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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rain Making and Networking -- some perspectives

Two of my favourite blogs are written by Ford Harding and Tim Klabunde. Ford focuses on Rain Making -- the specialized skills and abilities for professional practitioners who are also selling/marketing their practice's services. Tim has a wealth of material on networking the right way -- focusing on sharing, generosity and relationship building.

They've posted two recent blog entries worthy of consideration.
In More News from Down Under: How Shawn Callaghan Blogs for Fun and Profit, Harding reports on a successful Australian blogger who addresses the challenges that Ford has not yet resolved himself -- converting blog energy into actual business -- especially for high value professional services. Shawn Callaghan has developed methods to generate a significant lead volume, and then converts these leads to business with an intermediate easy-to-enter and purchase service.

Tim Klabunde, meanwhile, blogs about Ford Harding's latest book: Rain Making: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field-- 2nd edition (I also reviewed the Harding's book for The SMPS Marketer. (Note the link off may take you to the first edition -- you may have to order the second edition directly from Ford or try

Now if you are wondering if we are in a mutual admiration society, I have given that some thought as well -- blogging, by its nature, involves an interconnected network of communities and readers -- unlike conventional journalism where there may be one organization with 100 journalists and 100,000 readers, with blogging, you may have 100 individual bloggers representing 85 organizations (some organizations will have more than one blogger!) and perhaps 10,000 readers. The difference hopefully is focus and specialization: I doubt I could express an independent perspective about Construction Marketing in the way I am doing before the blogging era arrived -- I would instead need to exclusively work through gatekeeper publications either in the general business press or perhaps (as I am also doing) through the SMPS Marketer.

But does this stuff bring in business? If you are a contractor or trades person who prefers to work with your hands rather than the keypad, I'd definitely leave blogging off the priority list -- the payback in time and return on effort is hardly worthwhile. But as Harding, Tim and Shawn Callaghan show, blogging indeed has a place in your marketing strategy if you enjoy writing, can maintain the discipline, and realize the payback in actual client business may be very much delayed gratification.

The quick fix -- and better solutions

I set out to find an image to go with this posting -- keying in Google for "quick fix marketing solutions" and discovered several 'quick fix' images that linked to dead sites (not a good sign obviously). But this not-quick-fix site in Virginia,, led me to a wonderful set of web pages reminding us that when it comes to advertising (and all marketing, including your internal initiatives), The Customer is King. This image is material developed for Orleans Homebuilders which "won the prestigious Marketing Excellence Award from The Home Building Association of Richmond every year from 2000 to 2006, and now, Orleans is vying for the position of the second largest homebuilder in the Richmond market, up from number six."

Your numbers are terrible, perhaps you've lost a major client, or your core customers aren't purchasing -- or one of your major receivables suddenly has gone bad. It's crisis time. What should you do? Here are some quick-fix sales and marketing tips -- solutions I've found through hard experience have worked.

Brainstorm with your staff and key contractors.

As our business entered a truly major crisis in early 2006, we gathered together for an all-day planning session. I realized two things right away. First, most of my then-employees didn't want to be there (and they all left within a year). Second, despite this real problem, one of our new employees -- a student about to embark on travel -- suggested an idea to resurrect a directory listing service which brought in a quick $15,000 in revenue (which recurs annually.) If you've never co-ordinated a planning meeting, you will need to find an external facilitator to lead the process. You may find painful insights, but you'll probably recover the meeting's cost with some short-term revenue (as you begin to isolate and fix the larger problems affecting your business.)

Find more business with your existing and previous clients

The 80/20 rule applies here -- 80 per cent of your business comes from 20 per cent of your clients; and 80 per cent of your marketing success will come from repeat and referral business development. See the poll that is published on this blog for proof. Extra effort in cultivating and improving current client relationships will yield more immediate results than other answers -- of course, you will 'run out' of leads here, but give your client base some crucial scrutiny and thought.

Can your suppliers help?

I ask this as a question, because it is rather hard to go to our suppliers and ask for marketing support if you aren't paying your bills to them (a real issue and possibility if you are struggling to meet payroll). Nevertheless, your suppliers can well be your best marketing assistants -- and often will contribute financially to your marketing campaign. Our business, especially thrives on supply chain relationships.

Shoe leather, the phone and 'spam' will work, if necessary

Canvassing and telemarketing are unpleasant but can be effective -- but don't ask anyone to do this stuff unless you are willing to do it yourself (at least to validate the results/resistance). I think it is really uncool for you to contract out to have 'leads' delivered to you these ways -- and you risk losing your brand, market acceptance and becoming addicted to what I believe are unhealthy marketing models. But if you are in survival mode, you need to do what you need to do -- and should do it yourself.

Here are some don'ts.

Don't reduce your prices.

Okay, your best client is threatening to leave and you need to keep the business to keep your doors open; you will need to do what you need to do -- but generally price reduction is a sure road to major problems, especially in the current environment where many costs are rising.

Don't flail about with public tenders and bids.

Suddenly going after open tender and publicly bid work is inviting you to spend hours preparing and estimating, when some sucker will simply bid lower than you. Bad news, and bad marketing. Obviously, if you know your way around the public sector, or have some 'ins' for subsidy programs and services, please follow up -- this may especially be the case if you are in a smaller community and can connect with local officials.

And here is one final thought.

Think forward.

Remember my first suggestion to have a brainstorming and planning meeting. You need to redesign your business to connect with your employees -- who indeed can be your brand/marketing ambassadors. As you dig out, think ahead, to where you want your business to be; set your goals, involve your employees, suppliers and clients in the solution, and make it work.

You will pull through.



We've registered dozens of Internet domains, many for an ill-fated effort in 2005 to create a network of local construction industry news web sites. I should have followed my own advice on marketing before starting that project -- patching together a sloppily constructed website network on the hopes that people would actually be interested in stale news generated far away from the local communities the sites were intended to serve!

Nevertheless, domain registration these days is inexpensive and our business vision indeed calls for real publications/services in the communities served by the domains, so we're keeping them active. At present, the domains point to our 'old' websites; we are constructing something new that will provide a solid service for everyone who visits -- with exceptionally thorough local coverage where we have meaningful publications/presence.

Nevertheless, we've been labouring with a cumbersome and long domain for corporate and general email --, for example, is really easy to mis-type and wraps around pages, and so on.

So Daniel Smith set out to find a shorter domain. Three and even four letter relevant domains are virtually impossible to find these days -- unless you want to pay a small fortune; and things looked challenging until Daniel discovered that five-letter had become available. So I went ahead and 'registered' it, putting the work of implementing the actual name switch to a time when I was a little less busy.

However, when I failed with repeated efforts to post email changes to the new domain, I looked more closely -- and had a suddenly sinking feeling when I realized that I had mistakenly registered, switching the "a" and "r" in the middle of the domain. And someone had grabbed the originally planned 'cnarg' domain in the meantime. '

But sometimes solutions happen quickly. I tested and, discovering its availability, immediately registered it.

Now we are beginning the domain reference switching process. Don't worry if you've bookmarked or saved for email the old email addresses -- they still work. And I am reminded that attention to detail and checking things carefully are not my greatest strengths -- but I am quite good at recovering from my blunders.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

People and systems -- the (one sided) balance

This graphic is from the EllisDon web page article headlined: "EllisDon Ranks Number One on Canada’s 50 Best Employers List". We can learn a lot from the business practices of the most successful companies in our industry.

At a recent Ontario General Contractors Association forum, Geoff Smith, President and CEO of EllisDon, a multi-billion dollar general contractor, explained some of the basics of his company's business success.

"If you don't have good people on the projects in your area, your head office won't save anything," he said. "Systems never cause success. You either have good people and set them free or you don't."

He added an interesting second point. "People say 'we're here to enhance shareholder value. That's BS -- no one gets up in the morning to enhance shareholder value.

"We think that why our company exists, why did the founder start the company; it is what (our employees) love doing -- it's the kind of people hanging around it . . .The employees come first. This is the company which exists for its employees."

He added: "We are going to be entirely open about this company; we share the financial statements with all the employees, we share all the problems -- (and) by the way, you are accountable . . . you are accountable not to me but to everyone else who works in the company."

So, here are the three basic themes of EllisDon:

  • Set them (employees) free
  • Make the priorities based on the employees
  • Give them all the information and make them accountable to each other.
"Some days it works better than others," Smith concluded.

Aha, here is the balance, the opportunity, and the challenge in business -- finding the right balance in business overall and, in specific, marketing construction services: Finding the right balance of freedom and accountability -- and using systems to enhance rather than restrain your vision, whether you are an employee, owner or both..

The challenge is finding this right balance; in my first (ill-fated) business expansion, I didn't understand the practical application of business systems and management 'controls' -- and only discovered almost too late the limitations of seat-of-your-pants management without proper accountability.

Too much marketing is done that way -- a salesperson pitches an idea and you purchase it (worse, a telemarketer encourages you to advertise in a Police Journal and you say yes, or you don't know your employee is authorizing the wasted purchase) -- or you try this or that, hoping something, anything will work. You really need a planning and budgeting process; a set of rules and processes to guide your decisions and strategies, and if you wish to move from these plans, have an understanding of how and when the deviation is appropriate and wise. sadly, I see most construction businesses don't get the basics right and either market haphazardly, not at all, or with inconsistent and ill-planned methodologies.

But equally, despite my previous blunders about not understanding systems and processes, I may have been closer to being on the right track than executives in charge of many autocratic and bureaucratic organizations.

"Systems never cause success." Geoff Smith says. He is absolutely right. We need them, of course, but you should not be ruled by them. Just make sure if you set your employees free, you also have systems to ensure they are accountable to each other.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Networking the right way

Take a look at this posting by Tim Klabunde (William H. Gordon Associates, Inc., Chantilly, VA) in his blog. He quotes Ellen Talley in an article in Building Long Island and concludes with this observation:

What I like about Ellen’s story is her focus on the development of a new relationship. Notice that Ellen didn’t start by giving an elevator pitch or trading business cards with the principal, rather she focused on making a connection. Good networkers know that when you start by making a connection, rather than a sales pitch, the rest will follow.


Today, I received a gracious thank you note from Tim. This is the form of marketing I advocate -- not the horrendous stuff of spam, cold calls, and artificial, plastic "networking" where the objective is to try (usually unsuccessfully) to grab business rather than build relationships.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Openness and respect

Unilever Australia's Code of Business Principles appeals to me -- of course the challenge is implementing these ideals in practice.
Tomorrow, all the company's employees and some key contractors will see the guts of our financial data -- the company's weekly financial report. This decision to carry the philosophy of openness to the highest level is contrary to the advice of some of my best (and most successful) business friends -- they advocate compartmentalization; only letting your employees know what they need to know to do their jobs; certainly not the whole picture.

I've never been comfortable with that approach to business, but equally, it took some serious blunders for me to realize that just being open, easy-going and fair doesn't always work in the real world. People don't always get it, and many times, see things from very narrow (and selfish) perspectives. The answer to the dilemma is to connect openness with responsibility and respect -- we'll respect our employees, but ask them to behave the same towards themselves and others on the team.

Respect isn't that complex a concept. It is important to show up for work on time and do your work to the best of your abilities. Respect also connotes taking into account the very real needs (human and emotional) of your peers, clients, suppliers, and even complete strangers. This isn't sucking up; nor is it pandering, nor hopefully is it playing organizational games to curry favour. Respect, intriguingly, also recognizes there are times when it is best to not share everything; to keep confidences, to understand that misplaced words and expressions can do far more harm than spouting the 'truth' in a noisy outburst of reaction. (And it certainly doesn't require us to be totally open with everyone about everything -- I am certainly not posting the confidential business information to be shared with our employees on this blog!)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Communications, responsibility and leadership

This image is from an article "Listening First Aid" , about Empathic Listening Skills by Gregorio Billikopf, University of California, Berkley.

Three big words: Three simple principals essential for Construction Marketing success.

Communications: Everything you say, do, write, ignore, express, relate, and decipher affects the marketing process. Little things count. Returning calls promptly, being on time (just a little early, not too early for meetings), respecting cultural sensitivities (in some cultures being 'late' is normal), understanding how and where you listen as well as speak/write are all essential to the marketing process. You need to know your cues.

Responsibility: The Blame Game is deadly. Attacking or disparaging competitors, levelling barbs or insults on others, or failing to accept responsibility for your own blunders or even minor errors will destroy your place in the marketplace much more effectively and quickly than whether your price is low enough.

Leadership: No one needs to be a stereotypical charismatic leader to be successful in marketing, but you still need to have the right mix of self assurance and respect for others to influence them and define/draw out the desired results to succeed. Unless you are a one-person organization, you'll need your team's support. And unless you are marketing/selling to yourself, of course, you won't achieve much in winning new accounts and maintaining/developing new business without some leadership skills.

So how do you develop these talents if you don't have them? I wish I could come up with a magic one size, fits all action, but can't. Then again, maybe one word counts more than any other.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New York story

New York City's construction economy continues to boom, despite the overall malaise in the U.S. economy, but there are problems, including a crane accident which killed seven and exposed serious problems in the city's building inspection/approval processes. On the other hand, formerly blighted neighbourhoods are now booming, and the city is enjoying a renaissance of wealth and opportunity.

Tonight, we had dinner with Vivian's aunt and uncle -- lifelong Manhattan residents. They expressed frustration with the declining U.S. economy; the rising food prices, mortgage fiasco, war, and political confusion.

I stepped into the fray with an observation about how just 15 to 20 years ago, people considered this city a basket case; virtually bankrupt, with decaying neighbourhoods, poverty, drugs, and debt. Not any more.

"Blight" neighbourhoods like Times Square and Harlem are now enjoying a renaissance; with condos and new building everywhere. (This isn't without its own problems -- the chief of the building department resigned under pressure after a collapsing crane killed seven -- turns out the building should have never been issued a building permit because it violated several city zoning regulations.)

Nevertheless, the construction economy in Manhattan, at least, appears healthy -- people are willing to pay the price to build and live here, and the reason is a combination of private initiative and enterprise, and some worthy charitable and public endeavours. An intriguing issue is how extreme wealth is recycled into extreme good works -- estates beget foundations; private homes become public institutions, and the accumulated wealth filters back to the community at large with public spirit and resourcefulness.

I've always been an optimist, of course, even though the world hasn't always behaved quite as as wonderfully as my perceptions would allow. For example, I celebrated the arrival of independence and peace in Zimbabwe, only to see from a distance the abuse and massacres of the siNdebele near Bulawayo just a few years later and, more recently the economic breakdown and political chaos in that country. But, again, optimism has its virtues -- I know that historically the type of hyperinflation Zimbabwe is currently experiencing has only lasted briefly in any circumstance; and usually heralds change (though it may be ironic that German central bankers may, when the time is right, be the ones to set things right.)

These observations have little obvious connection with the blog's core Construction Marketing theme. On the other hand, sometimes I think it is helpful to look at the world through rose coloured glasses, especially when you can see the virtues of resurgence and recovery in what had been a basket case local economy just a couple of decades ago.

The little details count (about returning calls)

I committed a significant error over the past five days -- failing to practice what I preach. On Friday afternoon, someone called me to say they wanted to place a classified ad in Ottawa Construction News. About to head on a semi-vacation to New York City, I ignored the call -- since we don't have a classified section in our publications.

I didn't return t he call on Monday as I travelled to NYC; then on Tuesday, the same person left another voice message and also sent an email. Now I may be as thick as molasses, but this person clearly wanted to talk with me. So what did I do. Again, I ignored the call (I'm on vacation, eh) but replied with an email referencing the person to one of my employees who has responsibility for selling advertising for the Ottawa market.)

Then, yesterday, five days too late, I received a flash of rather delayed insight. Look, the person called me, not my employee, and she called on Friday; five days previously. And I thought it adequate to sluff this call off with an email to an employee -- without checking with or briefing the employee or person who called (and the employee just happened to be busy at a trade show that day).

So I finally did what I should have done the previous Friday afternoon. I returned the call. No, 24 hours after sending the email referencing the caller to my employee, the employee had failed to return her call. Bad. But even badder for me -- as I set the tone of what we define as acceptable responses to client inquiries -- in fact any legitimate in-bound call. The caller, indeed, had a legitimate advertising request; something of relevance to our readers and highly appropriate to our publication.

I'm responsible here for this failure, and hope I've learned my own lesson about the importance of returning calls promptly.

Recruiting visibility

I took these images at the highly visible walkway connecting Union Station to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto. Here may be a relevant page from PCL's website.

Yesterday, as I walked from the convention centre to Toronto's Union Station -- the main central railway hub -- I noticed something intriguing; an office for PCL Constructors with a mural poster advertising career opportunities for the employee-owned business. "What could this be?" I asked, as I stopped, pulled out my digital camera and took some pictures. How short is the supply of superintendents, project managers and the like in the GTA? Is this highly visible recruiting advertising effective? How much did it cost?"

I suppose if I were one of my company's sales team I would have done the logical next thing -- entered the office and asked some questions. But, through experience, I know the right person to ask -- the communications/marketing specialist at PCL's Toronto office -- so will forward a copy of this blog entry and images to her. (I certainly didn't need permission to take the pictures -- they were in a totally public area!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Toronto for IAPA

I took a 'business break' from our vacation in New York City today, flying the new Porter Airlines service to Toronto Island Airport, for coverage/interviews relating to the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) conference. We had an exhibit at the trade show associated with the conference -- the trade show ended yesterday, so I missed that part (and the opportunity to meet with Chase and Daniel Smith.

However, I still enjoyed the opportunity to use the new Porter facilities which I wrote about a few months ago in the feature about BECC Construction. One of the most satisfying elements about working with the construction industry is the end results are very real!

In just a couple of hours, I'll be back in the Big Apple. It is amazing the contrasts and variety, and ability to transcend geography.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An advertising webinar

Michael Stone has announced a free webinar about advertising this Saturday. I'm interested in attending, and think you should too, if you can. Here is the reference on topics at his Markup and Profit blog:

  • Discuss how to calculate how much to spend

  • Review the types of advertising that are now working best

  • Analyze how to apportion your advertising dollars

  • Discuss where to advertise

  • Explain what times of year provide the greatest return on your dollar
Sounds pretty useful!

Monday, April 21, 2008


I'm heading to New York City for a week today -- driving there, right into Manhattan (where obviously we will park the car!). While it is a vacation, I'll still be at work, in communication by email and phone with staff -- and with a day trip to Toronto on Wednesday. I'll also continue the blog. The biggest question right now: How much will the trip cost in gas, both in absolute dollars and in exchange-rate adjusted costs (considering the increase in value of the Canadian dollar). And what does tshe U.S. currency devaluation/recession mean for the construction economy, especially in New York?

Success? "I don't need to market"

These images are from a web page of Cape Coral Plumbing in Fort Meyers, Florida, "South Florida's #1 Plumbing Contractor." "Cape Coral Plumbing opened in 1984 as a modest business owned by Lee and Butch Ritter. By the late 1980s, Cape Coral Plumbing was already a multi-million dollar company and the Ritter father and son team had "specialized" in their particular areas of expertise within the firm. With growth almost out of control, the company started to turn away business instead of sacrificing quality work. The Ritter team went to work and "crystallized" their company's mission. Adding office personnel, plumbers, trucks, inventory, equipment and a new facility would allow for quality growth."

An intriguing question raised by the previous post is whether you can define success by not needing to market -- that is, as Bobby Darnell suggests, you have it made when you are at the stage when you can say this:

I tell all of our clients that when it comes to selling, my goal is to only touch a telephone when I am picking it up to answer a “call-in” to my unlisted number. In other words, I want to build my business to a point where I am getting so much referral business that I no longer need to advertise and have an unlisted phone number!

This stage is obviously an enviable place to be - but some readers of this blog, now feeling the winds of recession, probably remember it with wistful hindsight. Surely, it is great when business is so great that you can pick and choose your clients, and determine your priorities-- with many people and businesses presenting proposals and ideas to you. In this perfect world, you can command higher prices on your output, and reduce your costs on the inputs, because of the desire of others to do business with you. (You can even build a business out of the spread, as Donald Trump's organization does.)

But how do you get there, and should you aspire to these ideals? Part of the key is successful branding -- that is,building a reputation that transcends your day-to-day life and causes people and organizations to give you an enhanced value and recognition. Your success in branding your business is, of course, your mark of marketing success.

Rather than reaching the stage of having so much business that you need an unlisted number to 'avoid' clients, I think you want to reach the point where all 'good' clients can find you, be ready to pay your price, and you are ready to serve them with quality and effectiveness -- these qualities will allow you to effectively recession-proof your business, and reach levels of growth and opportunity for both yourself and your employees.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do you ever walk away from clients?

Look at this posting on from Atlanta-based consultant Bobby Darnell:

Absolutely! When we first started, our primary focus was on providing business development consulting for companies in the A/E/C industry... see more(Architectural, Engineering and Construction) There are so many companies in this arena that started out because someone ‘worked for the man’ and realized, “Hey, I can do this on my own.” Then they walked away and started their own business. This is a very “artisan” industry in the sense that designers LOVE to design, general contractors LOVE to construct, and subcontractors LOVE to install are they are typically very, very good at their craft. However, that does not mean they know how to run a business. Examples: No business plan No marketing plan No CRM system Never heard of EBITDA Never read a P&L Statement Poor internal processes Poor proposal presentation Poor collateral And more… We wrote a ton of business plans for companies who thought that having a business plan was some sort of ‘silver bullet’ and no matter how many times we would tell them that a business plan is a tool, they rarely followed up and worked the plan. So, we rarely do business plans alone anymore because we did not want companies out there complaining that they paid us a lot of money for business plan that did them no good in spite of how hard we tried to get them to understand: “It is not BUYING a Bowflex that gets you in shape; it is the continued and effective use of a Bowflex that will get you in shape.” Also, we have learned from the beginning that when you call yourself a “business
development consultant” in the A/E/C industry, EVERYONE will listen to you. They want to know what you know that they don’t. Sadly, we have had several clients who hired us only for us to accept the contract and realize they “called 911” a little too late. There was not much we can do to help a contractor who is taking a project in order to keep money flowing in the business to pay subcontractors who did work for them three projects ago. Scott makes some great points in his post and I am guessing, his proposals have “evolved” as his business has grown. I know for each project/proposal we do, we learn something from the last one that we “tweak” to make things better for the next one. Defining the terms is vital at the onset of the project. I know for small firms it is tough to turn down a project if work is slow but as you build your business and are able to better sell your value, you will be able to walk away from the “stinkers” with ease.

I tell all of our clients that when it comes to selling, my goal is to only touch a telephone when I am picking it up to answer a “call-in” to my unlisted number. In other words, I want to build my business to a point where I am getting so much referral business that I no longer need to advertise and have an unlisted phone number! (There is just a touch of an attempt at humor in that last paragraph as I have not yet reached that goal but my referral business is much, much better than it was five years ago.) What kind of jobs have we walked away from? Now that we have learned to read prospects better, we will walk away from jobs where we realize we cannot provide value to the potential client. We would walk away from a prospect with a poor credit rating We would walk away from a prospect who gives us “push back” from the beginning. One reason I use the BowFlex example is that in many ways, what we do is very much like being a personal trainer. We do not want to work for an out of shape client who starts whining or complaining when we tell them “Five more reps!!” We would easily walk away from a prospect that is really on “life support”. Who wants to hire a business development consultant with a list of clients that have gone out of business!!? I hope this helps… Bobby

Michael Stone on Sonny Lykos

Here is Michael Stone's observation about Sonny Lykos. You'll also see a link to Sonny's obituary in the Naples newspaper.

Balancing your marketing priorities

This image is from illustrator Derek Mueller. "I specialize in Advertising, Americana, People, Product, Packaging, Food, Adults, Children, Humor, Editorial, Book Illustration, and Rockwell Style," he says on his website

If 69 per cent of new business originates from existing clients, referrals and word of mouth, how do you apply this focus in relationship to the other 31 per cent of new business -- resources such as advertising, RFP/Tenders and in-your-face (or ear) canvassing or telemarketing? Where do the minority marketing options assume special significance?

The answers to these questions of course depend on the nature and stage of your business. My recent poll is not a formal, scientifically valid survey (though I doubt the validity of virtually all formal marketing surveys -- I've reported before on the problems of survey fatigue, and the irritation many people (including myself) feel about intrusive inbound survey calls -- I now treat them with courteous avoidance, like telemarketers.) Yet, my sense through several years in the business is that the poll is accurate; reflecting the real world, and providing a useful reminder of what we need to do to succeed in construction industry marketing

To reiterate the essential points:
  • Most of your new business will come from existing clients and word of mouth -- so your marketing -- and brand development -- must focus on the actual interactions you have with existing and new clients equally; with 'every thing you do counts' energy.

  • Wherever possible, you will want to connect and enhance this word-of-mouth process and relationships; and you should use the other marketing options to facilitate these connections.

So, when and how should you use the other tools in your potential marketing arsenal?

When you are starting out, and don't have any clients, you need something fast-acting and inexpensive. Conventional paid advertising is likely to be relatively ineffective, with the exception of some web-based options such as paid keyword search, or free Craig's List ads. Your best results, if you can find a way to achieve this, is through powerful media publicity, harnessing your existing friendships and relationships, and the like, to make effective use of new business word of mouth publicity. Often, you can find opportunities through your network as a sub-trade or junior supplier (note there is a danger here of living in someone else's shadow; and your margins may be hammered).

Then, there is canvassing and telemarketing. I hate both and hope you never do either on me, but the fact is they force consciousness on you and, if you have very little business, bring you closer to your market, and in connection with potential clients. They are easily measurable and because you are reaching out -- rather than waiting for bargain hunters to call you -- may avoid the 'lowest price loses by winning the job' trap.

I'm less excited by RFPs and tenders, though possibly, especially in the ICI sector, public tenders may help you get started -- the problem is that the bidding is either structured to favour existing relationships with incumbent or 'wired' businesses (subjective qualification criteria are now built into most RFP processes) or the sheer volume of competition makes it unlikely you will win unlesss you are practically giving away your services.

These criteria also apply if your business is more established and especially if recession is blowing away your market, and you are worried, and want to find new business. First, if this is the case, I would redouble my marketing efforts with existing and previous clients; here some 'keep in touch' calls will probably pay real dividends (assuming you did your work excellently in good times). Certainly, chasing blind RFPs and tender calls is a recipe for disaster. You need to use your network to see if these are 'wired' to avoid wasting time -- unless, of course they are wired in your favour! The time you spend preparing for these opportunities could better be spent on the phone searching out new business where you don't have as much head-to-head competition.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The answers under our nose

Why so many visitors from St. Louis? This blog posting provides the key clues.

Here are several important observations gleaned yesterday.
  • The total number of visitors to this blog reached a record high of 272.

  • More than 80 visitors showed up from St. Louis, MO -- the most I've seen from any one place

  • I sent my email inviting participation in the "source of business" poll to an extended list of 3,240 names. Of these, so far 482 (or 16.2 per cent) opened the email, and 107 (or 22.7 per cent of that number) clicked through to the survey. I know who these individuals are. Right now, I have 72 survey responses. I don't know who individually answered which survey question.

  • I earned the grand sum of $2.72 in direct revenue from the blog. Six people signed up for my newsletter (through two channels) and three requested to 'unsubscribe'. No one complained of spam, despite the large mailing including to many names not on my regular email list.
What do these observations tell me?
  • If you invite people to do business with you, say by advertising or "e-blasts" you may attract plenty of response, but if you are looking for a quick buck, you had better rethink your strategy.

  • People care about themselves and their friends, and if you reach them at their level, they will respond. I can trace the incredible number of visitors from St. Louis to a couple of postings yesterday, when I reported on local marketing initiatives which I thought relevant to everyone reading the blog. They are most likely especially important to the people working at the relevant companies.

  • These responses don't necessarily translate (again) to immediate business. I can't trace any meaningful revenue or even identifiable leads from all the St. Louis visitors, yet.
I conclude that yesterday I achieved modest marketing success. We received a net gain of three leads (and didn't offend or turn anyone off to the point of earning a spam complaint) and some useful visibility. But none of the many visitors entered into a dialogue with me, and I can't track any leads likely to lead to measurable short-to-medium term business development opportunities. I spent, say, about an hour on the project and enjoyed it, so it didn't hurt. I didn't need to invest any money beyond modest flat monthly Internet service fees.

The underlying point of this posting is that blogging, email marketing, and Internet strategies can generate your business a wealth of information and insights -- and amazingly detailed statistics and data. Just don't confuse the noise with results. Remember the poll -- if you are one of the majority of 68 per cent, you find most of your new business from existing clients and word-of-mouth recommendation. Where should you spend most of your marketing energies?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Now we are Zimbabwe

This image is even further back -- November 11, 1965 -- when Ian Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesia's independence. I was 12 years old. Thirteen years later, at 25, I travelled to Rhodesia and spent 18 months there observing the transition to Zimbabwe.

Twenty-eight years ago today, preparing to return home, I picked up a copy of the Bulawayo Chronicle, where I had been employed for the previous 18 months. It's headline read: "Now we are Zimbabwe", commemorating the country's independence and and freedom after 13 years of white minority rule (and previous years as a British colony or self-governing territory.)

That evening, having hitched a last-minute flight with the International Press Corps to Salisbury (now Harare), I celebrated my own independence. I had discovered myself as an adult, as I realized, just before my 27th birthday, that I would enjoy a fulfilling life with love and security.

It is ironic that tomorrow night marks the beginning of the Jewish Passover, the celebration of freedom from slavery, as the people of Zimbabwe contend with the worst inflation in the world and a president, Robert Mugabe, who has not aged gracefully.

So, you say, what does this have to do with Construction Marketing? Nothing directly but much indirectly. Decisions made earlier in our lives shape our choices and values; our perspectives and outlook on the future. I realize now more than ever that my decision to fulfill a youthful drive for adventure and exploration have given me the perspective and experience to respect others, to understand different values, and to reach for higher goals and dreams.

I'm looking forward to returning to Zimbabwe in a couple of years with my family, when things have returned to a degree of stability, and the Zimbabweans have again discovered their freedom for their future.

The Poll (update)

I've invited individuals on our extended email list to participate in the poll. You can learn more at this earlier posting.

Dozens of responses are arriving -- individual replies are totally confidential (I can't tell who you are!) but I can measure how many people are responding. Please feel free to comment here (anonymously, if you wish) or by return email to

Updating the story: The evolution of successful construction industry marketing

The team in St Louis, MO, referenced in the previous blog entry left The Lawrence Group to start their own company, Atomic Dust. They also continued with their experience, knowledge and connections with the construction industry; as an example designing an ad series in the local Business Journal for Kozeny Wagner, a full service general contractor, construction manager and design builder.

Here is the response to my email to the Lawrence Group regarding yesterday's posting and question about

I know Verne Harnish’s work. I attended two of his sessions about 8 or 9 years ago, with our CEO, when I was the director of marketing here (I’ve since become more focused on communications, i.e., public relations and advertising). I need to track down the book you’re sighting. I’d be interested in the copyright date on the one you’ve got, and whether or not he has a more current revision out there. The information you have on us is out of date.

Here’s an update (and thanks for your interest):

ReactOne was a media company that we developed in house specifically, as you said, for client focused Web sites that were more vanguard almost a decade ago.

Technology changes quickly, and the ReactOne team was (and still is) a really cutting edge group of young media types, who were hungry to let their ponies run. They left here amicably as a group (the same way they came in) and established a company called Atomic Dust. They are thriving in a downtown St. Louis location, and of course, everyone who knew and worked with them here is thrilled for their success. I would guess, then, that the name ReactOne and the Web site of that name was sold to someone else several years ago—but that’s just my guess. I’m copying James Dixson, one of Atomic Dust’s founders, on this reply. He would actually be an excellent resource for your blog on all this.

I hope that answers your questions. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with. I will be glad to add you to our media distribution list.

Here’s my contact info, attached.

Best regards,
Donna J Gamache, Director of Communications, Lawrence Group

I have sent another follow-up email to Verne Harnish's organization and look forward to hearing from Atomic Dust, who may, indeed, provide worthwhile resources for construction marketing. A visit to their website uncovers some wonderfully creative construction advertising materials designed for their local market. I expect (after receiving their permission of course), you may find value in adapting this material to your own market.

Here is the note from Atomic Dust's web page describing the Kozeny Wagner campaign, where you can also see some additional print ad examples.

Construction company Kozeny Wagner approached us with the task of creating a series of ads that would run in the St. Louis Business Journal. A majority of the ads in the Business Journal are underwhelming and Kozeny Wagner really wanted to stand out. The campaign was to achieve several goals including increasing awareness of the company, showing that they are proud of their work and, through the visuals, showing a broad range of what they do. As a result we used humor, which is not often found in Business Journal ads and clean, open visuals that would draw the viewer in. The first three of the campaign are shown here, with more to follow.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The KPI challenge

The Lawrence Group in St. Louis, MO, is cited by Verne Harnish in Mastering The Rockefeller Habits as successfully applying many key business development/marketing principals. But some of the ideas outlined in the book -- even though they would have been relevant only five or six years ago -- now seem dated, indeed.

I continue to grapple with the question of the right Key Performance Indicators for our business. You may have the same challenge. The concept is to find an easy-to-understand, totally quantifiable,and truly 'fast' measurement of performance; one which relates to all of your employees and (by understanding its impact on your business) can lead to extremely enhanced performance. KPIs, my reading shows, are generally best if they are proprietary -- that is unique to the business -- and have extreme 'buy in' from senior management/the CEO as well as employees throughout the organization.

The other challenge, I see from the examples I've been reading, is that success in one KPI might come at the cost of resolving another issue -- or might be outside your business control.

And things can become dated, very quickly. And the second challenge is measuring a meaningful KPI when relationships are small in number, multi-dimensional across large numbers of people within client organizations, and subject to change as technology and client practices evolve. Theoretically, these challenges are addressed by focusing KPIs within short term (quarterly) goals within the framework of a truly long range vision and highly ambitious goals, but the reality is finding a way to implement invites distortion and 'gaming' if you are not careful.

As an example of the challenges here, consider the example of an AEC firm cited in Verne Harnish's Mastering The Rockefeller Habits. He describes the success of the Lawrence Group in St. Louis, MO, in attracting and retaining clients -- and points out the company's success in developing intensive client-focused websites to help manage projects. The concept, I suspect, might have been a true marketing advantage at the beginning of the decade, but I doubt many AEC firms would find much advantage in 'showing' clients how to set up a website these days.

Nevertheless, Harnish observes that the AEC firm found the website development business so effective that it set up a special division to provide these services to others, with the domain name

If you check that domain today, you'll find it is a site for the repossession industry. And the Lawrence Group has merged with Austin Tao & Associates.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Advertising, publicity and marketing

You may have noticed the poll aside the blog. Not surprisingly, the early responses show that most new business originates from existing clients or referral/recommendations. I'm sure eventually someone will click 'advertising' as a source of business and maybe a few determined people (you can find some of them over at will swear by canvassing or telemarketing. But if you follow the 80/20 rule, clearly the most effective place to build your business is close to home, with your current clients and referrals.

Now, my business earns more than 95 per cent of its revenue from advertising sales. Since we've been in business for close to 20 years, do we know something about effective advertising that belies the poll results?

Not really. In fact, we frame our advertising sales to respect, support and encourage the primary and most effective marketing methods -- we facilitate the client relationships and word of mouth marketing, while treating our clients with sufficient respect that they return for more.

To clarify this further, say someone approaches us who is new in business, or new to marketing to the construction sector, with a wish to advertise to get the phone to ring, and potential clients to call. We of course will not turn away the business, but we also make clear that results are not likely to be instantaneous and the greatest value of our relationship may well be the supporting services we provide to facilitate relationships. I will often recommend the potential advertisers use their limited budgets to join relevant associations and will consult with them on other effective strategies, perhaps effectively integrating their business within the supply chain, or connecting with key centres of influence, or (and here we can really help) generating positive publicity in appropriate news media.

Publicity, undoubtedly, is effective -- and if you don't need to pay for it -- truly cost effective. Here, we link some strategic supply chain relationships with the publicity process to earn about 80 per cent of our advertising revenue. We write editorial profiles about interesting companies and projects, and sell supporting advertising to these businesses' suppliers. Yes, we are connecting to the supply chain and touching the hot button of respecting your clients, so these advertisements carry much 'bang for the buck'. We also respect our advertisers who support their clients by providing supporting consulting and advisory services at no additional charge -- this blog is of course part of that set of services.

But what about the remaining 20 per cent of advertisers who contract with us to advertise month after month? What value do they achieve? The answers to these questions are more subtle, but still truly significant.

First, we work with our contract advertisers to reduce costs and increase value. Often, their suppliers have co-op advertising programs to help pay the costs, and our ongoing advertisers never need to pay extra for the feature project and client support advertisers that the other one-time advertisers pay. In fact, contract advertisers have sometimes received two, three or four free ads in each issue.

But there is another important, but subtle, benefit to ongoing advertising. It relates to brand -- the establishment and reminder of your presence in the community -- of your leadership role, and traditional and historical importance among current and potential clients. By the time this type of advertising makes sense, you are solidly entrenched within the market and the actual cost of advertising is a tiny part of your overall operating budget. You simply want everyone to know who you are, what you stand for, and that you are 'there', regardless of the comings and goings of competitors.

I'm sure that other forms of advertising are effective -- especially in the direct-to-retail market -- and some professional services have found that creative and extensive advertising attracts worthwhile new business.

But take a look at the poll (and if you wish, give your own response) . . . advertising should support, not replace, additional business from current clients and solid word-of-mouth recommendations. And, if you choose to advertise with us, we'll help guide you in the best processes to follow to achieve these standards.

Sonny Lykos dies

Sadly, Sonny Lykos has died. His wife Barb sent this note to friend Mark Parlee (who posted it on the JLC Online forum):

April 15 Dear Mark Sonny passed away at 2;15 a.m. this morning. Thank You for all your concern. Barb Lykos
I only knew Sonny briefly before his final illness; during our exchanges he shared some of the most fundamental insights about the business -- including an education in the real meaning of Branding -- that it isn't about advertising, design logos, and "sales technique" but it is on how you and your employees relate to current, previous, and potential clients. Effective branding, Sonny taught me, allows you to escape commodity price traps, and crazy and wasteful competitive bidding wars.

You'll find several earlier entries in this blog where Sonny added insightful comments. His knowledge, and insights, reshaped my perspectives about marketing for the construction industry and, I would say, he has been the single greatest influence on my attitudes and philosophies.

Regretfully, we never had the opportunity to meet in person, but I wish to extend my condolences to Barb and his family. He has left an incredible legacy which will continue to assist other contractors find their way in the marketing universe.

The poll

The poll on the right side of this blog invites you to respond to a fundamental marketing and sales question. I sense we all 'know' what the answer will be, but we may be surprised in the details. No need for you to enter any personal information, email data, or the like to respond -- this poll is clearly not scientific. (And unlike the survey resources we use, I don't think there are 'controls' to prevent multiple entries.)

If you have any questions, use the comments function or email me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

False Clairvoyance

Ford Harding, in his latest blog entry, points out how people often make faulty assumptions based on limited experience. He calls this False Clairvoyance. So, for example, you set out to follow the advice during hard times to reconnect with former clients, with the hope of gaining new business. You call two or three people, and feel a 'brush off' or simply no business results.

Should you stop just because you didn't succeed right away? Of course not. While I am not advocating blind cold calling or playing the 'numbers game' without a sense of relationship, the odds are you will succeed if you persist, and make a few more calls. Or, if everyone in your organization makes a few calls, somewhere, somehow, some new business will arise which certainly wouldn't occur if you didn't make the effort.

The inverse principal also applies. Say you purchase a lottery ticket or win a casino jackpot on your first visit. If you really think you are something special and can defy the odds, go ahead, but I'd take my money and run (never to return, except for 'throw-your-money-away entertainment' -- probably not the wisest expense in hard times!)

My review of Harding's latest book has just been published in The SMPS Marketer. If you would like me to send you a copy, email me at

Our new mission statement Tag Line

The Construction News Group:
Breaking new ground,
Building new bonds
Delivering news you can use every day.

Some businesses spend hours at management retreats, and engage in the services of high powered consultants to determine their Mission Statement tag line. And it is true that in our case, the process of reaching this conclusion took more than a year from the time we first raised the topic in one of our bi-annual planning/review meetings.

But the actual resolution of the question took us, well, about 15 minutes.

Yesterday, I posted our mission statement on this blog. Daniel Smith quickly penned this email to me:

I read your posting about the mission statement and tag line and I had a thought about an approach that might work. After some fiddling around, this is what I came up with:

The Construction News Group:
Breaking new ground,
Building new bonds
Delivering news you can use every day.

The idea was to parallel the process of a development - first ground is Broken, then the Build starts and when done, the building is said to be Delivered.

At the same time the alliteration kind of flows (I think), it touches on three main purposes of our organization (innovation, building relationships and delivering relevant news) and it maintains the little "news you can use" bit, too, which I personally really like about the current tag line.

Obviously this is just a rough suggestion and could be changed as everyone sees fit. But what do you think?

I liked Daniel's thinking and Tag Line, so quickly added it to the agenda for our regular Monday staff meeting, along with several other topics.

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, we went around the table (figuratively, as most of us participated in the meeting via teleconference) and our team universally agreed that Daniel's tag line makes sense, and should be implemented.

So you'll soon see it on our websites, and in printed materials.

Wow. After more than a year, we resolved the entire thing in a matter of minutes in one day!

That of course is the nature of healthy business in 2008. Not forcing issues; we can use new communications tools to speed up the process of adaptation and dissemination of good ideas, with respect for the originator's creativity, and the collaboration of the team. Note how this blog and our regular meeting system (and note that our weekly meetings never run more than an hour -- and this week we finished a fairly heavy agenda in 40 minutes) allowed what could have been a truly time consuming business process to conclude in minutes. But equally, while Daniel only needed a few minutes to write our new Tag Line, the process underlying to form the understanding of what is right took months. And that is the nature of most marketing and business development in our industry.

The Death of the Cold Call

You will probably find it worthwhile to visit and sign up for Rich Friedman's e-letter.

In the latest issue of The SMPS Marketer, Rich Friedman. President of Friedman & Partners in the Boston area, makes it clear that you don't build a market for an AEC professional service with cold calls. His points:
  1. Cold calls have a very low ROI

  2. Greater connectivity and technological tools negate the need for cold calls

  3. Cold calls send the wrong message to your staff

  4. Cold calls breed poor BD "hygiene"

  5. Cold calls do a disservice to the industry.
The entire article is posted on his website at (where you can subscribe to a free newsletter, the Friedman File) but I will quote from point 4 to show the thinking here:

Those who engage in cold calls often believe the process is more akin to telemarketing -- the more cold calls you place, the more likely you are to land a lead. But selling professional services entails a much more complex process (thank goodness!) -- one that should rely on the more tried and true process of conducting background research, honing your differentiators, value-add, and elevator speech, and asking probing, open-ended questions to identify what's keeping your target up at night. Engaging in this process has the added benefit of enhancing prospect/client relations.
Absolutely . . .

In the real world, the market for our services is huge in potential volume, but not in potential numbers -- playing the 'numbers game' and 'blasting through lists' is likely to quickly cause you to use up all your potential leads -- and then be left wondering where the potential clients are. Relationships, starting with your existing and former clients, are where you are likely to have the greatest success; and in finding new business, you need to appreciate that few people either want to make -- or receive -- 'cold calls'.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Marketing and selling -- linking or separating

This image is from a web page: Getting Started (as an entrepreneur) Presenting Your Plan; a section of a site developed by the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance. The page specifically focuses on presenting your business plan, and the use of the "Elevator Pitch". And the example of the elevator pitch is that of an imaginary company selling construction work boots online. is an e-commerce website that sells construction boots on a b2c and a b2b basis. Our primary market consists of construction workers, with secondary markets including other individuals and companies in the construction trade. We offer the highest quality products and drive traffic to the site by linking to other websites related to the construction industry. We believe the customer would find purchasing and direct delivery of construction boots through our website easier than purchasing via traditional retail outlets.
We believe we will be the only pure e-commerce construction boot site, but will face indirect competition from traditional brick and mortar b2b retailers who target the trade as well as traditional mass merchandisers. If all goes as planned, we would look to sell to an industry retailer who sells construction gear.”
In case you are wondering about "" it is a website owned by someone exploiting keyword advertising links; trouble is, of course, most the college students driven to this site by the marketing "elevator pitch" example are probably not in the market for construction boots. Oh well, I guess this reference is giving a free ride to the exploiting site.
So, you may wonder, how does this relate to the linkage between marketing and selling? Well, maybe that is point!

Consultant Bill Caswell advocates that the lines of authority and leadership for the marketing and selling departments should be decoupled; and that it is especially dangerous to put someone with a sales focus in charge of the marketing responsibilities. In part, this is because he believes that marketing is future oriented or visionary, while selling is immediate or practical -- and if the two are pushed together the practical day-to-day selling responsibilities will overtake the necessary future perspective of marketing. His advocacy is that the marketing director reports directly to the CEO, not the sales director or vice-president.

Caswell's viewpoint is not universally accepted. Many people see marketing departments with bureaucracies and priorities far from the real needs of the business; instead of thinking in terms of practical realities -- and focusing on generating useful leads for the sales team -- the marketing 'experts' waste time on peripheral priorities; draining the company's coffers for results which, if they are measurable at all, often measure stuff that is of little use or value to the company's immediate or, for that matter, longer-term needs.

So which perspective is correct?

I'll side with Caswell on this one, with some big cautions. Our business, still in recovery mode, of course, is far too small to have a separate marketing and sales department and right now responsibilities for leading both departments is in my hands/head. In practice, the division of responsibility is working quite well -- I really am in charge of marketing, while I have delegated most of the day-to-day selling responsibilities to the sales team.

Marketing, if meant by branding, forward planning, and leads development, is very much my responsibility -- with of course input from the sales team and other employees. This blog, for example, is definitely all about marketing. It generates a few useful leads for the sales team but its main value (and the value of most of the leads generated) is much further down the road, when we are ready to operate in multiple cities and regions where we don't have much of a presence now. So is my involvement with the Society for Professional Marketing Services -- the contact network there, along with connections, relationships and learning process -- will prove useful value in the future along with some guidance in 'best practices' in the present.

But I can see plenty of examples where marketing specialists and departments don't connect properly to the sales department; they are far too focused on image and superficial assessments of 'branding' -- not appreciating the importance of actually helping the sales team bring in the business. Caswell, I suppose, would argue these departments have been infected by administrators ensuring correct procedures are followed, rather than visionaries with a forward-thinking perspective. (Administrators are of course essential for the effective running of any business; in fact, all businesses which wish to survive need structures and systems, as well as practical 'doers', but they also need some vision and respect or warmth, or as Caswell would suggest, some "friends".)

I can say this -- if your business is struggling to survive the recession, don't forget your vision, your future, your dreams, but probably you should put someone who cares about selling in charge of the marketing department unless it consists of one employee, who should be the boss/owner.