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Monday, March 31, 2008

Testing the new website

What's this, you say?

We're in the process of a major rebuild/redesign of our websites, and have reached the point wher ewe wish to test our abiity to create and upload files. So we've run a few tests -- with the media kit for the GTA Construction Report, and the first section of the most recent issue. This posting will likely disappear shortly but ultimately the blog will be a key part of the new site design.

GTA media kit 2008

second test

file lifted from posting

file from html code provided:

GTA April 2008

and another test

GTA media kit 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Advertising -- what really works

The front page of our original publication, Ottawa Construction News, published since 1989. A lot has changed, but some of the advertisers here have been doing business with us from OCN's early days. They of course are thinking with a long-term perspective, which you need as well when considering your advertising strategies. But equally, you need to think with imagination and flexibility -- and generate the leads you need by seeing things in the larger context.

Advertiseing (spelling as on original posting)
What works for you guys ,
I have never really had to advertise. But now I want to get my name out there more. So what really works?

As the thread progresses, the initial poster expresses exasperation about the lack of response to his question, until someone else pipes in -- essentially saying, you get what you give, and another says, a little more information about who you are and what you wish to accomplish will help you a lot.

These answers reflect the hard reality of advertising expense: It is really easy to blow large amounts of money for minimum results here -- but if you get it right, you can effectively manage your leads volume and achieve truly satisfactory results. But you need to know your business, your market, and select the right media for the work.

Here are my general thoughts about advertising. These may appear to be blunt observations, and my salespeople may not like everything I have to say here.

Advertising can serve several purposes, but if your goal is to achieve immediate actionable leads, be wary and careful about your expenses.

This means, I would be extremely cautious about signing any long-term contracts requiring you to pay for future results -- ie, conventional Yellow Pages advertising. In the old days -- that is just a few years ago -- these approaches may have been worthy of the risk, but your ability to measure and respond to Internet publicity, keywords and responses, mean you are likely to have the best results with advertising that can turned on or off, changed, and modified quickly.

You need to set a budget for advertising, and not be afraid to stick to it, even if the resuts (initially) are less than perfect.

Frankly, you are likely to make many mistakes at the beginning -- and you will need to test and experiment with the ideal media and results. The one thing you must not do is turn off the budget because it isn't working right away. Advertising can take time to be effective -- though you should be wary if your objective is to obtain immediate leads and the advertising doesn't generate any right away -- it may be time to explore other media.

Advertising is MORE than what media people 'sell' you.

You need to understand your own business and what you wish to achieve; you also need to take the media reps' bias into account in listening to their marketing presentations.

Remember, you are advertising to your market demographic, not to yourself (unless you reflect truthfully your market demographics).

If you like the opera, or wish to support your kid's junior team with a program ad, feel free -- you'll feel good, and maybe friends and acquaintances will do business with you. But if you are serious about reaching clients, remember that the readership of the intended publication/website/media outlet should match your clients' interests more than your own.

Advertising is only part of the picture

I've repeated over and over, how you treat your current clients is the most vital issue. In the b to b area, this means you may find the best advertising is to spend your money to support your own clients' marketing -- in other words, you buy ads to promote your customers' interests. But all the advertising in the world won't help you if you don't return calls, provide exemplary service, and create enough 'wow' and client satisfaction t hat your current customers return for more and suggest the same for their friends.

A little (smart) marketing can go a long way

How could canvassing with this handwritten note generate $10,000 in sales in a matter of hours? Perhaps one answer is you don't need to be truly sophisticated to succeed in marketing within the construction industry -- perhaps you simply need to go out and do something!

One thing I've noticed in selling advertising services for the construction industry is its lack of marketing sophistication. Many businesses simply play it by 'gut' or by what one media sales rep or another suggests.

I validated this by evaluating the source of advertising in poorly produced and ineffectively distributed "police journals". These magazines are sold by telemarketers purportedly representing local police associations. Perhaps the telemarketers contribute a small amount of money (or even worse, some free magazines) to the police associations, but little really is achieved otherwise -- the publications have poor overall distribution, editorial content, or value. And the ads in them are not inexpensive.

Notably, the largest percentage of advertisers in these publications -- by far -- are from the construction community. You certainly don't see retailers, banks, phone companies, and the like using these publications. Notably, few businesses selling products or services specifically relevant to police or law enforcement, or with a true relevance for working police officers, use them either. In other words, the telemarketers are able to convince construction businesses there is some value in this advertising, when there is none.

Lets look at another example, my earlier blog posting revealing how a sloppy handwritten note, combined with door-to-door canvassing, brings in significant business for a local contractor. What kind of business (other than construction) could claim success with this type of marketing piece?

Now, the bad news is that the ineffective, sloppy and often inept marketing that 'works' or is tried in the construction industry tends to degrade its reputation -- causing mindless expectations of "free estimates" and destroying trust from the general public.

But the good news is you don't need to do much to succeed by doing things right (in fact, I suppose you could argue you can succeed by doing almost anything!) In other words, just a little intelligent thinking and resourcefulness will produce returns far in excess of your cost -- and you can easily manage the risks to achieve satisfactory results. The reason: You are not up against much competition, and these days, resources are available to reduce your costs and risks and enhance your results.

These include:

Effective associations

In the ICI sector, and if you are an architect or engineer, you should join the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). If you are a home builder, consider your local Home Builders' Association, affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders (U.S.) or the Canadian Home Builders Association. You should also review resources available from appropriate specialty trade or general contracting associations. Almost all have resources to give you basic guidance in marketing -- and your membership, itself, will serve a marketing purpose.

Free Internet resources

See the links to and the Journal of Light Construction Online from this blog; you'll find a wealth of useful ideas and excellent peer support in these services.

Speciality (reputable) marketing services and consultants

I like Michael Stone (residential and sub trades, primarily) and Bernie Siben (AEC), but there are others you may find through networking through the consultants. Some heavily marketed and well promoted consulting services are overpriced and deliver commodity-style service. Stay away from them.

Inexpensive (effective) web and Internet design services

You'll see these referenced on the forums; Footbridge Media appears to have a very good reputation, for example.

Your existing clients

I cannot overemphasise the importance of connecting, relating, and listing to your existing clients. They can lead to powerful repeat business and referrals -- and provide you the perfect opportunity to asses your success and marketing effectiveness.

Notably, these marketing strategies will cost far less than the amount you waste on purchasing ads in overpriced police journals; or simply require the modest redirection of resources either of time or limited overhead budget allocations.

Simply put, you don't need to be brilliant at marketing in the construction sector -- you simply need to do a few things right and avoid some simple pitfalls to achieve success far beyond your competition -- and that is great news if you are wondering how you will survive the recession.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Micahel Stone, in his latest Mark Up and Profit e-letter, makes a really interesting point. Struggling contractors, trying to make the ends meet, are heading back to the job sites and picking up their tools to work.

We are hearing from more and more company owners (of the male persuasion) that they are back working part or full time with the tools. We have also heard from many of their wives, who are telling their husbands to read our blog posts and previous newsletters that talk about working with the tools.

Okay, a quick reminder. You do not make money working on job sites. You make a living, and only maybe that. The time you spend working on the job puts you that much further behind in your promotional efforts for your company. Yes, you have bills to pay and yes, yes, yes to all the other reasons you are working with the tools. But tell me this; what happens when this job is done? If you haven’t been marketing your company and selling new jobs, where will your next job come from? The referrals you might have depended on in the past are drying up. Referrals in construction today, based on what I’m hearing from many contractors, are less than 25 percent of what they were a year ago.

You must spend a certain amount of time each day marketing your company, advertising, schmoozing, letting potential customers know you are available to do their jobs. If you do not put in the marketing effort, your financial position will be worse than it was before you put the tools back on, regardless of what you charge for your time.

We are seeing more construction companies fail than we have seen since the early 90’s. It will get worse before it gets better. I personally expect this downturn in the housing market to continue through the next presidential election. If you and your company are going to survive this crunch, you must advertise, schmooze, promote and sell your company daily. That will be the difference between those that survive and make a profit, and those that go away.

I agree entirely with Michael about the importance of focusing on marketing and the business fundamentals. The business fundamentals side of my own business, frankly, is an area where I'm not totally satisfied right now -- we need to get our metrics in place, with clear progress to much better profitability and a healthier balance sheet. Publishing/advertising can do well at the beginning of recessions as some companies, who have never needed to advertise, start spending money (often unwisely). But we need to find more sustainability.

But I also appreciate there are advantages in donning the tools, especially in a downturn. In one of my hardest decisions about two years ago, I dismissed our editor and began doing all the writing for the publications myself. While this measure reflected a desperate survival orientation -- "if there is not enough work to pay an outside editor, at least I can pay myself as a writer" it had some important benefits crucial for the turn-around.

I learned, and got much closer to my market and clients than I could have ever done otherwise. I saw serious problems in client relationships, in the brand and image of our business, and the quality of our product. And in fixing these issues, I also connected with potential clients and sold stuff.l

Now of course we have a full time editor, Ken Lancastle, and shortly we will recruit freelance writers to lighten the load for Ken and myself. (I have continued to assust in writing many of the features in the last few months since Ken joined the company.) But I'll always "put on the tools" and get to work at least a few days a month, even as the business grows to its fullest potential.

Michael Stone is right, of course, you can't stop marketing and promoting your business, even when you get down to earth again -- but you can and I think should integrate the 'actual work' with your skills and the marketing process to achieve your goals. Leading by doing, and doing what you love to do, will help you through hard times much more effectively than desperate and ill-planned advertising spending. Just remember, however, you must do the marketing work even as you do the work itself. And that is where Michael Stone's advice is 100 per cent valid.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Banning marketing intrusions

University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist has introduced the website to help Canadians stop unwanted telemarketing calls. Geist's site allows users to simply register and say, effectively, don't bother me -- to a large list of organizations, many of whom are exempt from existing do-not-call legislation (but not privacy regulations). Geist's website simplifies the process for those of us who do not want to be bothered by intrusions from businesses, survey companies, charities, and political organizations. Instead of having to look up each organization individually and register with them our wish not to be bothered, we simply click on the website, and voila, if the organizations call us after our registration, they will be in trouble.

Ok, I've repeated on several occasions that intrusive marketing often works effectively. Canvassing, especially, can really attract profitable business, quickly. But marketers need to realize that if you enter people's space uninvited to push your wares on us, you risk a backlash.

There is a better way -- and no, it doesn't involve wasting money on conventional advertising, leads services and the like. It involves respecting your potential clients, understanding what matters to them, and them setting yourself out as the company/organization that really understands and will help them solve their problems.

So, say, you are a roofing contractor. You could send a canvassing squad around to neighbourhoods and look for houses with crappy roofs, and knock on the doors, and you might get good results. (And, frankly, I wouldn't find that kind of canvassing that offensive, if your guys really could see the problem and knew the service is required.)

But what about another approach; perhaps leaving some informative literature at the door outlining effective options (without ringing the bell) ; perhaps contributing to a community organization helping low-income people with roofing problems, or perhaps creating some kind of helpful resource/website with all the answers about roofing that anyone could ever want, free, and easily accessible. Maybe you could strike a relationship with relevant retail businesses or organizations where people ask questions; maybe you could write a regular column for the weekly newspaper on roofing issues; maybe you could lead a campaign within your community to curb canvassing and telemarketing -- and sponsor it!

The point here is there are ways to connect and show respect for people and while sometimes in-your-face marketing is effective, and valid, it only is that when there is thought and respect for the person to whom you are marketing. Too much door-to-door and phone stuff is mindless crap, insensitive, and disrespectful of the privacy of the person to whom you are marketing. Think before you call or knock on the door -- or beware of the retaliation from do-not-call systems such as Michael Geist's.

A wake up call

This thread is an eye-opener. A contractor gets his license -- and his phone starts ringing, not from customers, of course, but from people trying to sell leads services, advertising and other stuff. He faces the very real problem of a new business with visible contact information -- he is subject to inbound solicitation calls; promising far more than delivering.

Before I even knew that I was issued my contractors license my phone blew up!

All the yellow books had my number and they all wanted my business yet none of them wanted my services just my money.... all of them promised to give me more leads that I could handle a couple of them had good sniper tactics but when I asked them to give me references of the gc that used them to the conversation quickly changed.

I also thought about a online lead service and thank god I found this site!

Unfortunately I filled out a few app for some of them and my phone won't stop ringing. I knew that the construction industry was slow but I think the advertising sales must be hurting really bad.

They won't give up. I don't want to answer the phone anymore to someone trying to sell me their services -- I want someone to hire me for mine.

I found this site not a second to late (as) I almost signed up for (a leads service). Thanks to the info that's here I was able to ask all the right questions that otherwise I wouldn't have asked am as green as they come and thanks to y'all I believe I just saved my self some cash and a hellish headache! Thanks a million............

If you are just starting out and lucked onto this blog, take a deep breath and read the entries here and the hyperlinked forums. Oh yes, we sell advertising in some markets but do our best to ensure the advertising is appropriate and coupled with enough service to ensure true value.

Marketing success is a long-term thing

Merkley Supply Ltd. received the first Ottawa Construction News Readers Choice Award for construction industry suppliers. He started his annual show just a couple of years after we started the newspaper. We presented the award at the show. In an early morning email, Robert Merkley helped me with the caption for this photo:

Good morning Mark,

I thought I was the only one that worked ‘til the wee hours of the morning!

The article is great! I was hoping that the group photo would recognize my team:

From left to right:
- Johnny Raponi – Sales Manager
- Your writer – Daniel Smith
- Myself – Robert Merkley
- Ken Merkley – Marketing Manager
- Lorne Hartley CA – Controller
- Paul Mutter – Purchasing Manager

It would really great if you could recognize my team

As always, you have treated us very well.

Best regards,

Robert Merkley

Yesterday, I joined about 1,200 people for the annual Merkley Supply Ltd. trade show. The local brick dealer will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year (and is the successor to a much longer-established business which adapted from manufacturing to selling bricks and masonry products after its original site was expropriated for a freeway construction project in the late 1950s.)
The show has operated for 18 years. It survived two competing commercial construction trade shows in the local market, and many businesses which have come and gone over the past couple of decades.

Robert Merkley purchased an ad in the first issue of Ottawa Construction News, established in 1989, a little more than a year after I started my publishing business in 1988. His company has advertised in every issue since then. But Merkley has always followed his own path -- and seen his marketing as an integrated process. We can learn and observe from his experiences.
  • Merkley's marketing is community-centric. He has made it his business to contribute voluntary time and effort to good causes and industry associations. At one point in the 1990s -- in the midst of truly challenging economic conditions, he served both as President of the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association (now the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association) and Chair of the Ottawa Construction Association. Recently, he chaired the construction and development industry's fund raising committee for the Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

  • His marketing is focused. While the general public can go to his store, he focuses his marketing within the trades. Certainly local masonry contractors know who he is. So do architects and spec writers.

  • Merkely fully uses the supply chain in his marketing. Merkely's trade show is largely funded by his company's vendors. They don't mind. The show's focused, high quality market matches their needs; and of course Merkley purchases much material from them.

  • Merkely's marketing is multi-faceted: The trade show, community leadership and involvement, advertising in our publications, and simple but respectful initiatives to build and maintain his brand are apparent everywhere throughout the year. The result: If you are within the construction industry in Ottawa, and are thinking about brick, masonry, and some ancillary flooring and building envelope products, you'll think Merkley Supply Ltd.
During my brief visit to the MSL show yesterday, a general contractor and an architect who knew me from my early years in business greeted me -- and I recalled how I started Ottawa Construction News. Back in 1998, someone had started a construction show for Ottawa -- and filled the local conference centre with row after row of booths. Wow, I thought. If the market could support a show this size, maybe it could support a local trade newspaper for the industry.

Merkley had a huge display at the first show. The next time around, he also had a large display, but he thought about a better way to do things -- and the third year, he commenced his own show. The original show (and a competing show) ultimately flamed out when exhibitors found they simply weren't receiving enough value for their money. Thankfully, we're still around. And so is Merkely Supply. Why do some businesses survive -- and thrive -- through decades of good times and challenging environments? The answer to your marketing questions may be found in their stories.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The new polarity in marketing

The Diversity Visa program is the distant offspring of the old NP-5 program. Of course, Immigration consultants market these services -- at high fees -- when the rational thing to do is follow the instructions at the U.S. State Department site.

More and more, evidence is growing that traditional 'interruption' media is failing. People are tuning out of television, at least the conventional broadcast type. Conventional print media, especially the daily newspaper and Yellow Pages, are dying under the weight of the Internet. Overwhelming volumes of marketing messages are finding their way into the garbage pails, either figuratively, or literally.

So, as marketers, we are faced with two choices -- push ourselves even harder (and more intrusively) in front of our prospective clients, or find a way to get prospective clients to WANT to receive our marketing material; to desire to do business with us.

I've enjoyed correspondence with canvassing consultant Phil Needham who advocates the former approach. He would argue that canvassers are simply retracing the old steps before the mass media; where door-to-door salespeople were common, along with delivery people who actually brought milk, vegetables, and eggs to your home. And he has a point, within reason. Well-trained canvassers certainly can do good business, and quickly, but I'll never enjoy the experience of answering my home door and finding some guy with marketing message waiting to 'inform' me of something I had never requested nor wanted.

The other side of the equation is more challenging. How can we get people to really want to do business with us? If you can pull it off, great media publicity -- the free type, where reporters interview you and put you in the newspaper and on the air -- is best. (Of course, now that traditional media advertising is dying, so are the conventional media publications and broadcasters.)

I still remember a marketing success which proved the value of publicity. It also validated my instincts as an entrepreneur.
Back in 1986, the U.S. Congress approved a new immigrant visa category -- the NP5 -- designed to allow people without family connections or business interests to qualify for the much coveted "Green Card". To handle the volume of applications, the government set up a kind of lottery -- but (at least in its earliest version) with some really unusual entry rules.

The authorities announced they would issue 20,000 visas to the first 20,000 qualified applicants. To apply, you needed to mail a single sheet of paper to a Washington, D.C. post office box. Letters which arrived before the 'opening' deadline on midnight one day would be discarded. So would all applications after the initial batch. The rules said you could not use courier or personally deliver your application to the State Department, but you could mail as many applications as you wished.

I thought this is a really strange way for a nation to manage its immigration system, but came up with a rather wild idea. What if I found the postal station in Washington and, over several hours the day before the deadline, mailed dozens of applications? Eventually, chances are, one would get through the postal processing system and into the correct bin at the right time.

Then I took things a step further. I discovered that since the applications didn't need to be signed, I could provide the same service to others -- and take orders over the phone. So I placed a few ads in personal columns of newspapers across Canada, saying "increase your chances of winning the NP5 visa".

A few calls, and orders, trickled in. Then things got interesting, when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a reporter for the Edmonton Journal took an interest in my little business. The reporter, especially, was skeptical -- he thought we might be running a scam. But I explained that we of course weren't guaranteeing a visa; we were simply providing a service to increase chances of winning, following the rules set by the U.S. government. The reporter called the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, and a spokesman told him that our idea, in fact, was legitimate. So he wrote the story.

Our phone line started ringing (I was doing this with a partner, a woman who later went on to marry someone else). As things peaked, you could hear the phone lines crackling. We would put down the phone with one order, only for the phone to immediately ring again. Hundreds of people were trying to reach us -- giving us money and eagerly hoping for their visa dream to come true.)

We indeed went to Washington D.C. I wasn't the only person with this idea -- in fact, the U.S. Postal Service reported they had never processed so much mail in a single day at any post office. Crowds milled around the Brentwood postal station, as people pushed stacks of mail into the slots and the huge mail bins rolled out to handle the volume.

When we recovered from a few sleepless nights, we added up our profits, a few thousand dollars for a rather intense week's work.
A year later, incidentally, I received a letter from the U.S. consulate in Montreal. I had indeed been selected for a visa. I obtained the visa, but never actually moved to the U.S. and allowed it to lapse. Later, with the North American Free Trade Agreement, I obtained another type of visa - the L1A, which allows me to work and grow my business in the U.S. while remaining a Canadian resident/citizen.

I still long for a repeat experience; the exhilaration of having an idea so much in demand that people are practically begging to do business with us. I've read this sort of publicity coup has happened to others, and it can be the most amazing experience of your business life. You can't of course build a business plan around the hopes for this type of free media attention -- but when it happens, you'll know you what it is like to really succeed at marketing. And I would argue that even lesser publicity successes are worthwhile, and far more valid and enjoyable than sicking uninvited canvassers or telemarketers at your 'prospects'.

The question is, how do you do it? You can hire media relations and public relations consultants, but in the end, you are going to have to have a creative and innovative idea -- or spin on an 'old' idea and make it work. With our own advertising clients, I am always willing to spend some time creating and developing media-sensitive ideas. (This service is free, but you need to be one of my current customers to receive it!)

So, maybe canvassing or push marketing is the way to go. But maybe you can leverage a good story and get publicity, and have people banging down your door to do business with you. I'll take the latter approach, any day.

Some thoughts about marketing

An image from 65 Design's website. Nice looking materials, but how do you know you are getting your money's worth? (I've never used them, they are probably quite good, you could check references . . . of course, we could track their phone prefix to find where they are located, because I can't find a real address anywhere on the site -- suggests this may be a small, home-based business.)

Here is an article I've submitted for publication in our Canadian publications.

What are marketing and branding all about?
By Mark Buckshon
President, Construction News and Report Group of Companies

What are marketing and branding all about, and why are these words vitally important to your business? Simply put: Without clients ready and able to pay for your services, you don’t have a business, and branding and marketing are all about finding and retaining the customers you want.

The challenge occurs when it comes time to spend (invest) money on marketing and branding. Few business expenses can be as troublesome, because unlike inventory, mortgage or lease payments, or even the phone bill, you can easily spend a small fortune and achieve nothing in return – or worse, a negative result. Ill conceived and structured marketing campaigns can damage your business reputation, drive away profitable clients, and leave you with little to show but overpriced marketing materials.

Adding to the challenge is the very real fact that most of the pre-offered advice you will receive about marketing is delivered with a healthy dose of self-interest from the advisor. You can seek out independent consultants, agencies and the like, but unless your budget is really large, they aren’t likely to be much help (and they will probably never suggest that the smartest thing you could do is reduce your budget.)

So how do you overcome these challenges? Here are some thoughts, admittedly from someone whose business sells advertising for a living.

  • Consider joining the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). While there are no local chapters in Canada (the association has local chapters in most major U.S. cities), the overall marketing resources specifically relevant to the architectural, engineering and construction sectors are worthwhile and, if you wish to join a steering committee, we could establish a Canadian chapter.
  • Think supply-chain: Work with your vendors who have a common interest in supporting your marketing and publicity – they, after all will benefit from your success. (Many have co-op advertising programs to help pay the bills, and professional/technical expertise to help you along).
  • Think of your current clients first. Most of your potential marketing value is right with your existing client base. You want to ensure they are more than “satisfied” – if you do things so well that they brag about you to their friends you’ll obtain the valuable referral business. You need not spend much if any money here – simple things like returning phone calls promptly and sending thank you notes pay huge dividends.
  • Remember, external marketing is all about lead generation – and the leads you are generating should match the demographics and goals of your business. Define your actual strategy based on how effectively and reasonable your cost per lead is (and measure the results). You may find canvassing, for example, works well if you have a residential service visible from the exterior.

Finally, consider and use the free or inexpensive resources available to you – you can then cross-check for bias, and determine the best approach for your own business. I publish a list of relevant websites, forums, and blogs at the Construction Marketing Ideas blog.

Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes construction trade newspapers and websites in several U.S. and Canadian cities. He can be reached by phone at 888-432-3555 ext 224 or by email at

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A canvasser's perspective

Joseph Needham of Needham Canvassing Consultants took exception to some remarks in today's eletter where I stated: "Notably, these consultants don't canvass themselves."
The correction is that my Consulting firm actually does canvass for our customers . . . . Customers can hire my firm to canvass for them, however when we are out at a Customer's location building them a canvassing team of their own, we actually go out with the canvassers and canvass with them.

I believe that I am the only Consultant that actually puts their money where their
mouth is. When other consultants are just offering lip service (meaning telling best practices) we show our customers best practices. We take them into the street and go with them door-to-door showing them how it is done.

When we are out at a location typically the leads we generate while we are there more than cover any costs associated with the building of their canvassing team.

It is my company's goal to raise the bar when it comes to canvassing. We are setting new industry standards with the generating of a qualified appointment through canvassing.

Actually generating leads for my customers is how I differentiate myself from my competition.
I wrote back and explained that my intent in saying "canvassers don't canvass themselves" in relation to their own businesses -- that is finding commercial clients for the canvassing services they are marketing. Needham responded: "I do a little telemarketing when I need a couple of customers. It usually takes one week on the phone to keep me busy for a month or two."

Needham also corrected an error in one of my earlier blog postings.

I just noticed when reading one of your articles about American Dream Vinyl that you wrote the name Doug Holland. I know the owner of American Dream Vinyl. He is a customer of mine and his name is Doug Hillyard.
My bad. I failed to double check Hillyard's name spelling before publishing the original posting. At least, with blogs, there is one big advantage over other media when you make a mistake of this sort. Corrections can be entered within seconds, and no one would know (except for my admission here) that I had it wrong in the first place.

I asked Needham where he thinks canvassing makes sense.

As for the types of business that could benefit from canvassing would be (of course) any construction company, also I've seen success in the real estate market, I've often wondered what it would be like to canvass for a car dealer. Would they pull up in a driveway in a new car, knock on the door and ask the homeowner if they would like to buy the car?

For any business to be cost efficient for canvassing they would need a high unit sale
amount to offset the costs associated with canvassing.
Needham also asked me, in another email, why I hate canvassing. Here is my response.
It's basic -- the canvasser intrudes on my space. I don't give him/her permission to enter it. It's a matter of respect for my privacy and right to enjoy my home without unwelcome distractions.
Recognize the intrusion element. I am doing something I enjoy (or maybe some work, or maybe spending time with my family.) The door bell rings, and someone is there to sell (or gather leads, or whatever) for something I neither requested nor wanted. The entire process takes time away from something I would rather do. Your canvasser is certainly not paying me for the inconvenience which I wish not to happen.
Canvassing is worse than telemarketing, which is so irritating, you know, that laws were passed to establish do not call registries.
Please don't misunderstand, I respect canvassing works from a marketing perspective. But I don't want to be bothered. I want to choose who and how I do business, especially at my home.
More and more, I fear, marketing is polarizing between honorable permission-based initiatives (you certainly are not forced to read this blog, and you can choose how and when to view it), and extreme intrusion, whether it be canvassing or phoning. Notably, it looks like the former owner of my Skype number has a few organizations trying to reach him/her (perhaps collection agencies). I get several calls a week with a recording saying "this is not a sales call" but to phone back a certain number. I imagine how irritating these calls are to the people who actually receive them. The intrusion-type marketing probably is 'necessary' because people are shutting off the other forms of conventional advertising and selling -- we're flipping the channel, surfing the net, and refusing to read the mass of fliers dropped on our doorsteps. Since it is harder and harder for marketers to reach our targets, we are resorting to more intensive in-your-face strategies.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Building a great business

Today, I took another step forward in building a great business. I allocated close to $5,000 to send myself and two key employees, Chase and Sherri Herriot to the Great Game of Business in Springfield, Missouri, in June.

The "Great Game" is a program initiated by open-book management guru Jack Stack. Stack advocates employee ownership models -- but believes employees can only be owners when they think and act like owners, and to do that, they need to both care about and understand business fundamentals.

Not everyone agrees that employee ownership is the right way to go; and certainly I don't want to simply give the business away to its employees -- they will need to pay for their shares, sufficient to fund my 'retirement' (I use quotes here deliberately because I have absolutely no interest in retiring -- when my senior years arrive I wish to continue productive work and contributions.) Nevertheless, Stack's approach, which combines key metric measurements with incentives for productive achievement, appears ideal for the type of business I wish to run. (Other models, undoubtedly, are also successful. For example, family businesses which hand shares from one generation to the other can be truly successful and valid, and other entrepreneurs build great businesses and then sell the enterprise to outsiders -- employees can stay along for the ride, but they don't collect equity shares.)

Meanwhile, we are preparing for our regular bi-annual planning meeting to be facilitated by consultants Bill Caswell and Upkar Bikhu of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company. Bill and Upkar have given us the systematic and organizational framework for solid and reliable business operations -- I expect the tools we will obtain in Springfield this June will help us refine our approaches and then set forward for real growth.

In the meantime, in a few hours, the next issue of the Construction Marketing Ideas Newsletter will reach readers. Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More on canvassing

Finishline Construction in Staten Island, NY, has started a canvassing program and is reporting on the progress of this initiative. The company also, I believe, has a really effective website worthy of your consideration. The picture is of the flier the company's canvassers are leaving on homeowners' doorknobs when no one is home.

Another interesting thread on explores the seemingly effective launch of a canvassing program. I'm confident the program will work. Though my less-than-positive opinions about canvassing in general have not changed, I am certainly ready to share these observations especially for businesses serving residential markets struggling under recessionary circumstances. In this environment, especially if you absolutely need to find new business, quickly, canvassing holds promise, it seems.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Asking works

This book, Breaking the No Barrier, by the late Walt Hailey, is one of the cornerstones of our selling and marketing strategies. Hailey advocated integrating selling and marketing within the business-to-business supply chain.

In this blog entry, Networking Up, Part 2: How Rainmakers Move Up in the Client Organization, Ford Harding addresses the question of how you can connect with the key person/people in the organization when you aren't at the 'right' level. His recommendation: Ask -- and it makes a lot of sense.

Really, when it comes to selling, if you have a valid proposition and service that is of real value to the client business, you can gain access. The challenge is the words "real value". I can't see how you can possibly know if you have anything of value just by calling cold, running down a list, or barging into the office door with a canvassing call. (I suppose in the residential sector, and you are selling vinyl siding, and the house on the street's exterior is a mess, you can tell they might need new vinyl siding.)

So, then, the question is how do you find if the business has real need for your service when your manager gives you a raw list and says "go get em!"

Clues can be found by reading and learning about the business; by talking to lower level personnel in an informal setting, or if you are lucky (or plan it right) having informal discussions with more senior people in neutral settings.

Another approach is to look at your existing network of clients and see if you an work with them upstream -- that is, obtain referrals to THEIR suppliers. This is the cornerstone of our own marketing approach -- we assess the supply chain and then follow the money. If your clients are really happy with your services, they'll probably be happy to refer you to their suppliers, and their suppliers will likely be happy to take your call, because, after all, you are referred by these suppliers' customers.

I'm a firm advocate of spending more time on research and analysis, and putting more effort into the prospecting phase, rather than 'closing' the sale. The 'close' almost should come naturally without force or effort, because by the time that arrives, the client will be naturally ready to do business with you.

Yes, you might say, spending all this time on research and not getting face time with clients invites analysis freeze. This is why I really like this four point program that creates excellent self-discipline and management, and reminds you that all the research in the world doesn't substitute for face-time with real prospects and clients.

Pricing pains

This Journal of Light Construction online thread has lots of insights into the problems when potential clients seem to want everything for nothing. Here is the initial post:

Ready to Snap -- Tired of the games

The next customer (lawyer, president of Hyundai, other well to do professional) that asks me why it is so expensive I am going to explode on. Or pack this whole thing in - no that they will really care.

Have others before me had so many nay sayers and grinders in a row that they almost called it a day?

Will it end? This is so exhausting!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Residential canvassing and b to b cold calls -- the yuck in marketing

I discovered this video at Seth Godin's blog -- Seth advocates Permission Marketing and I think would be aghast at the idea that marketers should send squads of canvassers through residential neighbourhoods, or sick telemarketers on your business. But the story is never so simple.

Two threads at relate the challenges and opportunities of outbound 'push' marketing. I've waded deeply into the debate about the merits and risks of residential canvassing, while another thread-starter has asked the question: How should she handle a list of more than 600 potential b to b clients for fencing services. In the later thread, Susan Betz from Fences of Distinction in Ocala, Florida, expresses her fears and discomfort about making cold calls -- and receives suggestions, advice, and warnings from others.

The canvassing debate with Doug Holland of American Dream Vinyl of central Pennsylvania has grown heated at times. I've argued that door-knocking to sell services is wrong -- it is unfair for anyone selling stuff to intrude into the private space of our homes, whether or not it is legal or effective. However, I also concede that canvassing is probably quite effective and may have a place if your business is either in urgent need of a boost or in start-up mode.

The debate here revolves around a fundamental question about marketing which has gone on for eons. With all the clutter and noise out there, and all the challenges in gaining attention of our potential clients, how can we best work our way through the 'mind clutter' and achieve top of mind awareness. This problem is clearly outlined in the "this is an awareness test" video posted on Seth Godin's blog.

Here, we come to a fundamental question about marketing. If an intrusive, irritating, and downright offensive methodology -- to many, or perhaps the majority of potential clients -- 'works' for the minority, to the extent that it is utterly effective, is it wrong, especially if, once you have the clients in your system, you treat them well and with respect? In other words, if you have people banging on doors, or calling cold, and nine-tenths of the people out there want nothing to do with you and in fact are downright irritated with your intrusion, if you find the 1/10th real clients, and then convert them to loyal followers, have you done anything wrong?

These are good questions, and remind me of an experiment I tried some years ago with a fax information service for construction data and information.

I thought, why not send a free sample to everyone on a large list of construction association members. And I did, with a test sample. Out of a hundred people, I received two complaints, and two orders. The ratio seemed reasonable to me, so I rolled out the list, and picked up some 20 to 30 clients out of 1,000 names.

Fair enough. I thought, why not extend this further, to other lists; and then received the chilling awareness that when you go "in your face" you had better be careful about relevancy. Nothing but complaints -- including from people using third party fax services, who had to pay by the page for the data I dumped on them. (If I had tried this in the U.S. I would also have run into FCC regulations highly restricting fax advertising -- if you are thinking of doing any kind of broadcast fax marketing in the States, be aware, you can easily be snared in some very expensive litigation!)

The broadcast fax situation got out of hand a few years ago when, under public pressure, the FCC tried to strengthen the anti-marketing fax legislation even more to close some 'loopholes' for trade associations and prior business relationships. Fortunately, a coalition of trade associations and marketers rallied to have these rules modified -- ironically, this type of fax advertising is now hardly intrusive nor expensive for most businesses, since faxes generally feed into computers and in any case, are easy to discard without intruding on your space or time.

Canvassers, meanwhile, ran into problems with local ordinances as communities tried to restrict the nuisance of door-to-door selling. But this one found its way to the Supreme Court, and canvassing is indeed legal and cannot be stopped. So now the floodgate is opening as canvassing consultants ply their trade and sell their services -- of course not by canvassing, but by Internet and relationship-based "pull" marketing.

We can argue this one up and down and around and around but it seems to me the marketing space is polarizing, between really heavy intrusion marketing (canvassing and telesales) and really good permission marketing (PR, electronic newsletters, search engine marketing), with the more conventional advertising approaches, whether they be print, direct mail, or radio and television, struggling with costs and the challenges of breaking through the attention-getting clutter. In this environment, perhaps the best approach indeed is to find a combination -- systematically using canvassing or telesales to generate leads, even as you work to deliver your product/service with such high quality that you don't actually need to do that type of marketing, because you have so much repeat business and referrals from satisfied clients.

Of course, that is the rub of the situation. If our businesses are well enough run that permission marketing generates most of our business, why would we want to engage in practices which we find distasteful and irritating? I won't solve this problem anytime soon.

How to meld supplier and client marketing

Doug Williams, President of the Buckner Companies in North Carolina poses with his new crane. Note how publicity is melded here combining the supplier, client, and various media including trade shows, video, and websites. Much of our own business is built on melding and enhancing these types of client/supplier relationships -- you can often do other things as well.

We're big proponents of supplier/client public relations and marketing, melding supplier-support advertising with editorial features and profiles. The idea behind the system is to create real value for everyone, breaking the traditional tyranny and waste of conventional advertising and communications marketing. The cornerstone of our model is the advertising supported editorial feature.

This is effective because:
  • The company/organization profiled in the editorial feature receives valuable, credible publicity, written by professional journalists, in a publication with independent news content.

  • The supplier advertising support allows for a much larger and longer feature than a conventional advertorial; in many cases the feature can be a special supplement/section of eight, 12 or even more pages.

  • Advertisers spend their money where it does the most good to them -- supporting and enhancing their current client relationships. But they also gain credibility and recognition (and additional marketing and promotional support from us, as part of our overall business practice.)

Our model, of course, is not the only approach to linking suppliers and clients in communications strategies. This note from North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm shows other approaches, which may work for your business, in conjunction with what we do, or independently.


This could be a good international story for your blog. Eddie Williams, CEO, Buckner Companies, (You met him at the Triangle ASAC Luncheon) is a founder of the American Subcontractors Association of the Carolinas. He has been at ConExpo all Las Vegas last week and finally called me this afternoon with this incredible story from ConExpo that appears on the Kobelco (KHL) website.
You will particularly enjoy the video.
You’ve received the email I sent KHL (based in the UK) requesting pictures. It’s in the public domain and can be used on your blog whenever you wish.


Note how the crane supplier uses video, the Internet, and trade show tie ins to provide some promotional value to its client -- and itself. Not bad. If you are making a major purchase or acquisition, there is no reason not to ask your supplier for some marketing support in relevant media. They may co-op on advertising, or assist you with news releases and publicity services.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

$18 bottled water -- fixed

Well, the Coca-Cola vending machine representative showed up at my office today, with a $20,00 bill. Putting a human face on the problem and solution, he said when I receive the $25 or so in merchandise coupons, I could donate them to my son's hockey team. A simple courtesy, but by putting a human solution to the story, he saved Coke's brand.

Obviously, my complaint and the resulting energy and time spent to resolve the situation cost Coca-Cola some money, but when you think of the millions of dollars in advertising and marketing, a little customer service and respect really go a long way. I think a better solution would be to have well calibrated machines with sufficient electronic information so that the veracity of potential problems can be reported and solved right away -- with arrangements, where required for someone nearby (convenience store or whatever) to be able to issue cash or merchandise refunds right on the spot. But, regardless, this file is closed and Coke ultimately got it right.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Canvassing works, but . . . (3)

Doug Hillyard of American Dream Vinyl in central Pennsylvania phoned me in response to my last post about canvassing. He told me how well the door-knocking is working for his business.

"We're having great success," he said. "We have people standing outside our showroom in the morning, with the fliers (from the canvassing), and setting appointments with us."

"I spend so much money on advertising -- newspaper ads, home shows, fliers and direct mail, and I've never had response like this, where I'm at right now."

Hillyard says his city isn't that big -- but he isn't worried about saturating his market. In the immediate area, the population is only about 100,000, he said. When the canvassers he is using complete their work, "I'll widen my circle" -- and he will have the canvassers return for another go-around.

Hillyard noted that years ago canvassing was common but, in part with the advent of telemarketing, "we got lazy". Now may be the time to revisit the old tried-and-true, in-your-face marketing.

Not that his canvassers are pushy, he says. "We train our canvassers so well that people call in and say our canvassers are professionals and nice. " In fact, he calls his canvassers "field executives".

But he acknowledges that canvassers may wear out their welcome if there are too many of them, and the methodology is overused. "I don't want to see the market over saturated."

Has Hillyard changed my own opinion about canvassing, as a resource for marketing construction services? Not one bit. I've always believed that canvassing can be extremely effective for mass consumer services, and is probably the best way to find business if you are in a survival crisis (I don't think Hillyard is in that situation -- he is doing just fine.)

But for me and many other people canvassing is an irritant, just like telemarketing. I will screen out and avoid doing business with anyone who tries to canvass me. And I expect, if the practice becomes prevalent, more and more people will feel the same, and do what they can to express their revulsion. There can be nice telemarketers and well trained canvassers, but in all, they succeed because they effectively intrude into people's private and personal spaces. No one invites a canvasser to your home and I don't want to see any approaching my doorstep.

I accept of course that if the practice works for your business, and is legal, you can and should be free to use it. Just don't do it on me!

Instead, perhaps we can turn the tables and look more closely at Permission Marketing and Brand Harmony: That is, creating a situation where people welcome and invite your marketing initiatives -- and we respect them by turning off the marketing machine when they are not interested in hearing our message.

In Thunder Bay

After the plane landed yesterday, I picked up the rental car and headed straight to the offices of the Construction Association of Thunder Bay. The association, with about 200 members, serves an incredibly large territory in Northwestern Ontario. In the offices, I met Ann Goodwin and Harold Lindstrom, the association's two employees. I also brought in our membership application and paid the dues to join the association.

Harold offered me some insights into the state of the construction industry in this region and, in fact, throughout Northern Ontario. For several years now, the economy in this part of the world has been in the doldrums; especially the forest industry has suffered. Yet, reflecting the reality that construction continues in even not-so-good-times, he said the association's membership has been reasonably stable over the years.
One change, he said, is the decline in the number of local area general contractors; as the market thinned, the ability of businesses to support/handle specialized projects locally diminished, opening the door for out-of-region contractors. But sub trades and suppliers locally based have a real advantage; they know the ways of the world in the North -- especially how to bring labour into smaller and remote locations. Workers based in Thunder Bay, for example, expect to work remotely, staying at camps or motels in smaller centres, when they work on larger projects in these regions. This suggests one thing we should include in our northern publication is a directory listing of hotels/motels in smaller centres capable of handling construction workers/teams.

The interface between whites and natives also is a factor; many publicly funded projects are on Indian reserves -- and the Indian bands rightfully want their own people to work on these jobs; but the problem is they lack the skills and is it piratical to train someone in a specialized skill for a one-time project (the option, I presume, would be that the Native worker, properly trained, could become mobile and move from job to job, but how many people want that lifestyle?)
One thing you can learn here is how businesses adapt, survive, even thrive when conditions are not great. This should give hope for more recently established contractors elsewhere, especially in parts of the U.S. who are experiencing their first recession.

This afternoon, Ill be heading home -- Air Canada now offers Executive Class on flights here -- with Aeroplan points the flight cost $90.00. That is the way I like to live -- well, but not wastefully.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The $18 bottle of water -- lessons in branding and blunders

Let's just help out here with a little more publicity for Danani with this reference (from a few years ago), to Coke's U.K. bottled water public relations disaster. Mistakes can get expensive when you have a well-known brand. But even though you are running a local construction business rather than a multi-national corporation, the basic principals apply. All client interactions -- especially if the client is complaining -- are important to your brand.

Yesterday afternoon, we rushed to the hockey arena for the final afternoon practice before Eric's first final playoff game tomorrow (and my trip to Thunder Bay today). The canteen hadn't opened yet, but no problem, the arena has vending machines containing the new "healthy" Dasani vitamin fortified bottled water.

A kid was fumbling with a five dollar bill in the currency acceptor on the machine. It wouldn't take his bill. I offered to help. The machine could take $20s, so (even though I had the change I needed for my own drink), I offered to put in my cash and give him the change he needed. The machine had no problem accepting my money. It also gave me my water. But no change. And that is where this saga begins.

To my misfortune, the arena canteen had opened just as I deposited the bill into the machine (so the kid actually could get his own pop). But the person behind the arena counter said, "we don't have anything to do with the machines. You'll have to deal with the vending machine company." I could have gotten mad at the arena management for lacking flexibility, but know some history including an embezzlement scandal within the building a few years ago, so really wasn't going to hold the counter person responsible for this rule.

Nevertheless, this wasn't a $1.00 loss, it was an $18.00 matter, so I took it on myself to call the 800 problem number on the machine. Turns out the machine is actually owned by The Coca-Cola company, and the number rings through to Coke headquarters in Atlanta.

It is here that I began my run-in experience with corporate headquarters and ill-managed customer service policies.

After pushing a few phone tree extensions, someone real answered (good). The person said she could send merchandise coupons but not issue a cash refund; that would take a couple of days and would have to be done by the local vendor. I started fuming. "I don't want your dumb pop, I want my money back," I said. (I am not entirely unreasonable here; I know that if I had lost a $2.00 coin in the machine and didn't receive the bottle, a merchandise refund would have worked well -- but we're talking $18.00 here.) I told the script-laden employee I wasn't happy and publish a blog on marketing, and right now, Pepsi is starting to taste really good to me. To add insult to injury, just as she concluded the call and gave me the follow up identification number, the line went dead, so I called back, went through lots of holds, and eventually got the same message from the same person.

Okay, I'm not happy, but Eric's practice was about to end and I really preferred spending time with my family before this visit to Thunder Bay, and put the whole thing out of my mind.

Until this afternoon. After four hours of flying, and another three and a half hour of intensive interviews, and receiving eight phone messages, someone from Coke called while I was in a meeting. I finally got to the hotel room, ready to return messages, and listened to what seemed like a brand-saving maneuver.

The person in Vancouver said she would be sending me coupons for all kinds of stuff --soft drinks, bottled water, large bottles, everything totalling, she said, about $25.00. "Hey,this is neat," I thought, expecting the call to conclude with an explanation of how someone from the vending machine department would get back to me about refunding my cash as well. No luck. "We can't refund cash, so if you want that, you'll have to return the coupons," the person said. (I have her name and number, but won't publish it here.)

She didn't leave me a phone number, but my cellular phone had the number on it -- so I called back. "That person's phone is not set to accept in-bound calls," the receptionist told me. "She'll call you back, though."

And she did, and it proved to be an interesting conversation. I explained that I didn't want her company's bottled water, pop, or whatever, I wanted my cash back, but the hassle she was putting me through was far greater than the loss I had incurred. I said the right thing would have been to offer the coupons AND the cash refund. I said: "You don't know how much my time is worth." She responded (amazingly), "My time is worth more than yours." Hugh. (Expletive deleted.) Even though I had made clear that I own a business and publish a marketing blog, (acknowledged in her original voice message), she would say something like that....????)

I told her clearly that if I had lost $2.00 or even $5.00 in the machine, I wouldn't have a problem, so why not set the machines so they don't accept large bills. "We have that policy in Western Canada," she said. She said that she will pass my request on, and that indeed I can keep the coupons, but really I should return them because there is no way her department should have to absorb the costs of a mistake in the vending machine department.

Okay, this is a lot of stuff about a small matter. I paid $35.00 tonight for a room service dinner; and am not going to be pushed into poverty for an $18.00 loss. And I could see that Coca-Cola (and large consumer oriented companies) have to have systems in place that work for most people, most of the the time, and when small amounts of cash are lost in vending machines, you don't want to be handling cash and refunding money carelessly.

But we all need to remember, regardless of the size of our business, that our brand depends on the interaction between the company and the client; and these are crucial moments in relationship development and maintenance. Turning a broken vending machine into a saga spanning several days is not good business. (Coca Cola may redeem itself, of course, when I receive the refund and keep all those coupons -- but it won't if the refund doesn't come in a timely manner!)

In construction and related businesses, the client relationships usually span far longer than the time it takes to receive bottled water after pushing a $20 bill into currency acceptor. And, in many cases, it involves several employees at different levels. As you'll see in future entries, your front line employees -- whether they be project superintendents, accounting personnel, or (importantly) your receptionist, all have critical roles in creating and maintaining your brand, and building your current and future business. If staff are able to respond quickly and resourcefully, slip-ups can be recovered quickly, and client satisfaction goes through the roof.

I try to set an example in my own business. When a complaint call comes in while I am in the office, I'll often phone back within minutes. This has immediate impact because the complainer is never expecting the company president to call back. But regardless, I set out with the philosophy that the customer deserves a hearing and control over the solution and I'll do whatever is necessary to make things right. I know most people are reasonable and fair, most of the time, if you treat them that way. And yes, there are a few who will exploit loopholes and expect something for nothing. Obviously, none of us can walk away from a $100,000 invoice -- but I'll absorb a $250 ad, and the Coca Cola company should be able to make good, without hassle, a $20 vending machine fowl-up.

Right now, I'll take the coupons, and start drinking Pepsi, or more rationally, store-branded bottled water.