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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More on Montes

Tim Klabunde in When an award is "pre-wired" outlines some ethical guidelines on when and how to handle bidding/RFP situations where you have an unfair advantage -- when does the advantage from great marketing/relationships step over the line and become something you should not touch?

Generosity, greed and the American (Canadian) dream

This image is from

Undoubtedly, our lives will be changed by the political and economic drama occurring in Washington and Wall Street. Our industry -- especially the residential side -- has been the most immediately affected by the current crisis, and only a person without any vision would say this won't influence other elements of the economy.

"What can you do about it?", you may be asking.
You need to respect your own needs and those of others. You need to be fair. You need to be responsible for your own circumstances, and not hold anyone else to blame.
I thought these points late yesterday afternoon when, in the midst of a business meeting to discuss a new project with joint venture partners, something didn' feel quite right. In the project, in an effort to invoke participation and support from the other partners, the revenue sharing balance seemed out of kilter (and unfair to me). So -- a mistake at this end -- after the meeting I wrote an email to the other participants making my feelings clear. (Previous postings have outlined the danger of using email for anything contentious.) One colleague responded in another email that he would be happy to leave the project. We need to talk. Maybe his response is the right solution; maybe it isn't, whatever, we need to respect each other to proceed and of course we need to respect the ultimate clients who will be paying for our services.

These types of discussions/decisions are part of business fabric, both small and large (and national/international). We can resort to deceit, to patchy compromises, to imperfect solutions, but if we respect our own needs and those around us, we have a much better chance of finding the right answers.

P.S. Here is an a meaningful and relevant posting in Jeffrey Gitomer's most recent newsletter: Why do businesses succeed or fail? HINT It's not just sales.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Perseverance power

Don't give up -- if you are doing something you really enjoy (and are really good at doing). In that situation, perseverance isn't that hard, and you'll achieve your dreams and goals.

Your best marketing efforts will connect your talents and the things you enjoy with your potential clients. This combination is bound to succeed, over time, because you'll be able to persevere, through easy and challenging situations, as you learn what you need to do to achieve your dreams.

Here is an example from (very) personal experience.

On returning from Africa in 1980, at age 27, I wanted to find the woman of my dreams, settle down, and raise a family. My overseas experience opened the doors to a writing job with the federal government in Ottawa, but didn't solve my real deficiencies in social and personal communications skills.

I'm Jewish, and knew that I wanted to meet a woman of the same faith. So I took my one real skill/talent -- and something I really enjoy doing -- and volunteered to do some writing for the local Jewish newspaper. As I wrote one of my articles, I met a woman who represented a woman's organization. Attractive, yes. We dated, three times. "Let's be friends," she said after the third date.

So we became friends . . . and continued to be friends, year after year.

More than a decade later, in 1991, as my new publishing business went through its first real crisis during the early 1990s recession, I recalled some Brian Tracy tapes about affirmations, "positive self talk" and (most importantly) self responsibility. One day, as all seemed to be lost, I had an insight. "My health is still good, I cannot blame anyone else for my difficulties, and I will do what I can to make things right while accepting total responsibility for my circumstances," I said (out loud) to myself. Then, as I transformed my business, I transformed my outlook on relationships.

A few months later, Vivian suggested that we could go out on a more serious level. Two years later we married. We are still together now, preparing for our 15th anniversary, with Eric at 11 (he has none of my social deficiencies!)

You should never underrate the importance of intelligent perseverance in your business and marketing efforts. The saddest thing you can see is someone with real talent who starts out well, and just quits -- or jumps to something else hoping for a better answer. Usually it doesn't happen. "Intelligent" is an important word -- you should either persevere at the things you do best (for income) and/or which align with your values and dreams. If there are things you enjoy but which you are not great at, carry on -- just do it on your own time, as a volunteer or hobby.

Note in a marketing sense, do not confuse perseverance with becoming an irritating (selling) pest. Some of the saddest situations occur when someone who has played the old 80s sales tapes too often continues calling, again and again, in the hopes of winning business without building a relationship or demonstrating a real meaningful value. You need to respect and understand the needs of the person or organization with whom you wish to work -- and that includes the value of their time and your relevance to them.

In the current economy, you may need some real perseverance and patience -- but you will succeed ultimately if you are really talented at what you do. In the short term, connect that talent to your marketing initiatives; and use it to create/develop your business relationships. (And you can see here how these principals also work really well on a personal level.)

Business Planning: Remembering the basics

The above graphic is from the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, which facilitates our planning meetings. You could use their services -- or other qualified consultants, to co-ordinate your own planning meetings. You probably should not try to do this sort of thing without outside expert assistance.

In a few weeks, our employees and some key contractors will gather in West Quebec for the annual planning meeting. This is the time when everyone involved in the business participates in setting the course for the next year. The business plan guides our objectives, sets 'limits' on exuberance, and allows for realistic and challenging achievements.

Planning meetings like this are relevant and important from the start, though you may only formalize the process when you have five or six employees. By then, however, you should be ready to implement regular meeting and planning systems into your operations, no matter how busy you are, or how strapped you may be for time and cash to pay the costs. By engaging your employees in the planning system -- ensuring they truly participate, contribute (often lead) and 'own' the plan, your chances of success are magnified, and you will see growth and creativity in your organization you couldn't have imagined otherwise.

Without a plan, you'll find you tend to fall into traps and bad decisions when you go with the flow and follow the short term path of least resistance.

So, what happens if things don't go according to plan, or an exciting opportunity arises outside the plan? (And you can expect both to happen.)

On the former, you can look at your plan, the failure, and determine what adjustments you need to make and what to change.

On the latter, you can either defer a decision until the next planning meeting while doing some preparatory research (not a bad approach for something requiring significant capital or a major change in focus), or you can structure the alternative or additional venture within the plan's guidelines. As an example, recently a significant and exciting business opportunity landed in our laps, but it is one that is outside the business focus and core mission. So I invited joint venture partners to co-ordinate the initiative; freeing our staff resources and time to work on projects within the business plan, while allowing for the revenue and learning from the new business to be adapted into the picture -- and possibly included in future business plans.

You should not rush to conduct these business planning meetings on your own -- competent outside facilitators and consultants can help you with thee mechanics and also ensure the planning process stays on track. You may need to spend $3,000 to $10,000 or more to manage this process -- but if you do, you will set the course for your business future, avoid some of the pitfalls common to many small businesses which don't look beyond short term survival.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Wiring" the job (or three card monte) (2)

In case you want to learn how three card monte is played on the street, you can learn how in several youtube videos, such as this one.

members have added further insights into Matt Handal's observations about the way the bidding in supposedly fair projects is played -- where the winner is often decided up front and other professionals are invited in purely to legitimize the selected original client. Handal compared the process to the street con game Three Card Monte in a provocative posting reported earlier here.

The challenging issue is of course not in the cases where you know things are fixed or there are strong existing relationships and you are trying to get in through the front door when you see an RFP or invitation to bid notice. Most professional service firms avoid these situations -- they don't flail around submitting proposals for every project and opportunity that arises -- and they can usually smell a 'rat' when the conditions and terms of the proposal would favour someone else.

The issue is much more complex when you have a very good relationship -- perhaps current or ongoing work -- with a client -- and that client asks you to bid a job knowing someone else is selected. Here, the issue is whether you play the game knowing you will 'lose' the immediate contest, while maintaining your client relationships and ongoing work opportunities.

Ellen Moore at Aker Solutions in Houston describes this process in a fascinating story:
My personal "Three-Card Monte" experience occurred in a previous professional life when I worked in Marketing for a civil engineering firm. At (literally) 3:45 p.m. one afternoon -- as I was packing up to leave promptly at 4 p.m. for a badly needed and long-anticipated haircut (having arrived at the office that day at 6 a.m. to assure an on-time departure for this important event), I got The Monte Phone Call. One of our regional office managers informed me that we "had" to submit a proposal to an existing municipal client by 11 a.m. the next day. This was, of course, the first I'd heard of any proposal to this particular client. I asked a lot of rapid-fire questions and found out that yes, our regional manager had been "asked" by the municipal client to "propose" on a project. The client actually informed our regional manager that we would not be awarded the project, but the client needed a proposal from two other firms besides the Designated Winner to make this procurement "official." As our firm currently had a significant project underway for this client, the client judged correctly that our regional manager would not say no. And, in fact, he said yes, then
called me.

I consulted our Senior VP of Marketing, who called the regional manager from my office to elicit all the sad details. At the end of that conversation, the Sr VP told the regional manager we would comply this time, but added "don't EVER do this again."

I worked from 4:30 p.m. that day until 8 a.m. the next morning to write, produce, and box up our Monte proposal. To deliver our Monte by the client's "submittal deadline," one of our engineering staff was waiting in my office at 7:30 a.m. to take the box of Montes from my hands and drive it to the submittal city. Once I handed over our Montes, I went home, poured a large glass of wine, and rescheduled my haircut appointment at the earliest possible date: 4 1/2 weeks in the future. I did not have a happy day.

Once I calmed down, I tried to look at this situation from both sides. Our regional manager held ultimate responsibility for feeding his staff (and their families). In a smaller municipality, there are far fewer opportunities to win and execute significant projects than in a city the size of Houston. Everybody really does know everybody, and most everybody knows who is friends with whom, whose brother-in-law owns what company, who golfs with the mayor or city manager, etc. etc. Doing business in that environment really is a lot like being a fish in a fishbowl. I can sympathize with a regional manager who is called to the office of one of the firm's largest clients -- while the firm is in the middle of executing a significant project for that client -- and being blindsided by a Monte. I suspect that, taken by surprise, the regional manager's first thought was to do whatever was necessary to protect the existing contract and, by extension, his ability to pay all his surbordinates without a significant revenue interruption. It could not have been a pleasant conversation for the regional manager.

On the other side -- MY side -- it seemed to me we were setting a VERY bad precedent, certainly with this particular client, but also with any other existing or future clients in that municipality who might learn about this travesty called Monte. We also were not providing a very good, professional "lesson learned" for our regional manager -- or anyone else in the firm who might face the same situation in the future. Instead, we caved. And, of course, it was patently unfair for me or any other Marketing professional to be pressured to work all night to produce a Monte proposal regardless of the sacrifices required or the impact on me. Since we already knew we were NOT going to be considered seriously for the "new" project, this Monte exercise truly was a slap in my face as a Marketing professional. I noticed that no engineer or CADD designer was asked to stay all night to work with me on Monte. I guess their time was much more valuable than mine, and their need for rest, ditto. Instead, I was told to take text from this and that previous proposal, combine it, edit it, format it, and produce the required number of Montes. Back then, I stupidly thought I HAD to comply to keep my job. Now, it would be great fun to get a Monte "request." I assureyou, I would laugh amusedly all the way to my hair appointment.

Typically I would respond to Matt that the BD professional assigned to a client trying to pull a Monte ought to have spent enough time with the client to know a Monte when he saw one, and therefore, to anticipate the possibility of a Monte and be prepared to side step it adroitly. But, as my own up-close-and-personal experience with Monte shows, this response really wouldn't have precluded our Monte. Our regional manager WAS savvy. That is why he was the regional manager. He knew a Monte when he saw one -- but what he didn't have ready was an Official Response from Our Firm.

Perhaps the best lesson learned from my Monte experience is this: Principals of a firm are supposed to be street smart, practice wise, savvy, fearless, and ferocious guardians of the firm's resources. The latter does, of course, mean greenbacks, but it also includes the human element. I am sure our Sr VP knew about Montes -- look how firmly he told the regional manager "don't EVER do this again." My question is:
Why didn't he tell this younger regional manager about Monte and give him the firm's Official Response BEFORE the poor guy was staring Monte eyeball to eyeball? Give your staff some muscle in advance -- tell them about Montes when you are training younger engineers to become PMs or managers of practice areas. I sincerely HOPE any AEC firm that prides itself on operating with integrity would provide a one-word Official Response: NO.

In my current job, one variation on the Monte theme involves being asked by a prospective client (no existing client would think we were stupid enough to fall for it) to provide a proposal for, say, one subsea Christmas tree (the single largest and most expensive piece of carbon production equipment we design and manufacture). Just one, lone tree. The tip-off here is that no subsea Christmas tree -- regardless of which
company designs and manufactures it -- operates without a set of controls attached to it. Sometimes a prospective client might choose to buy a set of controls from a company other than mine, but wishes to use our subsea tree. However, I can think of no LEGITIMATE (i.e., real, valid) request for a tree that does NOT involve telling us whose controls that tree will carry, if not ours. We must know that piece of information to ensure that our subsea Christmas tree will operate properly with another company's controls. When the prospective client insists we propose for a lone subsea tree and refuses to say whose controls will operate the tree -- that's a Monte even I can spot a mile away. Monte = Price Check in my world. That means this is no way, no how a LEGITIMATE request for proposal with a real Purchase Order waiting to be awarded at the end of the procurement process. Instead, it means the prospective client simply wants our pricing info to use to beat down the price of subsea trees from the company already earmarked as the Winner. We got one of these requests this past spring, and promptly called a bid / no bid meeting. Thirty seconds into that meeting, everyone in the room agreed this was a very poorly disguised effort to obtain price check info. We declined to bid. That, to me, is the best, most effective way to protect your firm and your staff from Monte. Just
say NO.
Frank Lippert, Marketing Manager, Water Environmental Business Line at David Evans and Associates, Inc. in Portland, OR, added his thoughts:
I have to say that there is tremendous opportunity for us as business professionals when the Monte is in play. As Ellen Moore pointed out in her wonderful and thoughtful response, there is a degree of professional judgment at play and it represents a very good opportunity to for all of us to demonstrate our value to our company's leadership.

That value centers on good, sound business judgment. It rises above the fears like, "I have to feed my staff and their families, so I must do as many backflips as our clients demand, no matter what the cost." (Aren't we really all ultimately responsible for feeding ourselves and making reasonable judgments on what's right and wrong?)

As marketers, we have a unique position and written or unwritten responsibility in most of our firms, and that is, to present the business case in every decision. Most of us work with brilliant engineers, talented architects, creative contractors; but few of them wrapped up their A/E/C education with an MBA and set out to be business people. In many cases, marketers are the business people. Our value to our firms is so much greater than "working from 4:30 PM to 8:00 AM" to get a proposal out the door.

I've built my reputation and know many marketers in SMPS that have built their careers by being the voice of reason, the voice of business logic. Yes, it's also the role of the No Go Policeman, the Wet Blanket, the Spoil Sport. But, in the end, over time, that voice of reason is a valued resource to the firm. It doesn't always result in a "no go" either. I've certainly submitted on enough Montes, but I've pulled a few rabbits out the hat in this case too.

When the Monte comes up, recognize it. Be creative in your response to it. Offer back something a little different from what the Monte is asking. If the client wants you to respond, so they can get their three responses; then they want an "apples to apples" comparison... that doesn't mean you can't give them a Golden Delicious when they are expecting a Granny Smith. Of course, that means everyone involved stays and works on the effort from "4:30 PM to 8:00 AM," but if they really "want" the job (have a real passion for it or truly fear that they must feed their staff) wouldn't they want to be there anyway?

In the end, I truly believe that clients aren't intentionally evil. They aren't trying to make us spend our money unwisely and they aren't playing games with us. It's OK to educate them on the cost of submitting at the last minute, odds are, the smart clients know this already. Sometimes, your "apple" can be as simple as a one page letter that states your fee for the work (ballpark it high) and a copy of your general firm brochure.
So, should you play the game? I would argue if the work required isn't great and you can finesse your way out of it (and keep your client happy) then, sure, go ahead, but you need to draw the line at burning all nighters and tying up your staff for an urgent proposal preparation just to keep a client happy. in these cases, the simple process of informing/educating your client about the true work and cost or preparing a compliant proposal might be enough.

Now, of course, if you know you are the winner, pull all the stops out and don't take it for granted! In these cases, I think you should deliver your absolute best, most thoughtful and carefully researched proposal that really delivers value to the client and would, if the competition really is fair, would really be the best.

Notably, if you are on the winning side of a three-card monte game, it can be really easy to pull together your team of sub consultants and professionals to help on the proposal: They know they are not wasting their time on a wild goose chase, and are usually quite willing to pitch in. Thus, we have the intriguing situation where indeed by pre-selecting the person/organization to 'win' the job in a seemingly unfair competition, the client truly receives the best value. Which, I suppose, is why the game is played so often in the real world.

How should a builder market to designers and architects (3)

Consultant Clare Ross of the Clare Ross Organization has added his opinions to this topic:

First you need to market yourself to potential clients who have ongoing building programs that you can do. When you have a relationship with the client, then you can go to the architect with a good solid project lead in hand. If you also have a good relationship with the client and can make an architectural recommendation to the client, all the better.

Contractors who come to the table with a solid project lead get the architect's attention. Learn to develop a relationship of sharing leads with the architect's business development staff and they will share their leads with you. In this case you are building your relationship with their BD team. They will then open the door to their technical staff on their current projects.

The second situation is where you are selling yourself to their technical staff on projects already underway and coming ready for bid. That's a tougher sell unless you have worked with them before and they will usually stick with their proven relationships with other contractors. Successful contractors work on developing your own client relationships with clients who have ongoing building programs. When you have that kind of client relationship base, architects will seek you out
Clare's points enhance the observation that the solution to marketing to architects is unfortunately not a simple direct mail piece and a "lunch and learn" presentation. Your best way to win business, it seems, is by connecting the dots and providing useful leads and business to the architects from which you wish to receive business.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How should a builder market to designers and architects (2)

Yesterday, Jeremy Hartje of James Hartje Construction Inc. in Santa Cruz, CA, received several answers to his question about how he could effectively market his general contracting services to local designers. Here are some additional thoughtful observations on this topic from Society for Marketing Professional Services members and a well-regarded Canadian architect.

Daniel J. Caldwell, Principal at Stout & Caldwell Consulting Engineers & Surveyors ( in Cinaminson, NJ, wrote:

  • With six field workers and three office employees, I think that you/they have already established a reputation. What you need to find out is if that reputation is a good one or not a good one (and be 100 per cent honest with yourself)
  • Once you have that established, it's easy
  • If the reputation is not a good one, you need to fix that first by addressing whatever issues may be causing it, i.e. problem employees, poorly maintained equipment, cost overruns etc.
  • If the reputation is a good one, invite some of your best clients to the program and have them showcase the project you did for them. Let them sing your praises, you really shouldn't have to. You just be there to answer questions that may come up
  • People, by nature, love referrals and love to hire people who are referred to them.
Rose Walsh, Business Development at Nolte Associates, Inc. ( in Sacramento, wrote:
To misquote the real estate business: Benefits, benefits, benefits!

We have had a variety of subconsultants provide similar presentations over lunch/breakfast. It's a great initial networking tool (everyone likes free food) and much easier to learn about a new firm/service. However, if you don't have work/leads for us, why should we send work your way instead of someone else (prior relationship)? Have you thought about your follow up plan?
Pamela Rigling Caffrey, Director of Marketing, John Poe Architects, Inc., in Dayton, OH, adds:
If a general contractor ever gave me a lead that I didn't know about or opened the door for my firm into a project, I would FOREVER inform said contractor about any project opportunities I could offer them. Forever. And ever. The same would be true for engineering consultants.

Please consider that an open offer...
Finally, Canadian architect John Davies, in Ottawa, offers these thoughts (which will have special relevance to Canadian contractors):

With regard to your residential contractor inquiry:
  1. there are two major construction sectors at this level - residential and Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI)
  2. the ICI sector predominantly secures contracts through the formal bidding process.
  3. the residential sector predominantly secures contracts by way of negotiation or less formal bidding procedures
  4. the best way to get the attention of architects is to convince them that the contractor:
  1. Is skilled
  2. Exhibits impeccable craftsmanship
  3. Is financially secure (even bonded) and pays his trades promptly
  4. Has a catalog of good references relating to successfully completed work (both Owners and Trade Contractors).
  5. Can illustrate that all his projects have been completed on time and on budget - again with references.
  6. Is properly insured with appropriate levels of coverage ... Worker's Comp.; General Liability; Property and Boiler; Owned and Non-Owned Vehicles; Equipment; Errors and Omissions (if a design component is included in the product - also possesses a MMA license number)
  7. Is registered with the Ontario New Homes Warranty Plan
  8. Has worked with architects on previous occasions and can give references.
  9. Has no outstanding claims or lawsuits pending ... and
  10. Takes his shoes off when entering peoples homes and in all areas of the work that are not under construction.
"Mark ... if he follows the above he won't go far wrong - with me anyway!", Davies wrote

What can you learn from these observations: No direct marketing piece will substitute for personal contact and relationships; and nothing works better in relationship development than the expression of your reputation/referrals, and your spirit of generosity and sharing. And I wouldn't under-rate John Davies' light hearted final remark about taking your shoes off! Courtesy, respect and sensitivity to the ultimate clients are undoubtedly important in this business. These are basic principals and underlie most successful marketing within the industry.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Wiring" the job (or three card monte)

Matt Handal at Trauner Consulting Services, Inc. in Philadelphia, PA, sent members of the SMPS Marketer editorial committee a provocative article: "Learning to Accept the Three Card Monte" which touches on one of the most fundamental challenges (and opportunities) within the marketing universe -- the stacked deck, or "competition" where the winner is decided in advance.

Handal's story isn't public yet, so I can't reproduce or quote from it directly here, but the topic he discusses is certainly not a secret -- and is of real importance for anyone marketing architectural, engineering or construction services.

In the bidding and competition game, there are three possible situations. First, the bidding process is truly fair, and you will honestly be evaluated on your proposal's merit. In the second, you know you are going to win, from the start (if you don't blow things totally). In the third, well, Matt describes you as a "mark" (though I'm not sure I wish my name to be associated that way!)

Why does this happen?

Relationships are often forged over the years, and vendors wish to work with particular suppliers. In the pure private sector, this often isn't a problem; you just engage in an ongoing relationship -- if your work quality is top notch, and your relationships are strong, you'll win the repeat business.

But in the public sector and in certain corporate spaces, bidders must be seen as fairly evaluated -- and subject to a competitive process. So competing bids are encouraged and solicited -- and these competing bids can look 'real' to the victims of this game (because if they didn't then the process could be overturned by more senior officials concerned about possible improprieties or bid rigging.)

Often the game is subtly stacked, with terms of reference, and variations that only the insider knows -- in many cases, the insider is invited to prepare the bid documents. If you aren't there -- bam, you've just wasted your time on an expensive bid preparation exercise for a job you have no hope of winning. (As Matt says in his article, sometimes an organization legitimately wishes to spread the work around, so you need to play the game and submit your losing bid for the real opportunity later -- but I think if you are in that position, you'll know where you stand from the start, so the effort isn't really wasted.)

How bad (or good) is this stuff?

No one is going to go out and say they've been part of this process on the winning side, at least gloatingly to outsiders, but I think if we are honest, we'll acknowledge that if we are really successful in business -- that is, if we do really good work, and maintain the highest standards in our relationships, the good news happens -- we get the call and know we are on the inside. Do we turn down the business, act high and mighty, and shout: "We're behaving unethically because we have an unfair advantage?"

No, in the context of this blog's readership, this is just a sign that you've achieved true success in branding and building your business -- and you can claim to be a true success at marketing.

Fixed or negotiated price

If you read this this thread "Price is not negotiable" you'll quickly discover that not everyone agrees with the thesis -- and some disagree with extreme emotions. In fact, this thread, while tackling an important issue, descends to the lower level associated with political forums and establishments of ill-repute.

Yet the underlying debate is fundamental: Should you declare your price, and stick to it, or build in "negotiating room" and bargain with the client. I tend to agree with one poster, Seth Holdren, that "it depends" -- different selling situations and industries have different practices; the model of selling appropriate for a complete renovation project at a high-end home may be different than the pricing for installing patio doors.

Many businesses, of course, have pricing grids -- some building supply dealers have sophisticated computer programs where they can 'code' their clients and then adapt their pricing accordingly depending on volume and credit worthiness. The price is 'fixed' in these cases, but of course isn't really fixed if you know the critical points in the process. Others, (ourselves included) have variable publicly posted prices -- if you elect to advertise every month, on contract, your price will be lower than if you advertise one time. These variations of course are appropriate because there is value to most businesses in achieving stable cash flow and predictable income streams.

But, the question arises, if you quote a price, whatever it is, should you bend your price if the client comes back and says "that is too much"? What are your opinions?

How should a builder market to designers and architects?

Jeremy Hartje of James Hartje Construction Inc. in Santa Cruz, CA, asked this important question:

My dad and I have a small residential construction company, six field and three office employees. I'm currently conducting a small networking and outreach campaign with a focus on architects and designers. Our goal is to establish a good reputation with designers so they send more bids our way. I'm just about to send out a letter asking them to share a brief lunch meeting, which I will provide the food, so I can give a quick presentation on our company. My question is, what do you think these designers and architects want to hear? What should I make sure to include in a brief presentation to this audience? Any thoughts or ideas on this question or networking in general would be appreciated.
To answer his question, I posted it on the The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Listserve and asked some architects and designers I know for their own opinions. Here are some of the early responses.

Tara Krovich at The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company wrote:
We have found that the best way to better network with the architects in our area and build a relationship to where they feel comfortable feeding us information and inviting us on their teams is by...building that relationship. I don't think a presentation is the best approach. I think taking one or two individuals from the architecture firm out to lunch (making it less formal) and simply sharing with them the information on your company and the type of experience you have, then gaining information on them, what they are looking for, the markets they are in, etc. Don't drop it after this meeting. If you hear of a project of interest, send it to them - and that will open the door for them to reciprocate the favor. It is all about relationships when it comes to architects/cm's, so it just is a matter of having patience and taking the time to build it.
Juliette Brown, Marketing Program Specialist, Western Region, at Honeywell Energy Services said:
First big thing I see: tell him to NOT send out a (junk mail) invitation letter to firms.

At minimum, he should personally call a/the principal at each contractor/architect firm and directly propose a lunch meeting; if he really wants their business, he needs to prove it - and sending out a form letter doesn't put him on the right foot from the get-go.
Conversely, Tim Richards, Chief Financial Officer at WESTAR Architectural Group/NV Inc. In Las Vegas, replied:
I believe you will receive a warm response from architects. We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other firms. We hook up with consultants all the time and would love to partner with a construction group. I am actively marketing to construction and engineering groups all the time. . . ."
You will see more responses over the next few days and I will post further follow-ups, hopefully distilling a consensus or, at least, a toolkit of response which will allow you to discover an informed conclusion. Here are my thoughts:

Will a direct marketing/lunch and learn approach work? Possibly, if seen holistically, and not as a one shot magic bullet. A natural way to go about this process would be to connect directly and first with architects/designers with which you have a great relationship already, and ask them the same question, They may help you in networking within your own community and suggest relevant groups, associations and activities. You might also obtain some testimonials which would lend credibility to your marketing materials/messages.

Finally, if you serious about this approach, you should plan a campaign (testing each phase as you proceed) perhaps using a variety of media including permission-based e-letters, phone communications, informal meetings and association events over time, all in harmony and truly correlated to what your business really is, and how it truly relates with architects and designers.

If all of this seems like a lot of work, you are right, but you may find surprisingly immediate results by consulting with the architects and designers you know now in planning and co-ordinating your marketing campaign.

P.S. You may find some additional insights in this thread on the same topic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Joining the team

Cindy Pilgrim (Left) with Heather-Ann Duguay at the GOHBA offices. Heather-Ann is responsible for proofing the Impact! before it goes to press (and handling accounting and membership issues for the association when she isn't doing that work.)

Cindy Pilgrim has started working with us -- her responsibilities will be to work with clients in Ottawa and eastern Ontario for advertising in Ottawa Construction News, The Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association Impact! and Ontario Construction Report.

Cindy lives with her husband and family in Petawawa, about an hour's drive from Ottawa. Her husband is in the military. Canadian soldiers traditionally have had peacekeeping roles, but now are actively engaged in combat in Afghanistan, so she brings a new perspective about life to our civilian business.

She can be reached by email at or by phone at 888-432-3555 ext 221,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The complaint

Nothing hurts nor helps more than a sincere complaint from a dissatisfied client. When you receive that call, or email, what should you do?

Two responses come to mind. First, very clearly, the matter must receive priority attention. You need to get to the bottom of the issue -- how it happened, and the source of the problem. Then you need to fix the underlying cause, unless the issue is accidental, minor, or unlikely to occur again.

But the biggest challenge is resolving the problem from the client's perspective. In some situations, you might be technically right and legally 'correct' in doing nothing, but from a marketing perspective this sends out all the wrong signals. Your employees, seeing that there is no recourse or internal cost/consequence to leaving a client unhappy, will go on to lower their standards and expectations. And of course you know that complaining clients are often like canaries in mine -- they may signal something much deeper, and more significant, and problems affecting the 'silent majority' of your customers.

When someone complains, you need to take action, now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Email vs. Phone vs. In-Person Meeting? Four Viewpoints

To what extent can you substitute emails for telephone calls and face-to-face meetings when maintaining and developing relationships with clients and other key market contacts? The answer to this frequently-asked-question affects how you spend your precious business development time and money. Getting it right will improve your sales effectiveness. No wonder it’s so frequently asked. But what is the answer?

Today, four bloggers are posting simultaneious answers. They are:

1) Brian Carroll, ( specialist and noted author on generating leads for the complex sale.
2) Tom Kane, ( specialist on marketing and selling legal services.
3) Ford Harding, ( an expert on "Rainmaking" in professional practice, who has written some influential books on the challenges of selling professional services.
4) Me.

We hope this attention to the issue generates conversation on the subject with all of our readers. This is my first participation in a Synchroblog and I think we will all enjoy the diverse perspectives on this important marketing topic.

My post follows.

Construction Marketing: When to email, call, and visit

When you ask the question "Should I email, phone or visit?", you can best answer with another: "What works best for the recipients?" You need to respect their personalities, priorities, values and their ability to effectively and conveniently receive your message.

Email has several wonderful and powerful advantages: It is fast, portable, and people reading your email communication can select the time to review and respond to your message -- they aren't forced into action. They choose to respond and it is easy for them to answer if they wish. Handled properly, therefore, email can be ideal for introductory and routine communications or (when you know the other people well) off-hours and weekend messages.

Email is far superior to voice mail for routine or introductory communications where you expect a response. Can you recall your frustration in trying to retrieve and decipher incoherent voice mail messages -- especially when the callers provide their phone numbers rapidly at the end of very long and rambling monologue? Think of how this problem compounds when you are rushing between airport terminals, trying capture your voicemail messages with your cell phone while holding your carry-on bags in your other hand? And as a victim of uninvited phone or in-person intrusions, you undoubtedly recall the irritating telemarketing calls, often at inconvenient times and locations (and even worse, uninvited door-to-door solicitations!)

These points noted, if you wish to develop a meaningful, longer and deeper relationship with your current and potential clients, you'll need to phone and ultimately meet them. However, you need to respect their time, and their convenience. If you wish to talk to someone on the phone, why not leave a voice message AND a communicating email, and suggest or invite setting the call for a mutually convenient time. (If the person receiving your message has a Blackberry, for example, he can simply click on the display number and return your communication right away -- even from the airport terminal.)

As well, if your message is complicated, or you sense frustration or tension or indications of miscommunication, you should phone rather than email -- you need to have clarity and immediate feedback-response to allay misunderstandings. Note this comment from Mike Davis in Michael Stone's Markup and Profit Blog:

The challenge with email is that you cannot determine the actual emotion that is behind it. I once had a client who was as sweet as sugar plum pie. I wrote an email to her and made a comment that I thought was funny. But, because of her mood when she received it, she took it as a negative. The damage that was done was almost beyond recovery. All because I was trying to be cute. Don’t ever use email as a primary source of communication. Use it only as a follow up to face to face communication.
While I think Davis overstates the arguments against email, he is certainly correct that you should be careful about emotional nuances and implications -- and if your communication is long, complex, or could be misinterpreted, either phone or send an email requesting a phone conversation or meeting!

Finally, phone (not voicemail, of course) or private meetings are best where you must not leave any paper (electronic) trail in your communications, especially for legally sensitive matters.

These points lead to a crucial question: Can you build a really meaningful and lasting business relationship through email or phone, without personal meetings? The answer is that, for most people, you must have eye-contact to connect, to build trust, and to establish your relationships.

Conferences and association meetings are great for relationship building and face-to-face meetings, because in these environments, you can achieve spontaneity without inconveniencing the people you wish to see. I remember well, for example, getting together at the SMPS Build Business conference with Tim Klabunde and Mel Lester for our first face-to-face bloggers conference. And our company's sales representatives are provided a budget and encouraged to attend relevant association events.

You should also consider demographics: A young person raised in the era of instant communications, Twitter and the like, may prefer to conduct transactions and develop relationships by email, while you probably would want to use the phone, or better, find a natural meeting ground to connect with a baby boomer or senior citizen who is not interested in technology.

Here are some email/voice/in-person marketing don'ts:
  • Unless it is a real emergency or you've arranged it in advance, don't phone outside of business hours, especially to cell phones. Who wants to receive any kind of solicitation or business communication you are 'forced' to listen to or transcribe after hours? (If you are in the consumer marketplace, telemarketing and door-to-door canvassing may be effective, but these are high risk/irritation strategies.)
  • Never spam -- don't send unrequested bulk promotional emails. You marketing emails should individually communicate thoughtful and personalized ideas. You can also send email newsletters if you have received permission and the newsletters are directly relevant to the your readers.
  • If you are leaving a voice message, don't speak quickly and make it hard for the person you are calling to transcribe/return the message. Repeat your information, clearly, both at the beginning and end of your voice message. (See Ford Harding's posting: How to Leave a Voicemail Message.)
In deciding whether to email, phone or arrange a face-to-face meeting, consider the 80/20 rule. For most preliminary and simple matters, and much routine follow-up communications, email is best. For deeper, meaningful and lasting communications, you will need to phone (and more importantly) meet face-to-face: These communications should always be with respect and consent -- that is why I like using email for much initial communication and to set appointments for phone or in-person conversations. But if I have a special or more complex mater to discuss, I'll phone and, where appropriate, arrange for a meeting.

PS: Consider the advantages of the Post Office for personal Thank You notes and gifts, and faxes or Fedex packages for follow-up documentation when you wish to convey urgency.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sales compensation: Some observations

In email exchanges yesterday, consultant Tim Nagle offered some additional observations on the sales model he found worked best for him when he built the Richmond VA Champion Windows and Doors branch to nation-leading levels.

He said his salespeople worked for 100 per cent commission, but these were not slouchers.

In home improvement sales it is widely known that only the top 10% make $100,000 or more. I had a sales office that 80% made $100,000 and the other 20% made over 200,000. Two of my reps were top 5 nationally. There is plenty to discuss in this situation.
Absolutely: You might wonder how you can attract -- and retain -- this type of high producing sales force.
How do I attract people to hire?
It all starts first by building that "culture" in the office/business. I focus on one successful model (person) and move to the next. I build it one at a time and use that to my advantage. One attracts the next.
If you aren't hiring someone " you are not looking hard enough!"
How do I attract them and how do they want to come aboard?
MY passion and willingness to make them successful and being a great leader. They feel my passion and know that I will work to make them successful.

How do I deal with the "primadonna's?"
Leadership skills, firmness and keep them motivated & in check by constantly raising the bar. They are too busy and fear losing that position, because I am never satisfied. (understand what I mean?) It is a mental challenge I put them through!
The model for direct-to-consumer sales of simple products probably doesn't apply for you if you are selling higher-end technical or AEC services, where expertise and accomplishment (and often professional credentials) are essential. You don't generally choose a lawyer by talking to a commissioned sales rep; nor would you hire an architect. As well, you should consider Nagle's important point: the business culture really counts.

Education levels may be important -- If your sales opportunity requires more the natural sales/persuasive ability than real professional/technical knowledge; if your clients are middle class and lower-middle class consumers rather than postgraduate degree holders, your sales team may have just a basic high school or technical education with limited earning/income opportunities in non-sales careers. Then, you can manage/motivate them with high paying work on commission. The sales cycle length is also important

You may wish to review this earlier posting: Sales: What are you paying for?

Coming tomorrow morning: Email vs. Phone vs. In-Person Meeting? Four Viewpoints

To what extent can you substitute emails for telephone calls and face-to-face meetings when maintaining and developing relationships with clients and other key market contacts? The answer to this frequently-asked-question affects how you spend your precious business development time and money. Getting it right will improve your sales effectiveness. No wonder it’s so frequently asked. But what is the answer?

On September 22, four bloggers will post their answers simultaneously. They are:

1) Brian Carroll, ( specialist and noted author on generating leads for the complex sale.
2) Tom Kane, ( specialist on marketing and selling legal services.
3) Ford Harding, ( an expert on "Rainmaking" in professional practice, who has written some influential books on the challenges of selling professional services.
4) Me.

We hope this attention to the issue generates conversation on the subject with all of our readers. This is my first participation in a Synchroblog and I think we will all enjoy the diverse perspectives on this important marketing topic.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Consultants: Using Internet forums for your marketing

Tim Nagle, in the Richmond VA area, has started promoting his consulting business through provocative postings.

One of the most effective ways for you to market professional and consulting services is to achieve expert status on relevant Internet forums. As you contribute and post your insights and observations, your reputation will soar -- if you do it right.

If you do it wrong, you'll be seen as an opportunist, or worse, as a spammer. Forums have their own rules and personalities -- and unless you really know your way around, you risk a flame war or, worse, banishment.

Several months ago, for example, and relatively early in this blog's history, I stepped over the line at, when I invited readers to participate in a survey. You can avoid similar mistakes by reading the forum rules, which are usually clearly posted.

Humbled by the error, I set out to correct things, always checking with the forum administration BEFORE posting if the activity could be seen as stretching the rules.

Sometimes, new people arrive on the scene with a real splash. Tim Nagle, who goes by the user ID "Remodel Bud" joined the fray with some provocative postings beginning with this thread, "Sales Training Instruction 9 - 2 - 08". Intrigued, I phoned Nagle, whose RemodelBuddy weblink takes you to a regional leads referral service for the Richmond, VA area.

Before starting out on his own as a consultant/local leads service provider, Nagle says he had been a partner and successful manager of the Champion Window, Siding and Patio Room branch in Richmond, which he turned from a money-losing business into one of the most successful branches in the Champion network, generating upwards of $10 million in sales each year. Nagle says Champion decided to use his location as a training centre for other location managers, who could see first-hand how to do things properly.

He's now setting out as an independent consultant, and naturally, his clients are likely the people reading the forums (and this blog).

Nagle believes contractors should hire only commissioned sales representatives. (This point is debated by many pundits -- but the consensus seems to be for retail-focused direct to consumer sales, commission sales appear to have the greatest industry acceptance.)

But where/how do you find the great salespeople you need to run your business?

First, says Nagle, make the business truly appealing -- show the representatives you are planning to hire the quality of the environment and the existing sales force. (When he took over responsibility for Champion in Richmond, this meant a few months of house cleaning, as many lower performing people left.)

"The hiring process starts before you hire anyone -- you are building the culture in the office; a great environment leads to great success," he said. "Whenever I interview a salesperson, I let them interview the other salespeople in the office -- and they want to work there."

To find new representatives, "you are out looking for people actively, networking, checking other companies, home shows, contractor businesses, that's generally the best means of hiring.
"Building a sales team is a constant work in progress," Nagle said. "You have to be working (at recruitment) when there isn't a need to look."

For his consulting service, Nagle said fees vary depending on what is required. Some people, he said, just need phone consultations, and these can be accommodated for $50 per week. In other cases, Nagle said he is asked to conduct full-blown on-site sales training and hiring -- and this of course will be more expensive. He is selective in the clients he works with; a young, struggling contractor with a brain on his head and willingness/eagerness to learn will receive his services for lower fees; he will decline doing business with people who don't want to learn and listen.

Is Nagle worth his fees? I can't be sure -- but his writing and communications suggest he knows what he is doing -- and of course you can check his references and validate his abilities in the early going of your relationship. One thing is certain: Some solid consulting from experts who really know their stuff can save you much agony, frustration, and wheel-spinning as you build and maintain your business. And you can learn something from Nagle about marketing your business by connecting with Internet forums relevant to your potential client group.

Sharing power

You need to throw some of the conventional concepts about selling in the trash can when you want to be truly effective at construction industry marketing. Eighties-style 'closing techniques' still taught by some marketing gurus can work in some situations, and hard-rock personal soliciting and marketing techniques may bring in clients, but at what cost?

Last night, at 8:30 p.m. two events occurred showing the truly different ways of doing things.

Someone called on my cellular phone to offer service with a competing cellular service provider. Rarely, do I blow my stack -- but this call is way out of hours (unless there is a dire emergency, employees and others will never receive a phone call from me after hours), but worse, the telemarketer expected me to pay toll charges for her soliciting call.

Then, a few minutes later, someone else from the same organization called. "We're not selling anything," he said. "We're offering you a free cellular phone."

Sure, and elephants live in Antarctica, and you can meet SpongeBob on the moon. At 9 p.m.
Contrast this note from Chase, attending an evening Barrie Construction Association meeting. (Sure, the meeting is in the evening but everyone attending is there voluntarily!) After the meeting, he emailed our editor:

Not sure if you have started working on the Gilda’s Club news story for October, but the timing could not be better to do it. This evening at the Greater Barrie Home Builders Meeting the GBHBA and BCA presented Gilda’s with a cheque for $300,000. The two associations got together and built a home in 55 hours and just sold it this week with the proceeds going to Gilda’s House which will provide a place for cancer patients and families.

This company's employees are empowered to give publicity and advertising to relevant associations and non-profit initiatives. There's no catch, nothing expected in return, no "free phone" in exchange for thousands of dollars in lock-in service fees. The only, but important, guideline, is this generosity should be visible within the community of potential advertisers.

You'll see this blog takes things to a higher level. Originally intended (and still part of) the Thank You package for existing clients, its reach extends far beyond the this business's current service areas in eastern Canada and North Carolina. Readers who ask questions or seek guidance, no matter where they are, will receive respect and recognition and our support of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) transcends any chapter or geographical boundaries.

Why? Because real generosity and community service really works; not plastic stuff, not disrespectful intrusions with irritating free offers, intended to win business sales. Your brand shifts, your reputation evolves, people feel comfortable doing business with you, and when the time is right, you find amazing business results.

Construction Writers get it right

The Construction Writers Association recently issued a news release:

Construction Writers Association Smart Move-Gaining An Edge October 15-17, 2008

announcing their upcoming mid-year meeting in Chicago.

How did they do with the PressRelease Grader? Score: 86 out of 100.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The press release (and PressRelease Grader)

This overview video at the PressRelease Grader site explains how effective Internet press releases can be in promoting your business.

If you are a SMPS member, you have access to a weekly e-letter with some useful tips and resources. This week's newsletter includes a link to an intriguing tool, The PressRelease Grader, and assorted information from, outlining methods to use news releases to accelerate your presence and web-based marketing impact.

Hubspot advocates that you frequently issue news releases, not primarily for the news media's interest, but to help your search engine status. And it suggests certain formats and styles are most effective. In other words, you shouldn't wait for something really newsworthy -- something you think the mainstream media will find interesting -- before you issue a news release.

Well, how does the news release issued here fare with the Press Release Grader? It is the Construction News and Report Group of Company's announcement of an agreement with Tree Canada to plant a tree for every advertisement in each issue of our publications. We posted this on the Canada News Wire Service since obviously the news release is only really relevant in Canada.

Attention News Editors:

Construction publishing company becomes first in Canada to plant more trees than it consumes

    OTTAWA, Nov. 21 /CNW Telbec/ - The publisher of a group of Ontario
construction industry newspapers will plant at least 70 trees for every 11 it
consumes, making it the first Canadian print publisher to produce more forest
life than it consumes.

"We have made arrangements with Tree Canada to plant a tree for every
advertiser in every issue of in our publications," says Chase, who
co-ordinates the initiative for the Construction News and Report Group of
Companies(CNRG). "Our printers tell us we consume approximately 11 trees per
month - we expect to plant 80 or more each month in return."
The CNRG publishes Ottawa Construction News, The GTA Construction Report,
Ontario Construction Report, as well as speciality publications under contract
for associations such as the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA).
Tree Canada, established in 1993, has planted over 75 million urban and
rural trees, potentially sequestering more than 58 million tonnes of carbon

Further information about Tree Canada is available at

"We believe this initiative will make a significant contribution to
improving forests and urban life - and make us 'net positive' with
environmental and global warming issues," said CNRG President Mark Buckshon.
"We are hopeful that other businesses will follow this example for their own
For further information: Construction News and Report Group of
Companies: Chase, 888-432-3555 ext 211, or Mark
Buckshon, 888-432-3555 ext 224,; Tree Canada:
Michael Rosen, (613) 567-5545,
The PressRelease Grader gave this effort a truly failing score -- 25 out of 100. Ouch! This release is too short, doesn't have suitable clickable links, and fails to include the boilerplate company description and links required for the best results. The reason for some of these rather significant failings is that the company's corporate website is still under construction in a rather major rebuilding project -- when things are done in the next couple of months, the links here will work much more effectively.

The PressRelease Grader documentation also provides insights into why you should be striving for a high search engine placement. It of course is part of the most effective methodology in online (and for that matter any) marketing: Give away lots of useful stuff and clients will be attracted to you -- and you'll sell a whole lot more than by pushing your product or service in their faces.

Still, be cautious in rushing to implement Hubspot's strategies or implementing their services. Many people are trying a variety of techniques to game the system; to push up their organic search engine rankings, but you will find nothing works better than sincerely doing your best and relating and connecting to your current and potential clients.