCA members, he shared with me his model for selling effectiveness. As an old hand in the business, he taught me many new tricks. You may learn something here too.

1. Coffee coupons work wonders. Canadians (especially in Ottawa!) are really into Tim Hortons coffee. It is good, inexpensive, and available through dozens of locations. Craig buys books of coupons worth a couple of dollars each at Tim Hortons, and staples the coupons to his business cards. When he is meeting current clients, or job site prospects he wishes to do business with, he hands them the card/coupon combination. He says the generosity almost always brings a smile to the recipient. ("I don't need to bring coffee to the prospect but they really like the coupons," he said.) For good reason. The gift is small enough that no one is going to f eel uncomfortable (or in violation of ethical standards) in accepting it. To use it, the recipient has to at least look at the business card. And its convenience and easy transferability makes it a great sharing opportunity.

2. Service is vital, and going out of the way brings dividends. After much persistence, Craig finally received his first order from a superintendent, for an obscure product that no one had in stock locally (including Alpine). Craig scoured the Internet, discovered the manufacturer, obtained a referral to the appropriate Canadian distributor, and put in a rush order to have the product delivered within two days. The small order of course proved to be a test for something much larger.

3. Many purchases are still made early in the morning, at the job site. Craig says mcuh of the construction supply business is managed carefully by the larger contractors who have centralized purchasing operations and would never allow job site superintendents to order something, on the spot, on the morning of a job. But that leaves the remaining element of the business -- where things are still operating much seat of the pants. You get there first, you get there early, and you'll get the business. (But beware, your competitor may only be a few steps behind --or ahead -- of you.)

4. This end stage purchase point is still where the actual order occurs. Of course, it is important for product manufacturers and distributors to work with architects and specifiers -- you aren't going to even have a chance of getting the order unless your product/technology is specified -- but in the end, you need to sell the end-user --the contractor or sub-trade actually installing your stuff.

I told Craig I would like to take a picture of him to post in this blog (and later in Ottawa Construction News). Craig didn't miss the opportunity. He found a group of employees of mechanical contractor Black and McDonald and arranged to be in the same photo as them. Current/future clients? Of course.

As we wandered around the catering 'ranch' barbecue venue, Craig greeted others, including one of his direct competitors. They exchanged notes about someone they both knew who they had learned had recently been fired. He had worked at a large company for many years, lost his job, and then was hired by a competitor, only to lose his second job. I remarked that the only 'security' I have as a self employed person is the ability, to some extent, to control my own environment. But that isn't always easy.

There is something to be said for hard work, a willingness to carry on, and an appreciation that selling is a mixture of moving very fast and being very patient. Yesterday, more clearly than ever, I saw how really good technical representatives combine these qualities to achieve success for their employers. We all have lessons to learn.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Natural video marketing

I continue to be impressed with how Paul Spry of Spry Construction in Louisiana uses video and YouTube for his marketing. Note this latest posting, in response to another YouTube post inviting comments about what you are fussy about.
Note how he reinforces his brand (environmentally sensitive and healthy construction) and builds his own personal image/story.
This form of marketing is truly inexpensive -- you simply need a webcam in your truck and speak from your heart. I'm not sure if a little advertising message (ie somewhere on video a web address or company ID information) would help or hurt -- helping in drawing response; hurting in taking away the authenticity here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter

I've just distributed the latest issue of our Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter. It includes new material on communicating with your boss, along with insights into the process of using electronic surveys to gather market intelligence and client feedback.

You can use this blog to comment on the newsletter -- anonymously, if you wish. (I of course review any comment posting, even though I may not know who you are) before publishing it.

To subscribe, just use the subscription request button at the top of the page.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Contractor Update permalink
On reviewing the Contractor Update blog associated with leads service, I'm satisfied it rates a place with a permalink on the Construction Marketing blogs list. While I can't yet recommend or endorse the leads service, I've found useful insights and marketing ideas on their blog -- and that is the criteria for listing on this site.

Thoughts about leads services

I'm intrigued by this agreement between (also owning the URL and, the online media portal of the CanWest group, which owns newspapers and broadcast outlets in most major Canadian cities. combines a localized online directory with a lead development/referral service and has packaged a variety of other programs, including a pixel-based "trade show" offer for industry suppliers. (You pay $1.00 per pixel, minimum 100 pixels) to advertise on the site. I might just spend $100 to list here and see what happens -- though it looks like, if the company paid cash for the deal, a supply business based in Toronto paid several thousands of dollars for its space.

Obviously, the challenge with all of this is measuring results and whether the package offered by is worthy, compared to other offers on the Internet. Generally, posters to the forums on are very skeptical of these services -- in fact they are downright hostile about their business practices; but on the other hand, the valid complaints from contractors (saying they are required to pay for 'bad leads') are offset to some extent if you look at things from the lead service operator's perspective -- not establishing strict rules regarding the business relationship invites much gamesmanship as contractors weasel out of paying for any leads that are not 'perfect' (that is, lead to a highly profitable sale with virtually no work or effort.)

The construction business has always been unusual in that much marketing is developed through leads services rather than the individual effort of the contractor. I don't know of too many industries that support so many services generating and sending leads to businesses -- these have been around for decades, of course, for example, you can trace the beginnings of McGraw-Hill's success in the construction market with the long-established F.W. Dodge service.

The interesting thing here is that leads services should, in theory, make this business very simple. You sign up for the various services, tailor your requirements and criteria as much a s possible, set up a tracking and follow-through program, and then go about converting the leads to profitable business. If the leads service(s) don't work, you either change, or stop using them. Your marketing budget then becomes largely a leads services budget.

There are two big weaknesses with this argument.

First, the best and most profitable jobs never find their way to the leads services (or worse, as I will explain soon). the prospective client through previous business relationships or direct referral trusts in your ability to get the job done, and is happy f or you to do it. But informed consumers and businesses still like to have additional feedback, so they go to the leads service, post the project, and review -- without seriously considering -- the competitive quotes. The information these quotes allows the client to negotiate with you, perhaps get a price reduction or some additional service. The one thing the client is NOT going to do is give business to anyone from the leads service who took t he time and effort (and paid for the lead) to steal your business.

The second is you are abrogating control of a very important element of your business to outside organizations, who set the rules, and force you to pay for an intermediary when, with some resourcefulness, common sense and management, you can get the results you are seeking yourself.

Nevertheless, I won't argue against the intelligent use of leads services. The reason is they allow you to systematize your processes, measure and track your results, and (within the competitive framework of the different services) establish your own benchmarks and cost-per-leads.

I would like to conduct an effective survey to measure the value/effectiveness and utility of the different services, and build a reader feedback/response and measuring tool to allow contractors to compare the services' effectiveness. This however, is a project that won't happen quickly. In the meantime, if you have comments or observations about leads services, please email me or use the comment function on this blog (anonymous comments are accepted subject to moderation).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How much does a lead cost?

Here are the numbers from ( for "commercial construction".
$25.00 per lead, $2.50 per click, for any of:
Apartment building construction, church construction, commercial architectural services, office building construction, restaurant construction, retail space construction, or warehouse construction.
On the residential side, fees range from $4.00 for "handyman services" to $40.00 for "custom home builders.
Are these leads/leads services worthwhile?

The square deal?

What do you make of these two lines, the bottom paragraphs in an excerpt from Get Smarter -- Life and Business Lessons by Seymour Schulich, quoted in the National Post?

Contractors (especially when conditions are booming) love to get a big deposit (say, 50 per cent). And when t hey do, they have you hostage. This ties you up to them. They then show up intermittently as they juggle several jobs.

"Getting a square deal with contractors is an art form best left to
professionals such a s builders or architects

Schulich is a billionaire. He says the things that destroy executives are ego, greed, alcohol and drugs, and "assistants with big breasts". But what is he saying about contractors -- inferentially, the trades?

Do his opinions reflect reality, or do they more accurately represent the perception of the sub trades by outsiders not familiar with the real challenges in operating a trade contracting business and juggling several jobs at the same time, all of which must be completed 'yesterday'. Yet he also is asking a marketing question. Say, you have somehow found a way to overcome these issues -- that is, you can put your guys on the job, exactly when and where needed, and handle call-backs quickly and with almost no delay, would that be a powerful marketing advantage? (Of course, it i s nice in theory, but try to find the workers to do the job when you need them!)

P.S. We've introduced a new employment job board resource, at present in Ottawa and North Carolina. It is free for anyone who has done business with us as an advertiser in the past.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

The middle road, no

Here is a recent contribution I posted on a thread. The overall thread is worth reading, as well.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The non-marketing email in the marketing toolbox
Today, I sent this email to about 2,000 names in our Ontario, Canada, database.

Dear Mark,
You may find our special report on the challenges of
extended warranties and excessive holdbacks to be both disturbing and challenging for your business.
In reading it, please also see
this entry in the Construction Marketing Ideas blog. The special report generated an impressive reaction at the Ontario Realty Corporation.

We'll be following up on this story in the next issue of
Ottawa Construction News, The GTA Construction Report and Ontario Construction Report. I welcome your feedback and observations on this and other issues of concern to Ontario's
construction industry.


Mark Buckshon, Construction News and Report Group of Companies

Note there is absolutely no 'selling' of anything in this message. No ploys, no invitations to advertise or subscribe, nothing but the free distribution of an investigative story relevant to our readership.

This letter, however, will result I estimate in between $10,000 and $20,000 in revenue in the next few months. Why?

The letter and related article opened the doors for communications with some key potential clients; one of whom, after an email exchange today, said 'yes'. And I haven't scratched the surface of the marketing potential here.

This stuff works much as Google revolutionized the advertising business in part by putting absolutely NO ads on its home search page, and when it allowed relevant ads on its search engine, it made sure they were discreet, clearly separated from organic search, and not overwhelming to readers. (Google of course did other things right, including developing a truly effective search algorithm, and innovating the auction concept for paid ad placement).

In my case, I simply used some solid, relevant journalism and shared it with our readers.

Now I still had to ask for the order, when it was the right time, and of course the story reflects my journalistic passions and interests.

But it seems a much better way to go than the salesperson calling a list of "names" hoping someone, anyone, will agree to spend a few hundred dollars. Or even worse, a salesperson knocking on doors, one after another, intruding in people's space, hoping to get that big commission cheque.

Market participation

Public Relations consultant Ronn Torossian has his share of detractors (see, but in a recent blog entry he makes an excellent point that we can only really do our work well if we are connected and able to see our markets first-hand.

Obviously Torossian's markets are unlike ours, but his point about going out and 'seeing the town' is highly relevant, if put into the context of our own businesses and circumstances.

CEOs and executives, especially, need to avoid spending all our times in "our own businesses" and I certainly would agree that most specialists and managers need regular outward input into the marketplace. (Similarly, of course, if you use field sales reps and distributors, they should periodically visit home office to cross fertilize ideas).

So, while I don't think we need to drag your CEO to a hip-hop bar in NYC at 2 a.m., you need to realize that the market is out there, not in your office, and we all need to remove the filters and see things first hand.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Bare Knuckle Leads" -- Give me a break!

This brief article by Phil Rea in Remodelling Online caused me to react with solid 'ugh'. Pounding on doors, with "Bare Knuckles" is the "quickest, least expensive" way a salesperson can find new business? Sure, and I'll go right over to that used car dealership and introduce myself (and trust) the guy in the plaid jacket with the artificial grin.

I'm sure a fair bit of selling is done this way, but I really don't think cold-calling door knocking really works for anything reputable, and in any case, I would really be scared to be around someone who has no real fear in doing this sort of thing.

Most disturbing, to me, is the motivation here -- not the real client service, not meaningful satisfaction or value, just a hefty commission cheque and $1,000 grill.

Nope, this isn't my way and while I have respect for salespeople who are not afraid to go out and ask for the business, somehow I hope that the satisfaction of delivering real value transcends the short-term commission incentives these guys were after. Rea's approach is a 'no sale' for me.

Image from "Managing Your Boss" in Family Practice Management

Assumptions and unpredictability (and how to communicate with your CEO)

Yesterday nothing worked according to plan. My objectives for the day fell apart because of surprising developments outside of my control. And the challenges, both in time management and emotionally, were compounded by assumptions and 'conclusion's that shifted in a phone conversation near the business day end.

These frustrating and incongruent elements of course are totally normal for a self-employed person. On one level, we have much more control over our work routine and environment -- we can determine our own priorities, set our schedule, and make changes without requesting any one's permission or authority. But we are subject to all the variables and surprises among our employees, clients and suppliers. (To survive in this environment, it helps of course to have a healthy home life -- fortunately, Vivian understands the inherent unpredictability in my business life, and I respect her and Eric's need for time and attention that transcends the business.)

These observations set the stage for this Construction Marketing Ideas survey question. "How do you involve your President in marketing decisions," the engineering company employee asked me.

This is an important question. After all, not everyone is the 'boss', and it is easy for someone who is self-employed to take his or her worldview as normal. Equally, it is sometimes hard for the person working in the 'marketing department' to see things from the owner/ceo's perspective. Yet everyone knows that, if you want to move something quickly, if you need a decision that demands more than the routine, you are going to need the boss's consent. So most marketing and sales is directed to the decision-makers of current and potential clients; and these, of course, are the presidents of your target companies.

So, to answer the question, look at me at 3 p.m. this afternoon. My day's business plans turned on their head, I still found time for my exercise routine but the scheduling mix-ups meant I had a half hour with little to do but to find a seat near the gym. I carried my cellphone (which can receive but not send email), a notepad, and some papers to review. I checked my phone messages. Two were from salespeople, one a "lead generator" who admitted he got my name from a general business list; the second from a printer hunting for business. There was also a call saved from several days ago from a job seeker who 'remembered' me from years ago.

I returned the calls, but my mind was on something else -- a challenge to one of our important contracts; a sense that we had made mistakes and offended someone. (I need to be cryptic in details here; this is a current business issue and this blog, after all, is not a private document.)

In other words, I had lots of things on my mind, some valid, some absurd.

And now, what if I were an employee of the company, not the president, and needed to reach me to involve me in the project?

First, with everything going on, most CEOs aren't that busy, especially if they are somewhat effective at their work. They delegate effectively. And (like I did at 3 p.m. today), we sometimes have blocks of time where loose ends can be sorted out. So we can be reached.

Secondly, we often have things on our minds away from the matter of importance to you. Of course, if you have a solution to the problem you know is troubling your president, you want to let him know. But you can't read his mind. He might be really busy or distracted. And so when you actually reach him, boom, he can't really give you the attention you need.

But you can email on simple matters, and arrange a meeting on more complex issues. (And emails are a great way to initiate a meeting, which may be handled by phone.)

I think it also is helpful to put your thoughts down in writing. Not a lengthy document; something succinct and easy-to-grasp. Again, you are respecting your boss's time and his distractions -- he can return to your communication and reread it, if his mind wanders off onto his current crisis.

I'm not overly fond of your phoning or intruding into the space of your CEO without some special reason or permission. Inbound sales calls -- especially by pesky and ill-trained telemarketers calling long lists of names -- are irritating and usually a waste of time for us. Voice messages, for example, allow us to hear your voice, but assuming we don't have a gatekeeper screening the messages, it is a real hassle to try to transcribe phone numbers, etc., especially since we may be picking up our messages on the run.

I'm not saying 'never' pick up the phone or knock on the CEO's door unannounced. There are always special circumstances and pressing issues and obviously if you have a direct reporting relationship, rather than through a intermediate manager or supervisor, you can be more informal. (And it is rarely wise to put things in writing by email or otherwise when they deal with sensitive legal or or human resources issues, unless you are truly confident that what you are saying won't haunt you years from now.)

The point here is that CEOs have distractions, tensions, frustrations, and often our work plans are messed up by external events. But we are accessible, and generally welcome ideas, feedback, and your involvement. Don't be afraid to ask for a meeting when you have something important; and emails and brief written notes and memos are a great way to get attention, especially when the CEO is managing blocks of work time when calls can be returned and messes fixed. (And yes, sometimes we catch up on stuff and write blog entries at 4:28 a.m.)
Here is a useful article on composing effective emails to your boss.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Image from the BYU Humanities Idioms site

Some food for thought

Michael Stone, in his recently published book, Profitable Sales: A Contractor's Guide, puts a new perspective on the "taking the prospective client for lunch" concept. He says if you are in the prospective client's home, and want the business, you should get yourself in the position where YOU are invited for lunch -- or, more accurately, invited to eat something with the clients (could be cookies and milk, or a full dinner, whatever).

The suggestion is that when you are invited to eat, you are accepted as 'a member of the family' -- you are on the inside track to getting the business. Declining the offer of food is not a good idea, he says -- that response suggests you are trying to create a distance from the clients. He says he knows of one salesperson, knowing this situation, did everything he could to get things so the clients would offer him food -- and almost inevitably closed the deal when he accepted the meal offering.

Obviously, this approach works for residential, rather than business-to-business relationships. The closest business parallel would be if you are so trusted as to be invited to your prospective client's private company picnic or event. I can also see interesting parallels at association events and functions; it never hurts to be on a board or committee where some food is served. You are sharing in something beyond the meal.

Remembering the basics

Marketing consultant Henry Goudreau reminds us of the basics in this promotional email to his list:
Step one: Define your best customers and build a list of them.
Step two:
Define the biggest need of theirs that you can fulfill or solution to their
problem you can offer them. Build you marketing message around these two elements.
Step three: Keep in touch with them on a regular basis. It is a proven fact that it takes up to seven or more exposures to your message before the majority of clients will respond. So, commit to contacting them on regular time intervals and always keep in touch.
Remember, the best customers are the ones who have already purchased from you before and are happy with your services. By keeping in touch with them, you'll automatically increase sales. By building off the knowledge of who your best customers are, you're still increasing sales!'
Simple stuff, and valid. I continue to believe the e-newsletter, properly done, can be one of the best ways for you to keep in touch with your previous, current and potential future clients. However, I'm also humbled by the early results to my latest survey -- I know from the results so far that there is still much work to do.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Constant Contact introduces survey function

I'm testing the new survey function on Constant Contact with a survey about our Construction Marketing Ideas Newsletter (the one you can register for free at the top of this blog). First impressions are this survey function works well and integrates naturally with the mailing list management software. Surveys can be invaluable tools for market research, client feedback and more -- and by Tuesday, I'll have some pretty good ideas from the survey for improvements and changes for the newsletter.

You can try the service for free. They give me a small referral commission if you sign up. You can go to the ad at the bottom of the blog page for more information.

Bad spam marketing
I received this email in the inbox addressed to the "editor" of one of our publications. Note, any identifying contact information has been removed -- I don't wish to give these guys any more 'free publicity'

Aug 2007
New web site launch up in smoke?
When America went to check out the new real estate web site www.spamspam
many were very upset. It turns out another company is selling drug paraphernalia at a similar site www.spamspam. Those who left the word out of the web address found pipes and papers, not property for sale.
Parents called in upset; others sent email complaining that they were looking to buy or sell a house not drug pipes and rolling papers.
Now the executives at the real estate are scrambling to figure out what to do. Change the name of the real estate company? Buy out the other company?
We want to apologize to those offended and assure everyone we are working on solving the problem. If you want to talk with the
mediamedia@spamspam staff email us at media@spamspam or call us at 555 555-5555.

My suspicions were aroused by the way this thing was worded; and a true red flag went up when I checked the whois registration of the two relevant domains. One, for the drug stuff, uses an anonymous domain service, so cannot be traced, but the registration date and term of the domain almost exactly matches the real estate operation! Now coincidences are possible, but this is far too obvious a coincidence for me.

Clearly, any publicity promoting this druggy real estate service -- even negative -- might do them some good -- so I am certainly not going to identify them. But I will track through Google News and other resources to see if their bit of media spam actually works.
I'm hopeful (and optimistic) that it won't.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Leads services, advertising, and hard work

This thread discusses one of the perennial issues for many contractors -- how to find qualified clients, and whether leads services really work. The services described in this thread are mostly relevant to residential contractors; but contractors serving the ICI sector also are invited to use services such as provided by McGraw-Hill, Reid and others. It seems, judging by the observations of people who have used these services, that sometimes they work, but often clients are disappointed.

I sense leads services are like advertising. Some advertising works (to find direct clients), most doesn't. (I continue to believe advertising has value in branding and more practically in maintaining/retaining current client relationships, but that is another issue). I think much advertising, like leads services, is sold with the hope that you will find an easy solution to your marketing problems. Just pay a few dollars, and customers will land in your lap.

In the real business world, this indeed happens -- if you know what you are doing, and have clear control over your business and its metrics. In other words, if you can properly analyze, manage, and control things, you should be able to find out soon enough whether leads services or advertising pay off. Trouble is, most contractors and sub-trades just fly by the seat of their pants; without a cohesive plan, strategy, or control mechanism to see if the advertising or leads services really work. So they 'try it', and usually end up disappointed.

The irony is that the solution of 'easy money' through systematic use of advertising and leads services is indeed available to you -- if you take your time, assess things, and ensure you measure your results properly. After some (perhaps much) experimentation, you will hopefully find a consistent and manageable system, which you can then tweak and improve. Once you get there, of course, you will find your marketing methodology becomes one of your most prized business secrets -- especially if the visible part is supported by behind-the-scenes leads and sales conversion techniques.

When you have this type of system in place, you can actually control your leads volume -- turning up the volume when you need more; and tuning it down when your ability to serve and manage your leads is lower.

But you will, indeed, have to experiment and make mistakes to get your system in place. That is the difference between a real business and the dream world.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Image from, which provides our tests

The screening process

We're getting ready for the final test for two prospective candidates to be our Ottawa salesperson. The recruiting 'funnel' is something like the sales funnel -- you start with 100 resumes, and hope to find one really good person to do the work.

Today, I had a teleconference meeting with our (currently small) team to decide on the working test. It needs to be fair, measurable, and allow for equal opportunity for both of the candidates. We will put the pieces together tomorrow, deliver the assignment and see how things go next Tuesday.

I've described our recruiting system elsewhere (See: Sales Recruiting -- our effective methodology) Its effectiveness is one reason I am confident for our business future and growth. It is enjoyable, especially, to turn the hiring conventions on their head, and modify them sufficiently so we can find the right people, without stressing ourselves out.

As an example of the system's effectiveness, we actually had three candidates on the short-list, as of yesterday. They answered the questionnaire well, showed initiative in communicating, and sounded good on our brief phone interview. Two of the candidates passed the online sales aptitude test with totally satisfactory results. I had high hopes for the third candidate -- in fact her responses and initiatives (I thought) showed her to be the best of the lot. But she flunked the test.

In the 'old days', I'm afraid,I would have allowed my subjective judgement to override the hard numbers. And certainly I used some subjective considerations to get to this stage. We went out the the way to give a chance to one candidate recommended by a departing employee, whose sales test results were inconclusive. But I didn't even administer the sales test to another candidate, recommended by a current part-time employee. I like to say I wasn't impressed by his questionnaire responses; but perhaps it is the once-burnt/twice shy reaction.

Next week, regardless, we'll put the two finalists through the test; if either of them stand out, we'll likely offer a temporary assignment pending reference checking and employment contract review. If both of them are great, I'll have an interesting problem; if neither of them are right, we'll go back to the drawing board -- we don't hire just because we have a space to fill -- we'll keep the job vacant rather than put in someone who isn't suitable.