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Sunday, September 30, 2007

For a critical (less-than-enthusiastic) review of this book, see this blog entry by Steve Field
The Net Promoter Score Controversy
The idea is alluring -- if marketers could ask one key question to determine their success in achieving true customer satisfaction and loyalty and this question could fit easily into business management systems -- we would gain insights and capacities to measure our success or failure in our true marketing objective.
Fred Reichheld, director Emeritus at Bain & Co. developed a simple tool, the "Net Promoter Score" based on one question: "How likely are you to recommend our company to friends of colleagues?"
This is a question that can be easily embedded into client surveys. Reichheld's book, The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth, published by Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. has attracted attention and significant followings among several leading businesses including American Express Co., Dupont, General Electric Co. and Intuit Inc.
But some disagree with the the validity of this measuring tool, according to an article in the September issue of BtoB Magazine (an excellent periodical for business-to-business marketers).
"Claims of Net Promoter's superiority in predicting firm growth, or in predicting customers' future loyalty IPSOS Loyalty and co-author of a recent article in the American Marketing Association's Journal of Marketing. "The consequences are the potential misallocation of resources as a function of erroneous strategies guided by Net Performer on firm performance, company value and shareholder wealth."
Meanwhile, the magazine quotes Gary Slack, senior partner at b-to-b agency Slack Barshinger in Chicago as saying: "Frankly, we don't know what or who to believe now.
"NPS Loyalists dismiss the Journal of Marketing paper as the work of economically threatened customer satisfaction consultants. NPS critics say it's about time NPS is getting this level of scrutiny. We need a respected third party to sort out the controversy and tell us if and how we should be talking about NPS."
I agree -- but also like the idea behind NPS. I've always advocated that the best form of marketing we can do is to treat our current clients with such respect that they will want to do business with us in the future; and refer others. The question: "How likely are you to recommend our company?" can easily be incorporated into follow-up surveys and obviously, if there is a good response, you could then use this as a basis to invite these satisfied clients to refer others.
In fact, I really like the set of survey questions used in conjunction with NPS by PayCycle, a payroll company.
BtoB Magazine reported: "Three times a year PayCycle surveys a sample base of its customers and asks them four questions; What was your previous payroll method? How likely is it that you would recommend PayCycle? What is the main reason for the answer you gave above? What can we add or change to improve PayCycle?
"The company then follows up on the data and makes changes when necessary," BtoB reported. "It has a huge impact on the way we run our organization," the magazine quoted Mindy Eiermann, senior product manager at PayCycle, as saying.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Push and Pull
One commonly used phrase is "No one likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy". I don't know if that expression is totally true, but I certainly know that if you are a normal business, you (generally) like prospective clients to call you, more than you like to initiate the communication with the people you think should be interested in your service.

In other words, most people value inbound inquiries much more than receiving outbound "solicitation".

In the AEC business, inbound calls suggest real interest and outbound communications involves rejection. So you look for ways to encourage the inbound calls.

And here, it seems, you have two choices as well. You can create an atmosphere where people find you through their own searching and resourcefulness, or you can put yourself in their face by outbound marketing. In a bad (extreme) example, spam email is certainly outbound while a totally spontaneous referral from a satisfied client is totally inbound. Push and Pull.

Then is Push totally the worst way to do things, and Pull totally the best? Not always.

If your business is so lacking in effective competition that you don't need to market, then indeed Pull may be the naturally best way to proceed-- but there are indications you may be selling yourself short. Exclusive reliance on pull marketing suggests a waiting list of potential clients based on word of mouth referrals and repeat business (excellent) but may also suggest you are underpricing your services or (worse yet) potentially relying on a huge volume of business from one or a very small group of clients or referral sources. (For example, you are playing as a captive supplier to a large corporation.) Bam, things can go very wrong if something goes wrong.

Well designed Push marketing can propel your business forward, drawing high-quality clients, creating referrals, and energizing your organization. In the perfect world, this Push marketing is so apparently natural it appears to be more like Pull marketing. That is, your initiating call is framed within the world of referral, references, and overriding practical value so high that even the most cautious gatekeeper knows the call should be put through.

(My best personal example of this dynamic is the cold call -- by nature, cold calling is at the high end of Push marketing -- I made to an office of a major international organization about a decade ago.

"I've just come from an interesting meeting at (name of well recognized association) where your company's name was mentioned and I was told: 'We would like them to leave town too.'" Needless to say, my cold call resulted in a meeting, and out of that meeting we formed a strategic business alliance, that continues today. Push marketing, indeed.)

Some industries -- especially the advertising-supported periodical publishing business (where I work) depend primarily on Push marketing to sell our services -- we wouldn't be around for long if we waited for the phone to ring from unsolicited inquiries (and we know we are doing very well when we receive a few of these Pull enquiries each year, which brighten our days.) Our skill, and it is a skill that you can develop in the business development area of your AEC enterprise, is manging the Push so it is both effective and not too . . . Pushy.

See marketing guru Seth Godin's blog on this topic. (Seth focuses on showing businesses how to be great Pull marketers.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Change orders and construction marketing
Key in the Google keywords "change order" and "construction marketing", and you'll quickly find references to my "Seven Tips for Construction Marketing Success" (available by request through the online form on the side of the page.

The example in "Seven Tips" relates to the relationship building initiatives of a local contractor and hospital. By doing great work, and securing a reputation for reliability, the hospital wanted to have the contractor return, again and again, but faced constraints -- it needed to post its jobs publicly and accept the low bidder. The work-around -- by mutual understanding, the hospital understood the scope of work descriptions would be loose enough that the contractor could file change orders, and make enough profit to achieve satisfactory results.

Woahh, you may say, does this smack of bid-rigging and 'corruption'? I suppose so -- but variations of the qualitative evaluation system now used for many public projects have the same element of subjective and pre-existing relationship judgment. If you are 'in', your happy clients will find a way to work with you to work around the "low bid must win the job" mentality -- assuring your continuing relationships, and profitability.

These examples, of course, point to fundamentally the most important issue in construction industry marketing: Your current projects and relationships are your most precious marketing resources -- focus your primary marketing resources on current client relationships, and you'll likely do far more profitable business in the future than by searching blindly for new business.

P.S. I'm continuing my search for the Change Order boat owner; in the meantime, the boat has become a screen-saver on my laptop.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Can we unravel the Change Order Boat mystery?
This picture is certainly making the rounds with viral email. I checked with Architect Ryan McClain, the source from which I obtained the photo, who reported in an email to me on Sept. 19, the day after my initial posting on this matter

"Thanks for you email, and the MNP plug on your site. Unfortunately, I got the image in a rather long chain email at work, and don't know its origin. I will, however, look into it and get back to you if I learn anything."

Seems many people are trying to track this thing down -- so far today, for example, I can track nine visits to this blog who arrived here using relevant Google keyword searches to find my original Sept. 18 posting.
The way this thing is spreading suggests a viral marketing 'success' -- success is in quotes, of course, because I don't see any business value in whomever originated the photo identifying himself. But it clearly has struck a nerve (of truth!?) within the industry.
I paid the $9.95 to and tracked a registration for a boat named "Change Order" to Paul D. Frazier of Memphis, TN. A google search for Paul D. Frazier takes us to this Louisiana LLC corporation registration:

Member/Manager PAUL D. FRAZIER, Manager 154 W. CENTRAL AVENUE GRAND ISLE, LA 70358

Note: We cannot establish from this that the boat in the picture is actually the one registered; nor can we establish that the boat's registration to the Paul D. Frazier of Memphis, TN is in any way related to the Paul Frazier Construction in Louisiana.
If you have an idea where this came from, please feel free to email or comment. And I'll continue to keep my eyes open as well.

Note: See this posting from March 24, 2009, where the original photographer reports he took the image while in Vermillion, Ohio in late July 2007. Construction Management Network

Matthew Liptak (, Senior Recruiter at Shawmut Design and Construction near Boston, has taken lead in co-ordinating the new Construction Management Network on, enhancing the referral and relationship networking resource to a high degree for construction industry professionals.

I hope to speak with Matthew within the next day or two to discuss this initiative, and how it can be helpful in the marketing process. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more, you can go to the relevant sites.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Google's power -- Success at Search Engine Optimization

In the last few weeks, I've noticed a significant increase in the number of inquiries and requests for newsletter subscriptions. Today, I found out why -- this blog and related websites now occupy three spaces on the first page of Google with keywords Construction marketing.

Is a high search engine ranking important for your business? Yes, the Web and search engines are now the most powerful 'reach' resource in connecting people who may be interested in your services.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a significant business, and experts and pseudo-experts market their services (though the best real experts don't need to market themselves; they have far more business than they can handle, through referrals and references). As I have achieved SEO success within the construction industry marketing niche, these are the principals that have guided the process:

  • Content is king -- you need real, meaningful and useful information, without commercial and self-serving marketing. "Selling" with the immediate aim of getting money from clients will not work as well as sincere sharing.

  • Backlinks from credible sites are vital -- but you can't 'force' this issue. You earn the backlinks not by pushing yourself onto others; but, again, through your content. Higher rankings occur naturally this way.

  • Article and blog directories are helpful -- they won't put you to the top right away but make it easier for people to find you.

  • If you don't have a blog, start one. Blogs provide a dynamic and active way to interact and build interest and traffic. As well, if you update your blog frequently, you'll create more page files, more opportunities for backlinks, and more 'buzz'.

Remember, most importantly, that this is not a quick fix -- you won't find cash rolling in and serious inquiries right away -- in fact, the minute you try to 'force' interest in your business, prospective clients are likely to run away. You need patience, and most importantly, must put your own business interests behind those of your readers -- I probably won't track my first real business/client from the Internet initiatives for another year or two. But the efforts, as noted previously, are not wasted, even short-term I can recycle blog entries for articles in my newspapers, and have discovered real and immediate advantages in recruiting employees and providing better service to our current clients.

P.S. A note about copyright. Often I 'borrow' images from Google. What about the copyright of the image owners? Unless the image is explicitly public domain, we must assume that the image is copyrighted and should only be used with permission. However, providing an inbound link to the image owners provides real value in most cases for the copyright holders -- both in traffic to their site, and in their Search Engine rankings. Of course, if someone explicitly says "do not copy" or requests we remove the image/link, we will, immediately. A higher level of permission seeking is required for print use, simply because the printed work is permanent and cannot be deleted with a button click.

Monday, September 24, 2007

At our doorstep (3) -- at

I started this thread in the sales and marketing forum of to receive some feedback about this discovery. The responses are interesting and suggest that in some circumstances deliberately 'unprofessional' initiatives indeed are effective. The whole thing is a real eye-opener.

The editorial career opportunity

Specialized job boards sometimes work well if you are looking for specialist candidates-- better than the big 'monster' boards and, in this case, better even than the Service Canada free job listing service. I find the best boards are also often the least expensive to use -- if not free, the fee is nominal.

We use for our journalism postings. You can see the specific posting here:

How times have changed
The video on this link posted from, a blog dedicated to the public relations industry, shows (to me) the real need for regulation in marketing.

Writing time
For the past year, I've been writing most of the content for our Canadian publications. For the next couple of days, I'll be busy putting the pieces together for the October issues. Blog entries may be fewer and less frequent while I focus energies on the tasks at hand.
The good news is that we are now ready to hire a full-time staff writer/editor who I hope will be working by this time next month. We've posted the career opportunity on relevant job boards within Canada (journalism training/experience is required) and I will post the link later today once it is confirmed.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Success, again, is in your current client relations
I'm travelling today and tomorrow -- today I visited a successful general contractor in a relatively rural area of Southwestern Ontario; then travelled to a resort north of Toronto to attend part of the Ready Mixed Contractors Association of Ontario convention. Research and writing for these events will consume my energies for the next couple of days, so blogging will be lighter than normal (at least until Sunday).
But I want to share with you right now the powerful impressions I received at that general contractor -- where they are ready to take risks and expand their knowledge in areas of specialized expertise, but where they thrive because of their solid and natural client relationships.
When you work out in a relatively rural area, and want to do most of your business within a 100km radius of your office, you are not going to thrive by specializing in a narrow type of business niche -- you need to be a 'generalist' within your geography. And this means doing stuff that is often done by specialists; like water treatment plants, multi-story condo buildings, hospitals, and the like.
Now this diversification of course contains the seeds of both risk and opportunity -- risk in getting over your head in areas where you don't have competence; and opportunity, because you become relatively immune from market downturns because even in the most difficult times at least some of your knowledge/services will be in demand.
But how can you manage the risks effectively? Great relationships, is the answer.
For example, your project superintendent is so well liked on a conventional low-bid-wins-the-job project that the client, to avoid having to work with anyone else, accepts your proposal for a design-bid initiative.
Then your client has a job that requires expertise not in your normal range of skills. But you have an inside track; you can explain frankly to your client how you will overcome your lack of previous experience, and assure the client that if anything snags along the way, you will fix it. Your client trusts you, and gives the go-ahead.
So, next problem, you really don't know much about the specialized function. But you've conducted yourself properly previously with designers, architects, engineers, and consultants. Would they be willing to help guide you through the first job -- which, as it progresses, you can co-ordinate with your own understanding of the contracting business?
In other words, by really treating your clients right, you will understand the single most construction industry marketing lesson you can learn here or anywhere else. Great relationships, really incredible service, absolute integrity, and true sensitivity to the needs of your current clients will give you the edge in jobs and projects that, in a purely hard-ball environment, you wouldn't have a chance in a million to win.
And so the rural contractor grows at a comfortable, planned rate, year after year, and 'markets' through respect and integrity.
P.S. To write my story, I asked for testimonials. Within two minutes, the administrative assistant had brought out an inch-thick stack. This company has obviously earned its clients' respect -- and also knows that it is important to ask for testimonials when the job is well done.


The question on, "How do you get past the "gatekeeper" when trying to get into a company to find a person?" has attracted several responses that indicate some general themes and practices of salesmanship.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Henry Goudreau, HG Associates
The Measure Call

Marketing consultant Henry Goudreau in his CD Series advocates the use of the "Measure Call". This call/visit occurs after you've systematically qualified the initial lead and, Goudreau suggests, is the point where you find what really matters to your potential client.

For residential work, this 'measure call' is the visit to the home to take measurements and determine the scope of work. But, Goudreau wisely suggests, during this visit you absolutely must refuse to discuss price, even if the homeowner pesters you for a ballpark number. Instead, while you are taking notes and measurements, you use the time to engage in 'small talk' with various questions to determine exactly why the prospective client wants the work done. Then, you arrange a second visit with a well-thought, comprehensive proposal, that answers the prospect's hot button priorities.

Goudreau suggests a similar approach for commercial, industrial or even government work. In these cases, he said once he called members of an organization's Board of Directors individually, listened to their specific concerns and priorities, and then, when he made his formal presentation to the Board, included these concerns in his observations. And for a government design-build project, he again arranged a pre-meeting with the decision-making group; discovered what really matters to them, and then presented an appropriately responsive proposal.

This requires work and effort -- clearly you need to have a screening resource to qualify your prospects because you are going to need to spend time with an additional visit and/or phone calls to gather the insights you need. But it makes a whole lot more sense to do things this way than to just blast out a standard proposal, and 'pitch' your service -- you then, even if you have a chance of winning the work, will likely win it only on price -- and that will probably be unprofitable for you.

Unfortunately, in his CD, Goudreau moves on to an 80s style approach and recommends you not take 'I'll think it over' for an answer. Even though he says he does not advocate 'high pressure', he goes on to say that you should never leave that second call where you make the meaningful presentation without an order in hand. He suggests you press for the decision and hold the pen for the clients to sign. Maybe this approach works if you are a died-in-the-soul hard-rock salesperson, but it doesn't ring right to me. Obviously you need to have confidence to ask for the order, and you should investigate for hidden objections if the potential client uses the traditional "I'd like to think it over" stall, but if you are doing things right, in my opinion, the process should flow so naturally that if the client is the type who really likes to deliberateand think carefully and not sign on the spot, then you will still get the business with some 'think it over' time. The point at which some sincere effort to put the deal through transforms to high pressure can be murky --I think you need to assess the situation on a case-by-case basis.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The name of the boat is "Change Order" and the name of the dinghy is "Original Contract".

Who paid for the boat?
I discovered this image by visiting the leads service and its Contractor Update blog. Ryan at architecture.mmp tracked down the photo (and Ryan's blog is an impressive resource for architects, though it appears focused more on design than marketing issues). has the friendliest and most positive interface I've seen yet in lead referral services. Only trouble is, while I'm receiving their weekly newsletter/update (well designed, certainly not spam!) there are no leads showing for my selected market areas and categories. (I chose certain areas of North Carolina and cast a wide enough net that there 'should' be some worthy leads/projects in these regions.)

This shows one of the most interesting paradoxes of marketing. If you do everything right, impression wise, but have nothing to sell, you will sell nothing. And, as the dinghy/boat image reveals, sometimes the real money is not in the sale but what happens after you receive the order!

P.S. may be more effective for residential rather than B to B or commercial projects (the leads I am seeking) -- in this sector they face entrenched competition from well-established leads resources such as the inexpensive and comprehensive McGraw-Hill E-leads service.

Note: See this posting from March 24, 2009, where the original photographer reports he took the image while in Vermillion, Ohio in late July 2007.

Persue the client -- not the project

Bernie Siben's blog, in his August posting, "The Wrong Stuff Part 3" makes a solid point about why you should not persue RFPs where your business doesn't already have a relationship/inside track. He says this type of initiative, besides wasting your time, could irritate your potential future clients because you are wasting their time, as well.

The non-commercial Internet
An intriguing observation about using the Internet for business is that it doesn't really work for sales and marketing (even in the context of a construction marketing ideas blog). Sure, there are tacky and purportedly proven successful approaches to marketing over the web -- you see this all the time with these lengthy web pages filled with testimonials, calls to action, video clips, and offers of 'free newsletters' which turn out to be thinly or not-so-thinly disguised sales pitches. They work to some extent, I suppose, as do corporate (or even small business) websites which are sought out by potential clients, perhaps at the early stage of research processes. These are the variations of the electronic brochure -- useful if someone already knows about you, is looking for some more information and confidence-building support, but wants to gain insights about you without too much direct involvement.
Keyword advertising and 'pay-per-click' lead generation also have their place; here you have extremely effective measurability, and can match your commercial marketing to the organic or non-commercial side of the web. Nothing wrong with this -- it can be the most cost effective advertising you do.
But all of these elements overlay the following very direct and blunt observation: If you really want to take a leadership role on the Internet, you have to put your business interests to second place, and focus on giving real value without any expectation of return. A deviation from this role will, short term, cause your marketing to be perceived as spam and, long term, will harm your reputation.
The reason for is observation is simple. We are past the stage where readers -- at least readers with reasonable intelligence and experience; and these are most likely to be your clients for AEC services -- believe everything they see or read on the web. They quickly scan the website and if it 'smells' promotional or self-serving, avoid it like the plague. Yes, once you are well established, you can build some subtle marketing or promotion into your site or blog, but if it overpowers the thing -- or is seen as its main obvious purpose -- bam, readers will hit the delete or back button almost as fast as the speed of light.
So, is there value in creating content-rich websites and blogs where readers can gather information and even solve their underlying problems without giving you a cent of business -- especially when creating the useful content may take many hours of work and result in your giving away your insights and what many people would consider to be proprietary secrets?
The answer is 'yes' if you allow for longer-range impact.

  • Your authoritative website and/or blog will achieve, naturally, sufficient back links that it will begin rising in the organic search engine rankings. This is not instant, and since the search engines like Google and Yahoo are indeed businesses which sell paid advertising for their profitability, they are not going to rush to give you top space on truly valuable keywords unless your content really is useful and non self-serving;
  • Your Internet presence may eventually result in media attention, positive publicity and a higher reputation;
  • You may find your web presence enhances your current client and employee relationships.
These advantages, of course, are offset by the time and effort you need to spend at the work. But if you are thoughtful, you won't need to spend as long as you think.
For your website, for example, consider including several pages of knowledge and resources relevant to your area of expertise and skill (and your local or regional market considerations). Done right, this 'evergreen' content only will need occasional refreshing and updating -- or can be supplemented with a blog or similar resource; requiring some time each day or week, but not much effort in maintenance or posting. Don't worry about selling anything on these pages -- in fact, edit them so that your marketing message is 'out' and your value to readers is in.
Then relax. Your phone won't ring, you won't receive enthusiastic emails saying "I want to do business with you" and you'll wonder if anyone is reading your words. At least initially. But after about a year, if you do it right, you'll begin seeing signs that things are working. And I believe after two to three years, you'll see tangible and meaningful business success from your efforts.
Does this posting seem a little autobiographical? It is.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thud (3): More on the Canwest go! Local directory
Tonight I talked with a prospective salesperson seeking employment with our organization. He had worked on the pay-per-call phone book experiment for CanWest Global, but didn't make the cut there and left the company earlier in the summer.

He explained a little more how they set the prices for this rather innovative product which, if successful on a wider scale, will revolutionize the printed directory segment.

Apparently, the publishers garnered 'average cost per lead' information on the 300 top Yellow Pages categories, and set the prices according to this table.

Furthermore, salespeople working on this project were paid on commission, but could collect a draw and received an expense allowance. The salesperson who discussed the business with me explained that the sales team was supposed to collect a 10 per cent 'deposit' (based on estimated total sales) on closing the sale; and receive another 10 per cent on the back-end based on pay-per-call.

Many advertisers, he said, balked at the 10 per cent deposit, saying they would only pay if they achieved results. The salesperson said the top producers accepted the clients requests not to pay the deposit, and so wrote up the orders without collecting a cent of cash. (This piece of news may surprise, and perhaps annoy, the clients who paid the deposit!) Because of course the risk to the client went to zero, these salespeople naturally closed more orders. They in turn must hope that people actually call the numbers and revenue flows through to CanWest, or they won't be paid. (However, these sales reps didn't starve; again because of the modest allowance for expenses.)

Again, the jury is still out on the viability and effectiveness of this new medium. Within a few weeks, I will call some advertisers first hand for their assessments.
See my previous posting on this topic here.

Your first impressions, then second and third

Have you ever encountered a situation when someone seems great at first impression, then lets you down? Or (presumably more rarely), you encounter someone who just doesn't seem right, but turns out to be wonderful and effective?

Is there a way around the problems of false assumptions and stereotypes -- so you hire the right people and, equally important, seek the correct prospects to work with and become your clients?

I believe first impressions are, indeed, important -- but you need to set the stage so you see the right, spontaneous first impression that measures the right thing. And then you need to validate your impressions, quickly.

Take, for example, your decision to hire an employee. Assuming the candidate is not someone you already know (perhaps from a freelance assignment or previous arrangement), do resumes and formal face-to-face interviews provide much useful information? Yes, but you know they are filtered -- both by the stereotyping of the function, and the fact they can be faked to some extent. (Resumes certainly can be dressed up.)

You still want a 'first impression' but is the resume what really matters? Our solution: A pre-employment questionnaire; designed to test certain job related skills, ask one or two screening interview/type questions, and describe the job. Obviously, the candidate's decision not to complete the questionnaire solves the 'first impression' question. And the actual responses, and the way they are presented (and whether they a re consistent with the design and writing style of the resume) provide us with plenty of additional information.

Then, there is the interview. A structured sit-down interview invites stilted questions and responses. A 'surprise' prequalification phone interview provides much better first impression validity. (Of course we are respectful that the call may not actually be convenient to the other person and will reschedule if appropriate -- again, the fact of the inconvenience, however, may be another first impression 'signal' -- is the person at another job, or trying to juggle some hidden problem around?)

These first impressions are vital to us -- without good results on the early going, there is no reason to take it further. But this still doesn't help with the people who know how (either deliberately or intuitively) to 'connect' right away.

We then seek to use objective measuring tools. This can be an online sales test (for salespeople), or (for most candidates) some brief work assignment, either hourly or freelance, that at least partly reflects the actual work. We want to see if the person actually can do the work.

Finally, there is the 'last impression' -- the reference checks and validity; usually at this stage, we've weeded out most problems, but it never hurts to have a final verification (and a clear employment contract).

In other words, sure, first impressions are important -- just be sure the first impressions you are 'counting' really are relevant to the work at hand -- and, whatever you do, validate your impressions before making any commitments.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The postcard service

Colony Press in Illiniois sends out postcards -- and offers a service that could be of relevance to residential contractors seeking 'near neighbour' promotional advantages. I'm not sure, however, whether this approach is as cost effective as having someone do a little door-knocking or using your own letter of introduction a little more personalized. (See At Our Doorstep -- the $10,000 note). The service offer also indicates a cost-per-lead that may be higher than you can achieve with some good Internet marketing.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for a simple, systematic approach -- no need to fuss around or divert staff resources.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The "Florida Contractors Exam" blog

Karyn Elliot, director of Education/Marketing for HG & Associates in Sarasota, FL, has started a blog which references this rather specialized URL, though internally appears to have the name "Elite Contractors Blog"

HG & Associates is lead by marketing consultant Henry Goudreau (photo at right).
The most recent entry gives a warning to contractors that hard times are on the way. She writes:

Right now we are in a major colon cleansing of the weak from the strong. I think conservative forward-thinking, tightening the old money belt and the mastering of better business skills is the most prudent course of action for any owner to take. This is exactly what makes the difference in the existing survival situation we have now. Knowledge is power, ego isn't.

HG & Associates is one of a few marketing/consulting organizations serving the industry. I don't know enough about their services to endorse them; selecting and using a consultant is one of the more challenging business decisions you will encounter. Be thoughtful and careful before rushing any decision. This entry in the Losing My Mind blog -- "Getting Good Advice Without Consultant Fees" cites among other references one of my own blog entries.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The limits (and strengths) of E-Marketing for the AEC sector

Recently, posters to the SMPS listserve have been discussing the advantages and limits of e-marketing in the construction, architectural and engineering environment. These observations touch close to my heart, of course, because I have been developing this blog for the last eight months and learning the ropes of e-newsletters over the past year.

Marketing consultant Bernie Siben of the Siben Consult, LLC, host of blog posted this observation and granted me permission to reproduce it here:

I have a pretty good website and I maintain a blog about marketing for the A/E/C/Planning/Environmental industry. After making initial mailings of brochures via the US Postal Service, I've sent out hundreds of emails regarding services, helpful information that I find in my Internet research, links to interesting websites, and other things that I hope will bring value to a prospective client.
What I'm finding is that 95 per cent or more of these emails don't even get opened.
They either wind up being filtered out as spam if my email address isn't already in someone's address book, or just ignored/deleted by someone doesn't already know my name. And we're getting so inundated with spam today, that we seem to be OK with missing the occasional piece with value as long as the rest is screened out. So, ultimately, every contact process has to start with a personal touch -- a meeting or a phone call -- or with a recommendation from a colleague or friend who will call someone else, recommend me, and tell them to expect my call.
I think that e-marketing can be very successful when you are marketing to folks already on your list, where your name is already in their electronic address books. Self-produced webinars are great if you have already established your credibility among the folks on your mailing list. If not, getting folks like ZweigWhite to produce/present your webinar is great because THEIR credibility gives credibility to YOU!
But for initial contacts with prospective new clients, we have to find a more personal and interactive way, or we risk getting thrown out with the electronic "trash" just because there's so much of it.

Seiben is absolutely right, as is Tom Merker, Director of Business Development,The Clark Enersen Partners in Kansas City, MO, who observed:

But we have to realize that e-marketing is nothing more than regular direct marketing. It just has a different format. A good response rate for direct marketing is 3-5 percent (unless you're giving away free stuff, then you can count on about 10-15 percent). It is what it is. Nothing will ever replace personal contact as the #1 way of marketing in our industry.

The message here is that e-marketing can support, but not replace, personal relationships. Face-to-face and direct contact are vital, especially in the early going, if you are to build a meaningful business.
Of course, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to realize that while you can do much over the Internet, large scale (or for that matter even much more modest) AEC projects require significant investments in energy and money -- and often intense working relationships, especially as the projects move through the critical stages. You can't achieve these results exclusively, or even primarily, over the Internet.

(However, I also note that online marketing is much like the real world in another sense -- you may dream of instant success, but the story usually takes much longer to gel into something meaningful. Although I consider this blog to be a very productive initiative, I can't trace hard business to it yet -- and that is after eight months. So why continue? Bit by bit, piece by piece, I can see it is improving my reputation and setting the stage for future business relationships.)

Strengths and weaknesses

I found this gem of a posting, Management Matters by Mike Myatt: Should You Play to Strengths or Shore Up Weaknesses?, in a roundabout way after receiving a Google Alerts reference to this blog's Technocati listing. There, I noticed that Multi-Housing News had permalinked us on its "Out and About" Blog. This blog meets the criteria for permalinking on our site as well, so will be added to the list. (The guidelines for permalink are that it must be a blog and directly relevant to AEC marketing).
Somewhat intrigued by the source of the "Out and About" blog, I removed the suffix to the blog URL and discovered Myatt's apparently very new blog, assuming it isn't auto dated so it always shows a recent date, and has only one entry.
But the posting is still inspired, because it really looks at the issue of prioritizing what we should focus our energies on. It ties back to Marcus Buckingham's book "The One Thing You Need to Know" and his argument that we should really focus on our strengths and not weaknesses (see my previous posting on his influential book.)
Myatt takes this thought further and suggests that indeed focusing on weaknesses is vitally important when overcoming the weakness is essential to resolve a barrier that is blocking your achieving your strengths. In other words, if you are an executive and have poor communications or interpersonal skills, you will need to work on the weakness even though it is hard -- but if your administrative skills are poor, why bother; you can always delegate these tasks to other employees.
Good stuff, indeed. But who is Mike Myatt, and how does this intriguing one-off posting find its way to the web? Googling the name, we find he is chief strategy officer of N2Growth. My guess is this blog is a hidden thing part of a search engine optimization strategy. However, it is still a truly useful posting.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The use (and abuse) of surveys

Improving online technologies have made it incredibly easy to set up and distribute online surveys. From a marketing (and market research) perspective, we seem to get the best of all worlds -- for a tiny investment in effort and time, we receive virtually instant feedback. It is something of an instant gratification game.

Fair enough. But where do we draw the line. One marketing guru (who I will not name here because, in fairness, I haven't spoken with him) has sent me two 'surveys' in the last couple of weeks. Streaming down the survey, I quickly realized he was engaged in a lead-gathering and data mining exercise. Since most online surveys allow for truly incredible information gathering about who responded, and how each individual responds to an individual question, this data will allow the survey operator's sales representatives to tailor their 'pitch' to the respondents. When the salesperson calls back, the (perhaps unsophisticated) survey participant will, the theory goes, be awed by the sales representative's sensitive and deep understanding and appreciation of the survey-taker's real business concerns.

Yes, this approach perhaps works, but have you noticed the problem underlying this somewhat manipulative approach to survey use. More and more of us are simply refusing to respond to surveys. This doesn't turn off the tap, of course. At 9:30 p.m. in the midst of a family holiday, some guy called our home and tried to engage me in a 'survey'. I am now usually courteous to inbound sales calls (see my previous posting on why), but I gave this guy a blast. My son cheered me!

There is another paradox here, of course. As fewer and fewer respond to surveys, the responses become even more meaningful. Sure, some people complete surveys because they like to or have nothing better to do. But most of the time, people will go to the trouble to complete a survey when they feel a pressing need to respond -- when there is an exceptional motivating circumstance. So, for example, when we stayed at a hotel and service and environment proved to be terrible, we certainly responded to the follow-up survey. (Hilton/Embassy Suites got it right here -- the manager called me back, apologized, and gave us a free night stay voucher -- that worked!)

If, however, you set a survey within a totally voluntary context, you will be impressed by how little most people want to have to do with these things. As an example, in my recent Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter (for which I can track click through responses), we achieved record-breaking interest in the story about the contractor who obtains $10,000 worth of work, in three hours, with a badly-written 'handwritten' note. This is of course a wonderful too-good-to-be-true story. I will follow up on it next week.

I also built in a link to a brief (two question) online survey asking readers to tell us their best and worst marketing experience. Zero response. Nada. Not a thing.

My point is that you should appreciate the power and utility of online surveys -- these things really work -- but also be wary of the irritation factor. But maybe that marketing guru doesn't care about 'irritation'. He knows that the people who bother to complete his survey are hurting enough to respond -- and these are his perfect leads.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Going with the flow
Anyone who has enjoyed the life of a self employed person knows that things don't always work out as planned. Certainly my vision for today received a jolt at 9:00 pm last night when someone we thought would be coming in for testing looked promising, decided at the last minute that our opportunity wasn't for him. Achhh. We've been seeking candidates for two sales positions (with a reasonable base salary) for the last two months. We've received hundreds of resumes and initial applications, but we are selective -- the last thing we want to do is hire someone who is applying for work purely for the job and pay. (Of course we pay our employees fairly and well -- but competency, passion, and enjoyment of work are important as well.)
My mind whirred into action. No time for blog entries this morning -- despite yesterday's visits reaching (a still somewhat modest) record. I drafted an email to our Ottawa-area readership inviting people to let me know if they know someone who might be interested in the work; and discovered a potentially useful free website at this region's main community college. And I reviewed some additional resumes and questionnaires, and found a few candidates worthy of additional attention.
As the business day winds to a close, I feel much better -- we achieved progress on the recruitment front, and also got a lot done on other aspects of the business.
P.S. I expect to follow with additional discussions about Rob Norton and his handwritten note success story -- certainly, many readers of our bi-weekly newsletter expressed interest in the achievements outlined in the previous blog entry.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Citizen Marketers

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba's Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message outlines the impact of "social media" on marketing practices -- with sometimes dramatic and unexpected results.

Most of the examples cited in the book are business-to-consumer and none specifically tie to the construction industry (the focus is on retailers, branded goods such as soft drinks, and movies and entertainment). The reason in part is the "one per cent rule" -- the authors suggest, for all the noise, only about one per cent of the 'target market' for various Citizen Marketing initiatives actually gets involved. Of course, the one per cent can be a big actual number with popular music or national retailers -- but you are going to find only a handful of people (authorities) with the resources to build a bridge, hospital, or for that matter, to complete a small tenant fit-up. (The numbers may be higher for home builders and residential renovations, of course, but I don't think this sector is at the forefront of mass citizen marketing just yet.)

Then why is the topic important and relevant here -- it is, I think, a signal of the future and represents the importance of new and more challenging influences in decision-making processes. While you aren't going to get a mass outpouring of responses to your construction marketing initiatives (after all, this is a niche market), it is always helpful to know something about the larger world.

The authors' blog is going into my bookmarks -- however, in line with this blog's scope, I won't permalink it as it obviously is not specifically focused on the construction industry.

Image from (Construction Break has produced printed newsletters for the construction industry for several years.) You can't click at the above image, but you can get the same results here.
Your newsletter invited!

Are you producing or distributing an electronic newsletter for your current and potential clients? Please feel free to add me to your list -- I'm especially interested in how different construction businesses and allied professionals are communicating and hope to share with readers some best practices and great newsletter examples in future issues of this blog and my own Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter, which is scheduled for distribution on Tuesday
You have my permission to send your newsletters to Of course, a personal note or your blog comments are most welcome, as well.

At our doorstep

This sheet arrived at our doorstep. on the other side is a graphic image of brickwork tools, the contractor's name and phone number and:

  • Interlock
  • Aslphalt
  • Complete roof Drainage
  • Landscaping
  • Snow Blowing
I put this document aside for review -- it certainly has relevance for construction marketing. But before I could do anything with it, my wife crumpled it up in a ball to throw it out. "Stop," I told her.

She has been complaining to me about work needed around the house; especially certain elements that would match someone capable of brickwork (the matters have since been resolved, but good contractors are not always easy to find.)
Tomorrow I will call the contractor to find if his marketing is successful.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thud! (2)

Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCCC), our business consultants, says he has signed up for the Canwest go! Local directory. He paid a set up fee of about $700 for a couple of listings and ads with the special phone numbers. How much will he pay if anyone calls? "Hundreds of dollars per call," he says.

"Hundreds of dollars?" I asked incredulously. Yes, it seems the publishers have developed a formula based on the estimated value of services and the overall closing rate expected on inquiries. Different standards apply for different industries. For example, a pizza restaurant would not pay as much per lead. He also noted there is a cap on the cost -- if for some reason the ad is exceptionally successful, the fees stop.

The directory had been out -- at least to my home -- for about a week so I asked him if he had received any calls. "Not yet," he said. We agreed that the call volume should be highest when the directory first appears -- given the novelty value and immediate response -- but would presumably taper off.

We didn't address how go! Local will deal with "call fraud", that is the strategic or malicious calling of businesses by people who have no real interest in purchasing anything -- but just want to run up the charges. (In this case, a call to Bill's number would be very expensive; this is one 'ad' I would not want to post the number anywhere but its intended place).

Overall, the jury is still out on this business model. I notice lots of very big ads from Realtors -- they presumably love the model because they, themselves, are only paid for performance, so a lead generation system that only 'costs' if real leads are generated would be of interest to them. A few residential service contractors are also using the book.

Links and referrals

Cool. Professional Roofing has referenced this blog. Meanwhile, for a variety of keywords relating to the topics here, we are receiving front page and even first place listings on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. I can see this with the number of inbound references, tracked through Google Analytics and

So, what does it all mean? In a marketing sense, is this creating business? Not immediately, and that really is okay here. I'm writing this blog not to sell consultancy services, or to get you to advertise in our publications, but because I believe the marketing of construction related services and professions can be improved, and am interested in both the trends and issues in these areas. (There are of course less direct uses of this blog -- in Canada, we are recruiting some key employees and the blog is one way to introduce our business -- and values -- to them).

As I learn more about the business I believe much money is wasted on ill-thought advertising and not enough is spent on carefully considered marketing (which can, of course, include effective advertising). Here, to summarize, are some simple strategies. These supplement the Seven Tips for Construction Marketing Success which you can request online by clicking on the relevant link.
  • Your current clients are the foundation and essence of your marketing for new business. If you give them excellent value and service to the point that you are truly exceptional, you'll win the their references, future business, and -- if you really get it right -- their active support and encouragement. I believe 80 per cent of your marketing efforts should be concentrated with the clients you have now.

  • You can:

  • Send thank you notes

  • Return calls promptly

  • Resolve issues quickly and, if you sense a possible problem, proactively communicate how you will deal with the concerns

  • Share rewards and gifts (within reason)

  • Promote and publicize your customers -- even better, refer business to them!

  • Communicate frequently -- electronic newsletters can help; also personal calls, visits, and events are often appropriate.
In advocating you focus the bulk of your marketing on current clients, you should appreciate that the other "20 per cent" can provide the critical edge to your business. And I see three primary strategies within that 20 per cent.

  1. Attain positive media publicity for your business in relevant (to your markets) communities.
  2. Join and participate in relevant trade associations or groups, either as an associate/supporter at your client level or, within the industry, with groups that allow you to enhance your best practices and peer network, especially in non-competitive markets. I like the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).
  3. Use selective Internet marketing and advertising resources -- but be wary about 'pay per lead' services unless you have good tracking and management/measurement systems to be sure you are obtaining value for money.
It is ironic that while my business earns more than 90 per cent of its revenue from advertising, I don't encourage you to rush out and spend more than necessary on advertising. But this advice is consistent with our values. Much of our revenue is derived from special editorial features which are supported by supplier advertising. The features, of course, generate positive publicity without requiring any advertising investment. The advertisers are supporting their clients -- in line with our belief that this is the highest and best form of marketing.

The latter point explains one of the purposes of this blog. While our advertisers are giving us money to support their clients, they have become our clients, as well. And we wish to deliver more than the ink on paper, and invoices. Hence, this blog. Solid, practical marketing ideas and advice, without expecting anything in return, helps us to deliver the value our clients have a right to expect.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The power of J. D. Power

I first learned about J.D. Power and Associates two years ago when home builders began observing that this market research and surveying organization (now owned by McGraw-Hill) would soon start its customer satisfaction surveys of Ottawa home builders among consumers. The impact of Power's unbiased and self-funded surveys became crystal-clear to me this week, when hundreds of people packed a meeting hall to recognize Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association (OCHBA) members who had achieved customer satisfaction success -- and Darren Slind, J.D. Power's senior director of the new home builder and performance practices, outlined some of the consequences -- both positive and negative -- of great -- or poor -- client service.

Power's ability to rate builders (it also surveys automakers -- its original market -- electronics, and other consumer-based services, as well as certain business-to-business services) creates a fascinating and dramatic dynamic in the marketplace -- the possibility of a positive rating spurs builders to improve client service -- and the fear of a negative rating causes angst and anguish among the companies who don't make the grade.

Not all so-called customer satisfaction surveys are honest. Some, essentially, give you a reward and the right to use their image in marketing collateral in exchange for a substantial fee. The survey results are cooked to ensure that the businesses who pay the fees can claim to be providing 'client satisfaction' and the whole award then becomes part of a somewhat scammy marketing ploy.

J.D. Power succeeds largely because it plays it straight. You can't buy in or influence the results of the surveys -- but of course for a substantial fee you can purchase the comprehensive survey report and engage in consultancy services to actually improve your customer satisfaction results. J.D. Power's perspective is that while the marketing value of a 'win' is of course important, what really counts is the impact of great client satisfaction on your bottom line -- the survey just measures what is actually happening in the marketplace.
Slind says truly satisfied clients are far more likely to refer and recommend friends and acquaintances to you than clients who are merely feel things are okay.

"You can't hope to meet or exceed customer expectations if you don't understand them first," he says. "Discovery of home buyer needs is critical. What opportunities do you have to adjust your message and/or process to more clearly match the expectations of your customers?"