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Thursday, September 25, 2008

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.

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