Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What advertising works?

I started a thread on with this observation:

We sell advertising for a living, but I know much advertising in the contractor community doesn't really work. Maybe you can help me serve our clients better by sharing your success stories: Tell us where your (paid) advertising is successful, and why.

Your best examples would be a copy of your actual ad(s) or a detailed description (if it is radio or television, perhaps an audio file, Youtube or similar link would help), a description of your cost per lead, and other aspects you think important in assessing why the ad succeeds (including how long it took you to get results, and measure them).

If you are concerned about competitive confidentiality, you can 'bury' some important details. If competition concerns you, maybe you would share your success offline with other relevant non-competitive forum readers. It is likely your competitors know and see your ads, anyways, but I understand some of the measuring data might be sensitive.

(I may 'lift' some of your suggestions for our own advertisers -- even if it means sending them to other media/services. Of course, even if the advertising dollars are redirected, it still makes good business sense for us to do this. Would you return for more (or refer friends) to a business that always puts your interests in first place, even if it seems the business is acting against its own self-interest?)

If there are few or no responses to this posting, I think there is validation that advertising should be used cautiously and sparingly -- especially if you are trying to dig out of a recessionary slump and don't know what advertising works, and why.

After a few days, you will read some interesting responses but you probably won't find the magic bullet of inspiration. This could be because successful advertisers are keeping their stories to themselves, or because, well, not many people on the forums have found a way to advertise successfully!
Well, when you read the thread, you'll see there isn't an overwhelming response. This is because most successful contractors continue to find most of their business through referral and repeat clients -- and when they 'dabble' with advertising, they usually end up quite disappointed.

I'm certainly not waving the magic wand here -- though we earn 99 per cent of our income from advertising sales, in practice, most of our revenue is from supplier support advertising for editorial features (which 'works' as intended, in both senses -- the company profiled in the editorial feature gains truly useful and revenue-generating publicity, and the advertisers show their support for their current clients, a wise move). Ads can support established businesses with their branding and, if you have significant resources and patience, you will find they draw profitable business.

Trouble is, the most challenging time to start advertising is when you suddenly realize you 'need' new business, like at the start of a recession. You need to be careful here. I'm continuing my search and research for useful answers to the question.

The $50 offer

The $50 referral form from Feazel Roofing in Columbus, Ohio.

Look at this referral form from Feazel Roofing in Columbus, Ohio. Nothing fancy; the person providing the referral can receive a $50 cash payment and the person receiving the referral receives a $50 discount.

The really intriguing thing about this form, however, is the provision to allow individuals making the referral to sign over their $50 cash rebate to the person receiving the referral -- thus turning a hard cost into a soft incentive! Clearly, this reduces the referral program costs while inducing a sense of sharing and self-sacrifice/respect from the referring person: great for relationships, and for enhancing the referral's influence.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Raising the flag

Andy Critch holds his self-made Stanley Cup, which he brought to the Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, a Senators BBQ cover, and, behind him, the flag which we purchased and he is about to mount on the site crane. Johnathan monk is taking his picture. The crane is near the Ottawa Airport's flight path -- so many people will see the flag -- from above.

Johnathan Monk and I visited the site of a new school project in Ottawa to see the raising of an Ottawa Senators flag on the site crane. Our company paid for the flag -- a $400 investment -- all because Andy Critch of EllisDon mused out loud to his barber that he really wanted to raise a flag in support of the Senators, but he couldn't find one large enough to do the job.

Waiting my turn for the barber, I piped up: 'We'll get you a flag", and so started a month-long saga.

You can't just go into any souvenir shop to purchase nine foot flags. And of course you can't just custom make a flag with a hockey team's logo without following some procedures; like getting the team's permission. And if you want to put a flag on a construction site crane, you also need to get permission from the building's owner, the contractor, and others. All in all, from beginning to end, it took us about five weeks to get the clearances and the flag made before Andy could hoist it today.

Why do this? How can helping a contractor raise a hockey team flag help out in marketing? If I worried about the 'return on investment' here I probably wouldn't have started the process; but I realize that sometimes it is simply fun to do something a little different, to stretch the rules, to build relationships, and to make connections.

And the flag process certainly succeeded.

We'll have some really good photos taken by Johnathan for the January 09 issue of Ottawa Construction News.

And, yes, EllisDon and the school district granted permission for us to produce an advertiser-supported feature about the project later, so ultimately, we'll make some money on the process.

Marketing 101: Connect, share, and have fun.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reader's question: How to properly implement a successful marketing campaign

Marina Park in Kirkland, Washington. (Public domain image from Wikipedia)

I have been bestowed a new responsibility and challenge this week, I am doing sales and marketing for my families construction company my uncle has been in the business for over 40 years and his GC company has be up and running for he past four years. I started off being the first employee I did laborer duties for a few years then opted to move back to my former profession (auto sales) for the past 2 years but with the sharp decline in that industry I am back in the construction field and I asked to be able to use what I learned selling cars to help his struggling GC company.

For the past four years finding work has not been a problem with great referrals and repeat large accounts but recently work has been increasingly harder to find. We have done quite a bit of decks, rot repair, mold and flood damage since we are located in the rainy Seattle area mostly working for apartments and condos we have worked with a number of management companies and consultants for HOA.

My job is to find the work, I have pulled up all the apartments in the surrounding areas thinking it maybe a idea to get a foot in the door for maybe turn arounds, emergency repair, decks, or even full remodels. I am looking for advice on how to approach soliciting jobs from these type businesses. I am getting together some literature and company info for an evidence manual to bring validity to my presentation.

Being a novice to marketing but not to sales I know putting together a consistent presentation and method is key for success, I am looking for any input on how to put a plan together so I can properly implement a successful marketing campaign.

Any advice would help.

Brian Grospe

Erein Services
Kirkland Washington


I hope in switching from the auto to construction sector, you haven't gone from the frying pan to the fire when it comes to finding business in the current economy. Regardless, your challenge will be to uncover sufficient unmet needs and business in a marketplace where your competitors are also scrambling for work.

In practice, marketing is primarily about branding, and branding is primarily about winning trust, and the best place to start is always your current and previous client base. You need to work from this base to build the connections for the relationships which will take you to a higher level.

So the first thing I would do is look up your uncle's current and former clients. One method that works for many people is to offer to do a free inspection and maintenance check-up with the commitment (for any job done in the last year or two) to make good on anything that isn't quite right. This gets you in the door and in contact with your clients; often other work and needs will be uncovered in the process. You may also be able to plug in some connections to HOAs, neighbours, condo board reps and the like, all of whom will be able to give you business or referrals. (You may have to do some free fix up work, of course, but the cost here will be far less than the good will created by standing by your services. And of course you can use common sense and not rush to call back the really finicky clients who you don't want to see again anyways!)

You may want to allocate some (small) resources to building a simple website (you can use a free blog template to do this if you don't have any budget). E-newsletters can work well; especially if you fill them with useful advice and maintenance tips. Remember any form of advertising requires many -- some say nine to 13 -- impressions for you to be able to measure any value; and obviously this can be a budget-stretcher if you have no previous experience or metrics to follow (which is why it can be risky to spend money on advertising now, if you haven't done it previously.)

Involvement in a contributing way to HOAs and associations representing management companies (you can find which groups your current/previous clients belong to) may be productive, especially if you can win introductions from your existing or previous clients. The art here is to forget the selling and focus on what you can do to provide useful services/value to the group. Your current/former clients may be happy to support your membership application and vouch for you at the association meetings/gatherings -- this gives you instant credibility with their peers and opens doors relatively quickly.

Will 'shoe leather' and dialing for dollars work; ie conventional outbound selling approaches? Possibly, but the big weakness here is that unless you have an offer or circumstance where the price for the service can be transferred to a third party (ie an insurance company), you are going to risk getting dragged into unprofitable bidding wars or "low price gets the job" so-called opportunities. You may wish to check to see if there are repair/support programs sponsored at the state/county level where you can access public funds to help out (this may be more available later as government stimulus programs kick in.)

Discretion, respect, and communication

Occasionally I come across a significant story that is too hot to handle. Usually it involves sex. And usually the story involves some level of indiscretion which causes harm and hardship far beyond the inappropriate behaviour.

Today, I learned one of these stories I won't report on it because the specific details won't do anyone any good. But I can say one basic marketing lesson can be observed here: Generally, what you do in the bedroom should stay there. Be responsible. Respect the moral code. And if you dare violate it, remember that you can be haunted by the consequences.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Employee marketing

The team at the most recent planning meeting, in October. I expect the gathering will be larger at the semi-annual review next May.

A few weeks ago, I asked Chase to assist in the job posting/advertising process for new associate publishers. Our business model is free of many geographical constraints; we can produce viable publications in virtually every part of the U.S. and Canada, but the key is to find local publishers with the right set of skills and initiative to handle the self-reliant responsibilities.

(Some competitors try to handle this selling responsibility through central phone rooms; others contract with people on pure commission; we believe the much better approach is to pay a fair starting salary to local people who really like to work independently, but still wish to connect to the growing business.)

His most recent initiative has resulted in two finalists ready to move to the key stage in our recruiting system -- the paid, working assignment. But (and this is the great thing), he has modified the assignment's design to make it more meaningful and valid in measuring the potential of our possible new employees.

This kind of initiative, interaction, and communication, to me, is the essence of good working relationships -- and is a vital part of your business marketing and brand development. After all, for most business owners reading this blog, upwards of 75 per cent of your business originates from repeat clients and referrals -- and these occur because of the way you and your employees relate and serve your current clients. Do you want 'drones' who talk corporate-speak, or are you more likely to succeed with employees with initiative, spirit, and the ability to speak their mind and contribute their own thoughts to the business?

Of course, no business can survive long if it allows everyone to simply design their dream job and do it, without supervision or control. Employees need some rules of the game; some consistent practices and guidelines, and they must communicate frequently and routinely. This is where regular meetings are not only important -- they are essential.


The U.S. is celebrating Thanksgiving today.

For many in the architectural, engineering and construction industries, this has been a year where thanksgiving must be at the spiritual rather than economic level. but in the longer picture of history -- in the bigger picture of life -- this year could be one of the best years to truly appreciate and respect the people in your life who have shared, helped, and given love, support and inspiration.

We all have much to be thankful for, and many people worthy of our thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brand cohesion -- what really matters

This graphic is from the posting The No. 1 Rule / Brand Consistency in Attitude Design Journal, and gives the designer's perspective about brand consistency. However, I don't believe you should sacrifice independent thinking and imagination among your employees to force consistency.

Some marketers fight seemingly endless battles to achieve brand consistency. They wouldn't like very much the way we do things at our business. Take this blog (and that of our employees/contractors), for example. Rather than putting the blog in our own domain name (which I've registered some time ago) you'll still see the designation. And Chase is doing his own thing, with his own account.

You'll find other gaps, inconsistencies, and variations -- the logos aren't always exactly where they 'should' be and employees in this organization aren't muzzled to follow the party line and speak corporately as 'one'.

This reflects a deliberate policy. These branding elements are simply not as important as the value achieved to the brand by empowering employees and contractors here to think creatively, respect clients, and respond with their own solutions when something isn't quite right.

Note: I am certainly not advocating blind 'anything goes' freedom -- you need business controls, especially over your accounting and financials, and owners should never abrogate responsibilities here: (We have a great accounting team, but, in addition to ensuring the regular reports are completed on schedule, I can find time, always, to sign the cheques, and to review the bank statements.)

Equally, employees are expected to show up for the regular weekly meetings and they need a good reason not to be there. (Medical emergencies and vacations are good reasons; a client appointment is not -- unless the employee has tried to reschedule and simply cannot vary the time.) Independent contractors of course are not under similar controls -- a sign of this business's health, however, is how many contractors show up for the meetings without being told to attend!

Nevertheless, outside of these common-sense controls, the rules around here are simple: "Do what is right, with respect for our clients and the community."

Brand consistency, eh. I'll take it we have it right if a client, experiencing a problem, finds we resolve it promptly and fairly; when an employee senses that something isn't quite right, and solves the problem without running to the boss; if everyone works well together, in harmony, yet with the freedom to think for themselves. These values, I think, create the real brand.

Consistent, maybe not, but effective, yes.

Radio ads?

In Columbus, I asked Mike Feazel at Feazel Roofing how he finds most of his clients for his mutli-million dollar roofing company.

He said about a third is from repeat and referral clients (next posting I will share his referral form).

A second third is from "everything else" -- Internet, newspaper ads (a dying resource, he says, which works when he can get highly discounted rates) and publicity (he is called frequently by local media when they need comments on roofing issues).

So where is the remaining third? Radio ads. Yes, radio. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads each year on local radio stations appealing to the middle-adult, middle of the road demographic.

"Our market isn't the super rich," he said. "It is the working people who need roofs repaired."

Feazel knows he has a competitive edge with radio -- it only works if there is enough continuity, saturation, and time -- in other words, if you were to try to engage in a competing radio campaign, you would have to budget enough to spend upwards of $20,000 a month for six to nine months -- without worrying about results.

Obviously, this won't work for the little contractor struggling to get by. Most smaller contractors rely on repeat and referral business as the primary source of clients -- but Feazel says this doesn't work if you want to grow the business to a really substantial level. You've got to advertise, he says.

This posting, therefore, is relevant to only a small number of this blog's readers. That is fine with Feazel and contractors at his level -- when the barriers to marketing entry are high, you don't have to worry too much about the competition.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canvassing in Columbus: How to knock on doors

Joseph Needham puts a brochure in a door as he shows Rob Sangster how to canvass in a Columbus, Ohio neighbourhood. (Below) Feazel Roofing President Mike Feazel in his office. Feazel wants to hire a team of 25 canvassers/salespeopole.

I felt a little like an FBI surveillance agent today, sitting in the back seat of a car, camera in hand, as I observed canvassing consultant Joseph Needham show Rob Sangster, working on contract for Feazel Roofing, how to knock on doors.

On a blustery, windy day, just two days before Thanksgiving, the job seemed thankless. Sangster, a former NHL Hockey draft pick originally from Ontario, met his wife in Columbus while on the then-farm team for the Vancouver Canucks. Now he has a part-time hockey practice business, but wants something more for his family.

Feazel Roofing president Mike Feazel, following an Internet search, decided to contract with Needham to help set up an ambitious canvassing-sales program with the goal of putting 25 reps in the field. Sangster is the first -- he may well lead the team -- once advertisements appear in local newspapers and candidates attend information meetings in a local hotel.

This is not a 'typical' canvassing assignment, but Feazel Roofing is not a typical roofing company. Feazel says about a third of his business comes from local radio ads -- he estimates his budget is upwards of $200,000 a year. He roofing company is the most prominent roofing contractor in Ohio -- and is expanding its 'storm division' which enters markets after major wind or hail storms, where roofing services suddenly are in demand. (The company does a little commercial work, about 10 per cent, but avoids new construction -- "there's no profit in that type of work," Feazel says.

So when Needham received the call from Feazel, the assignment reflected a very different challenge than just fulfilling an order for his $350 canvassing training disk, or his more simple $10,000 to $15,000 budget canvassing training and set up model. (For this amount of money, you would build a system starting with a single canvasser, growing to three to five, each of which should bring in enough leads to provide at least one sale a day -- the sale could range in value from $1,200 to $10,000 or more; perhaps averaging about $5,000, Needham says.)

Feazel wanted Needham to remake the story, to rebuild the picture, and to change the model of business. Needham generally trains canvassers to be lead generators -- Feazel wants them to be sales reps as well. In Feazel's model, canvassers will carry ladders in their cars and if the homeowner really wants an on-the-spot inspection, he will be able to get out, go on the roof, and make a proposal. (This certainly wouldn't work in Ontario and some other markets -- unless the roof estimator had safety harnesses and other gear, no way should he be on the roof.)

We rolled into an upper middle-class neighbourhood of relatively new houses, recently hit by a hail storm. Needham pointed out two roof shingle types; one is definitely better than the other, and the better one can withstand the storm, and thus the homeowners wouldn't need a new roof.

The other type, less expensive to build, had real problems -- and many of these are not obviously visible. The damage is also covered by insurance, and because it relates to a catastrophe, individual homeowners don't need to worry about their premiums rising if they file a claim.

So the trick is to drive through the neighbourhood, assess whether the roof is the 'right' (cheaper) type, and then knock on doors, to see if they would like a free inspection, and if anything is found wrong, to prepare a proposal for repairs that would be covered by the home owner's insurance. (And if you agree to put a sign on the lawn, you can have a $250 credit towards your insurance deductible costs.)

This type of situation, Needham says, is a perfect example of where canvassing makes business sense. Homeowners really can use the service -- and since they are not out-of-pocket in any major way -- gain real benefit by allowing the canvasser to present the case. (Some homeowners say they've had an insurance adjuster review the property and say there is no damage: Feazel and Needham show canvassers the counter-argument -- that the insurance adjuster represents the insurance company, not the homeowner, and if they find problems on the inspection, they'll go to bat with the insurance company to get approval before proceeding with the job).

Sangster, of course, felt the pain of the door knocking. Cold. blustery weather is not the best time to canvass, Needham acknowledged. If you want to set up a canvassing program, it is often best to do it in the spring. And you are going to have to work hard and creatively to find canvassers -- probably going through 21 or more candidates before you find one that 'sticks'.

Canvassers need to be able to stomach rejection and the obvious stigma associated with door-to-door work. (Needham says few women are interested in the job, but he has had a few interesting experiences with women in the houses he canvasses -- a subject probably best not reported here in great detail.)

Good canvassers, usually earning a modest wage with a bonus for each appointment they set, can earn $30 to $40,000 for part time work (four to six hours a day) for the warmer months of the year. Some graduate to work in sales -- canvassing is certainly good practice for a sales career.

In the middle of the day in Columbus, few people were home. Sangster met one homeowner who said she would use the company the insurance company recommended. (Needham had an answer to that objection). Needham, meanwhile, found a homeowner who welcomed an appointment. He took down her information and called the order into the office.

Later in the afternoon, as Needham drove with me around various neighbourhoods, he explained that he fell into canvassing when, after obtaining a degree in psychology with a minor in sociology, he needed work, so went to a roofing company near his home in the Battle Creek, MI, area. The company owner suggested that instead of getting on a roof installing shingles, he might be better suited to going out and bringing in the business. And he did -- achieving astounding results.

Eventually, word got around, and Needham discovered other roofing contractors wanted to know his secrets, so he began work on the canvassing manual. Now, he says he sells 30 to 40 of them a year on the Internet.

Needham emphasises that he trains canvassers never to go where they are not wanted. If a 'no soliciting' sign is on a door (or entrance to a neighbourhood), he'll stay away. Canvassers must be presentable and non-threatening -- no pierced faces, or scary scars!

Is this a magical formula for everyone? Obviously not -- You need the systems, processes, and organization to handle the leads, (or the willingness to stomach the rejection and tension involved in canvassing yourself), and obviously this type of canvassing works rationally when there is a visible exterior problem or qualification for the service (it would be harder, if still possible) to canvass for interior renovation and maintenance work.)

Needham asked if I would like to go to a door with him. "No way," I said. "I can't think of anything I would like to do less (personally) than to knock on doors. In fact, I abhor canvassers when they knock on our door at home."

But in researching construction marketing, in assessing the options and choices, it is my interest to understand how things work, whether or not they reflect my personal values and interests. Here, Feazel Roofing's Mike Feazel and I share the same values. "The biggest mistake some people make in marketing is to impose their personal interests in their marketing -- the issue here is what matters for the clients." I agree, in part. I also believe that you should always align your work with your interests and strengths; and if you realize you need some expertise, talent and strengths more suited to a task, you should hire or contract for these services.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Columbus canvassing

Today, I'm heading for a brief visit to Columbus, Ohio, to observe how consultant Joseph Needham trains a local roofing company in the art of door-to-door canvassing. The journey into the U.S. heartland just before Thanksgiving will also give me a much clearer picture -- on the ground -- of the state of the economy, and the direction contractors need to take to survive challenging economic conditions.

Independent contractors, employees and construction marketing

You need to understand the basics of marketing before you can either hire or contract out the services to others.

When should you 'contract out' marketing services, and when should you do things yourself? This is an easier question to ask than to answer. Clearly, using outside providers has real advantages: You pay for what you need, and your independent contractor suppliers can effectively cross-fertilize innovations from several clients.

Conversely, when you hand over these responsibilities to outsiders, you could diminish your responsibility/control over one of the key elements of your business operation. You really can't escape your responsibility to attract and retain profitable business -- without it, you of course are doomed.

The simplest answer, I think, is to start by having enough overview knowledge of the issues, practices, and methodologies of marketing so that you can understand who is competent and who is not. This blog helps and you may find worthy marketing introduction programs with your trade associations or groups. (If you really want to get deep into the topic, consider joining your local Society For Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) chapter.)

Then, you can determine where you need to get some outside help or whether you should add resources internally. You may elect to hire a marketing co-ordinator or decide to focus your staffing on business development and sales. (The two functions are complementary but you'll find that, improperly co-ordinated, your marketing and sales staff may not see things through the same perspectives!)

One cautionary note: Be wary of any outsider 'selling' you any type of marketing or advertising services. Remember, they be better at selling what they have, rather than what you need! Be sure that the services offered fit within your vision and budget.

I think, however, that as the business owner you will always need to have primary responsibility for marketing and business development. So if your resources are limited, do the parts of the work that you enjoy the most and find existing employees or outside contractors to help out -- until your resources allow you to bring on additional employees.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Construction Exchange

One of the most interesting aspects of The Construction Exchange is its member-generated image library. Brad Torres writes:: "The Bagger 288 built by the German company Krupp is used for strip mining operations. It is 312' tall, 705' long and weighs over 13,500 tons. This piece of equipment comes with a price tag of 100 million and a 10 year lead time (five years to design and five years to assemble). The most amazing thing about it though is that it only requires 5 people to operate according to the article that I read. It also has the capability of removing over 240,000 tons of material each day."

Bobby Darnell referenced me to a site worthy of permalinking in the special place for forums and relevant sites -- The Construction Exchange ( Lots of interesting information here, including connections, images, and even jokes.

A news article in the Santa Rosa, CA Press-Democrat observes:

The niche social networking site, which beta launched in August, is the brainchild of Santa Rosa-based Western Water Constructors, a 49-year-old construction company specializing in water treatment plants.

While construction companies aren't known for launching Internet start ups, its 33-year-old vice president and 28-year-old IT director had a vision.

"We wanted something that catered to our industry," said Josh McGarva, vice president of Western Water. "Our industry is known for being overly competitive. We wanted a place where people could share ideas, and be more collaborative."

This site certainly is worthy of a permalink.

The larger vision:

Last night, I watched Glengarry Glen Ross, a classic (for anyone interested in construction and real estate sales) movie which plays on the stereotypes and attitudes of hard-rock sales representatives of the old style: The 'closers' who will manipulate, cajole, trick, cheat, do whatever needs to be done to get a sale.

On Tuesday, I'm heading to Columbus, Ohio, to visit with canvassing consultant Joseph Needham as he shows a reputable local roofing company how to organize door-to-door canvassing projects.

Readers here know how much I personally abhor blatant, in your face, and intrusive marketing like canvassing and telemarketing; and how the stereotypical sales attitudes of Glengarry Glen Ross are far from my value systems.

Then why do I spend time watching videos like Glengarry Glen Ross, and more significantly, why am I ready to spend several hundred dollars on plane fares, hotel, and rental car services to see door-to-door canvassing training in action?

The answer is simple: If the goal here is to provide Construction Marketing Ideas, then preconceptions and personal prejudices must take second-place to learning and recognizing that alternative approaches to marketing have value and utility, and can be effective in different circumstances.

The question is, can these 'harder' approaches to marketing be integrated within the softer, brand-focused approach -- based on referral and repeat business relationships -- that I advocate? Or will the decision to use assertive marketing strategies threaten or destroy your well-established brand and reputation?

I believe the answer is you can use both styles, provided you are careful and practice some simple segmentation.

As an example, I'm working now with a traditional (and very successful) salesperson who guns for the close. He isn't quite as blatant as the guys in the Glengarry Glen Ross video, but certainly takes a transactional approach to his business.

So, I wasn't surprised that it took him only a day after I clued him in on a well-developed personal relationship that he initiated communication with this well-connected individual, presumably to draw out leads and make some sales. Sensing the potential damage this could cause to the relationship, founded on giving, sharing and mutual respect, I phoned my contact and gave him a heads up about the sales rep, suggesting he be cautious in sharing leads and personal references just yet.

But I certainly am not closing the door to the new representative's initiative -- in fact, we are paying several hundred dollars for leads which would work well with his style of selling: The difference is these leads are based on commercial data, not personal relationships. He can go to bat for our business with these leads without damaging established relationships, and bring in truly worthy sales (and cash) for both himself and the business as a result.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The power of follow-up inspections

The "Mary a Plumber" images from Bestline Plumbing's website may not convey the image of a business with high-brow sophistication and inspiration (and the company's website is certainly not state-of-the-art). But Bestline's owner Leonard Megliola certainly has the basics of effective marketing in his business -- he shares freely his ideas, expresses a strong and vibrant personality, and reaches out to current, previous and potential clients in a manner that attracts profitable business. We can all learn from him.

Leonard Megliola, president of Bestline Plumbing in the Los Angeles area, challenges other contractors and sub trades to think differently about marketing; in the process, he has adapted and implemented some solid and really resourceful practices.

One of his methodologies, also recommended by the late Sonny Lykos, is the follow up service/warranty inspection call. Clients are advised when his company does work, that his staff will inspect the job and make things right if they aren't up to standard.

His employees complete the inspections, as promised, and obviously take responsibility to fix any deficiencies. But these visits have much more marketing power than you can imagine. Clients have other things they need done; they have friends and acquaintances which also need plumbing services, and the good-will created by the follow up service just adds to the marketing value of this initiative's marketing value.

Here is part of his posting on the topic:

This is how this campaign works and it is too simple. You send 100 letters, to customers you did large jobs for. These could be room additions, new homes, foundation walls, copper repipes, furnaces, roofs, roof valleys, sewers, new drain installations, electrical wiring, roofs. etc.

Your letter tells the customer that you want to inspect only one or a few items. Don't make the letter confusing.

Your letter tells your customers, you gave them a guarantees, and you want to inspect the integrity of your work (list only one or two items), glued joints, copper joints, fire-box, foundation wall, roof, gutters, storm caps, structure integrity, mold, water drainage, wiring, drainage,. etc. The letter tells the customer that you will inspect the job, for free, and if there is a problem, you will repair the problem for free.

People love this idea. We send out 100 letters and the phones start ringing the next day. Guess what happens when people are so happy with us. While inspecting our jobs, these people need more work. Almost every customer needs something and we are closing very large sales on 50% of our inspections. This week, we sold three floor furnaces, drain jobs, a copper repipe, and a huge clean-up job in an attic, removing blown-in insulation, that was contaminated with animal waste.

The first thing we do, when we arrive at the customer's home, is hand them a handful of ink pens and a few business cards. We carry a camera and take pictures of everything. If we find nothing is wrong, smile, and thank the customer. When you find something wrong, give it your best to do what is right. This past Monday, we inspected 6 jobs in less than two hours.

I prefer not to mention the amount of money sold from inspections, but it is more than most will believe . . .

Checking your jobs should be something that you are willing to do just to provide good customer service and build your business. Posts tell me that it is obvious that few to no plumbers actually call their customers a year later and say, 'hello, this is Acme Plumbing. How is everything working? The reason I am calling is because I would like to let you know that we appreciate your good business and we would like to make sure that the work we did is still working fine, ........and on and on.

Thank you for being a great customer. We (company name) would like to thank you for your business.

Most likely, you are aware that the piping (furnace, or whatever) has an Original Owner Lifetime Guarantee and we would like to honor that guarantee. In order to honor your guarantee, (company name) we do periodic inspections to check the integrity of the of the piping installed and to make sure that our work does not cause any physical damage to the occupants or to your property.

Bestline will be performing you inspection between Monday July 21 and Friday July 25, between 9 am and 4 pm. We will be calling to schedule a firm appointment, or you may call us to schedule an appointment before or after the dates we have suggested.

This inspection is absolutely free and there rare no obligations of any type.

Thank you very much.
The Big Boss

I can't think of any strategy that is more effective and less expensive marketing-wise than this follow up inspection system. (This obviously only works when the contractor has a direct relationship with the client, either residential or commercial -- you might have challenges doing this if you are working purely as a sub for general contractors, and I can imagine the challenges of GCs and subs working out who pays for what when these follow-up calls are arranged. On the other hand, you might have no trouble arranging with the GC to provide this follow up service in your own name: After all, if you really will honor the warranty then this is one load off the general contractor's worry-list.)

See also how the late Sonny Lykos used this technique to great effect in this posting: "The Marketing Budget"

Marketing: Question and answer

The question:

Hi Mark,

I'm a big fan of your writing. It has proved invaluable as a resource to me and the company I work for. Thing is, I'm kind of at a standstill right now. I work for a company that fabricates steel framing - floors, walls and trusses, and we've been pretty prevalent in the industry to the point where we are now considered one of the (if not the) market leaders in Ontario.

When I joined the company two years ago, we were running at about $2.5mil turnover, which now has been increased to over $5mil through E-mail newsletters, improved product literature, architect/engineer visits, press releases and trade shows among other efforts. I have literally had no budget for this - it was approved on a case-by-case basis. My boss does not agree with print marketing, nor does he feel that trade shows bring us much in terms of exposure to new potential clients, so we've ceased those.

I'm constantly racking my brains for promotional ideas that are cost-free (or at least minimal cost) and give us maximum exposure, but as sales coordinator too, I have to balance my time. Should I just demand a budget from my boss, or plough on? I'm obviously doing something right, but I feel that forward momentum will be finite if we carry on under these circumstances. I also feel that my own progress is being hampered somewhat. We've just moved into a new facility which has obviously compromised working capital to a degree, but the resources are there, I'm sure of it. Is my boss being cheap? What can I do?

Thanks for any help, feel free to publish (minus the name) if you think there is any mileage in it.
My answer:
You are doing much right here, and so is your boss. At this scale of business, however, a marketing plan and budget are appropriate and rational. You may wish to draw up your own budget/plan. Keep it simple -- one or two pages max, with target objectives, (lead conversion etc) and reasoning. Does your business have an organized planning/meeting cycle? If so, you can rationally include this into that process. (If it doesn't and you are flying by the seat of your pants, I wish I could offer more support but that it is outside of my power/mandate!)
Your boss is probably right about print media, even though my business continues to earn 99 per cent of its revenue from print advertising! The reason we succeed is because of our relationship-centric approach. Your business, based in Ontario, may be highly suitable for a special supplier-supported feature. It won't cost you (or your boss) a cent, and while we will encourage your suppliers to support the initiative, they will be treated with respect. As you may know, this blog in fact started as a client service initiative. the resulting feature becomes a really useful link off your website, and attachment to relevant emails -- in these contexts, print converted to online is both effective and economical. And you won't need budget approvals.
Nevertheless, print media and trade shows can be very expensive. One manufacturer told me a couple of years ago, that he couldn't measure any lead generation from expensive glossy architectural magazines, and his cost per lead for trade shows was about $75.00. He said he was shocked when he tried online lead generation methods, such as AEC Daily, and discovered his true cost per lead dropped by an order of magnitude, to $7.50. He got these results b doing some sponsored advertising/section referrals from that website -- I'm not pushing it or recommending it to you carelessly; I've not used this site/service myself, nor have I validated these numbers with more recent results. But you can see that some of the verticals for AEC marketing online may be helpful and useful, and, yes, you will need a small budget to develop them.
Finally, check with your boss and which trade associations you belong to. Most of them have some marketing resources and services, and you may be able to connect with (non competitive) peers to gather ideas and insights. While it may be a budget stretcher to attend relevant conferences, I've found some relationships developed this way have been exceptionally profitable for my business. But you can also connect by phone and video link if necessary and that is less expensive. I hope as a marketer you are also engaged with trade associations at your client level; I know of few ways to more effectively develop relationships and widen your influence. Again, you'll need some budget resources here and your boss will need some patience; it can take a while for the relationships to fully mature into business trust -- but when things happen and go right, the payback is immense. (I'm still amazed how much business I've received in the past few months either by receiving or sending a few phone calls or emails from these association connections).
If you have construction marketing questions, please feel free to email me at or phone 888-432-3555 ext 224.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Returning to Washington

We published Washington Construction News from 2000 to 2005 -- and now, three years later, are preparing to resume publishing in the U.S. capital city.

A surprise --and much appreciated -- call from our former U.S. publisher, Chris Chapin, set the wheels in motion for this business restoration.

In the years we originally published in Washington, we did many things right, but some things wrong. Relationships and lasting connections with the community, alas, took second place to transactional selling. I didn't understand the importance of internal business controls, systems, meetings, and accountability.

You can go back to the very beginning of this blog (use the archives function) to learn more about what went wrong, and what turned things around.

We're hiring someone to work with Chris. You can live anywhere in the greater D.C. area -- job postings set the 'location' in Northern Virginia because Chris lives in one of the Maryland suburbs, but your talent is far more important than your street address. We'll pay a reasonable starting salary; your income potential will be in high five or low six figures (and if you are selected for the work, your likeliness of achieving this potential is high.) We can't relocate anyone, so you will need to live in the area to qualify, but direct sales or construction industry experience are far less important than your ability to do the work, which we will assess through a fair and comprehensive screening process.

Please feel free to email your resume to

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sharing or selling: What should be your priority?

Chase, in his latest blog posting,

Does giving away more then you expect to get back actually help you grow your business?

makes a vitally important point.
It is a great question and sometimes not very easy to answer. This past year my focus has been on marketing our company and increasing our "brand" awareness. This has meant sponsoring events, offering free editorial space and even free advertising to help promote the events we are sponsoring or associations we are part of. By doing this I getting the perception of me always trying to find a new contract advertiser or project to feature a little further away from someones first thoughts and them focusing on me as a person. This allows barriers to come down and people to open up with me and build relationships first and discuss business second.
Chase is absolutely correct in these observations and, furthermore, he observes that the giving should never stop.
The most important thing I have learned is that you still have to keep giving and offering your help. You still need to keep looking for new events to sponsor and committees to get involved with. The worst thing you can do is stop giving and get back to just taking.
In the past, I allowed -- in fact encouraged -- this company's salespeople to think transactionally. They were primarily measured and compensated for their results, not their relationships. But the approach had serious flaws, and I only discovered them as the business began a painful decline. The business began its recovery when we refocused on contributing and sharing. The fabricated, 'take what you can and run' relationships have given way to a more sensitive and respectful approach to the communities where we are participants.

Why is this attitude shift so important, especially in the current economy? Chase writes:
Something to remember with all of this is that the current economic environment forces people to look closer and decide where to spend (their) dollars or where to put their focus, they tend to look at existing relationships a lot more and want to help existing relationships first. Being involved with events and associations will and (has) given me a competitive edge when people decide on which publication to use for a feature article.
I think of these observations with increased intensity now, as we prepare to announce a return to one of our major markets, largely because I am working with one of our key former employees who conducted his business the 'old way'. Can he see that relationships and networks are not based on short-term transactions, or is he going to push for the 'close' and then want to move on to the next file, right away?

The answer, I hope, will be that we achieve sufficient balance here -- his natural hunter-gatherer traditional sales approach will be sufficiently compensated by this business's overall business practices, and his understanding that giving without worrying about return, of truly putting your best effort forward, is almost always the best way build lasting and respectful business relationships.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting lucky

Matt Handal at Trauner Consulting Services, Inc. in Philadelphia, forwarded this link to a wonderful Readers' Digest article by Richard Wiseman: How to Get Lucky: Scientific Proof that You Make Your Own Breaks.

The article's main point is that your attitude and perceptions of the world around you, indeed, shape your 'luck' with an open mind:

Consider chance opportunities: Lucky people regularly have them; unlucky people don't. To determine why, I gave lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to tell me how many photos were inside. On average, unlucky people spent about two minutes on this exercise; lucky people spent seconds. Why? Because on the paper's second page -- in big type -- was the message "Stop counting: There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." Lucky people tended to spot the message. Unlucky ones didn't. I put a second one halfway through the paper: "Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250." Again, the unlucky people missed it.

The lesson: Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they're too busy looking for something else. Lucky people see what is there rather than just what they're looking for.
The last quoted comment is worth repeating: "Lucky people see what is there rather than just what they're looking for." Maybe that explains why our business is now thriving, even as other publishers lay off employees, and maybe it explains this really interesting comment on Michael Stone's Markup and Profit blog from Paul Choate:

There is a prayer called the serenity prayer and part of it goes like this”…give me the courage to accept the things I can not change, the strength to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.

I am being inundated with negative attitudes from everybody about how bad things are out there. It’s depressing and if I let it get to me I will eventually be one of those guys always complaining about things instead of taking action to make things better. I can not control the overall economy but I can control how I deal with it and how I run my business in good times and bad.

I’m closing on a home next week to live in (not a flip) and plan on spending a good month or so and several thousand dollars renovating it. Some people think I’m nuts and should just hold on tight to my money…I would rather contribute to the economy! Things are good. I believe we live in abundance and if we take action to encourage positive results then all will be well. My phone is ringing, my guys are working and I will hopefully continue taking action to keep it rolling.

Realistically, things are indeed really bad out there for many people in our industry and I'm not a wild believer in the hype that your attitude is everything: You need to be well grounded in the real world. But maybe you will find your luck, as Richard Wiseman and Paul Choate suggest, when you keep your mind and eyes open for the opportunities around you.

Challenging times: How to adapt

Here is the publisher's viewpoint published in this month's edition of Ontario Construction Report

By Mark Buckshon
President, Construction News and Report Group of Companies

Times are changing. The heady, fun and sometimes overwhelmingly good times in the construction economy are finally ending, and many people in this business, who started during the relatively long 'up' cycle have little experience with the other side of the coin. Others (myself included) who have been through a few downturns know the drill: You survive and even thrive by keeping your eyes on the basics, taking decisive action whenever you need to, and always you must watch that red line – the point of no return where if you pass it, you cannot recover. At these difficult, critical points, you need to prepared to respond decisively.

Things of course won't be that bad for most of us. If you are good enough at your trade or profession to succeed in good times, you can likely do well in difficult ones; if you are marginal, you may have more problems (but then, should you be in the business in the first place?) But how do you adapt to the circumstances – especially since you haven't needed to 'market' your business in the past?

The answer here is to remember that, if you previously had a great backlog of work because of repeat and referral business, you have a really good brand – the cornerstone of effective marketing. The brand, by the way, is your clients' perception of you and your business – if they trust you to deliver top-quality work at a fair price, they call you back, and you are busy.

Your challenge in a recession is to realize that your brand remains your greatest asset, and desperate moves outside of this brand 'comfort zone' are likely to be disappointing failures. Chasing blindly after bidding opportunities and RFPs where you don't have experience or previous relationships will be daunting and frustrating – your energies spent on preparing proposals and travelling great distances to hope to win work, will probably lead to limited if any new business.

Similarly, blindly signing up for leads services or (gulp, considering this is our business) buying advertising where you haven't advertised in the past will probably produce disappointing results.

Your best bets are to look closely at your current and previous clients and see if you can develop a recessionary-value based add on or supplemental service; to prime the pump for more referrals and so on. You can also gain value, I think through your trade associations, especially the stories of successful peers in other communities – these businesses are not your competitors and should be able to guide you with effective suggestions.

If you are in Ottawa and sell renovation services, you will find the new Ottawa Renovates! magazine to be great value. We are producing this publication at the request of the Renovators' Council of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association. For more information, please email Brian Warren at or Paul Scissons at

Magic bullets (not?)

This image cost $1.00 to license legally -- it is one of my 'secrets' in developing marketing materials. But will it solve your own marketing challenges?

Recently, one of my major suppliers offered to credit $1,000 off of his company's invoices in exchange for an hours consultation on how to save on airline fares. I of course had no problem accepting this proposition.

After the meeting, my supplier granted the credit, as promised, but I could tell he wasn't totally happy. He had fallen into the trap (hope) of expecting a magic bullet; a one-size-fits all 'secret' that would free him from high airline travel costs and crappy service forever. And all I could offer him are a mix-and-match collection of solutions, using commonly available tools, that could possibly help under certain circumstances.

"Where are you travelling?", I asked him. "Is business class comfort important to you?" "Can you make use of credit cards to accumulate large numbers of airline points?" So many questions, so much need to 'think', and not a single secret formula -- a magic 1-800 number you could call -- to win Aerolotto any day, any time.

In fact, a few years ago, I temporarily cracked the code, discovering a loophole in Air Canada's Aeroplan program you could drive a truck (or perhaps metaphorically more appropriate, fly a 747) through. I posted on an Internet forum a technique to convert cheap credit card points into virtually unlimited short-notice, on-demand travel for an entire business. The airline, seeing the damage this discovery could cause to their revenue, closed it within the year -- in the process alienating and angering thousands of loyal customers with the (necessary) rule change.

This level of knowledge led me to others with even more skills and understanding of airline programs, including someone who managed to hire 20 handicapped Thai nationals, pay for inexpensive short-haul domestic flights, and then create 20 "Superelite" accounts, each of which allowed brokering of expensive international business class tickets for virtually nothing. (In case you want to try this trick yourself, the loophole he discovered has also since been closed.)

Today, I continue to use my airline knowledge effectively. Eric, now 11, has sat in business class seats more times on family vacations already than most adults have in their lifetime.

However, this knowledge, while useful, is not a simple answer, and I fear there are few magic bullets in life -- or construction industry marketing.

If you simply want to purchase an ad and have qualified clients flock to your door; if you want to subscribe to a leads service and each lead is tailor made to you (and there is no competition for the job); if you are hoping that reading a free blog posting will tell you exactly how to get rich, quick, I'll be happy to introduce you to a scammer. You'll spend your money, of course, and your magic solution will solve all your problems, instantly, with no real effort. You can hope -- and dream, of taking a (diet) pill -- but the cure is likely to be elusive if you do.

You can of course discover insights and ideas here and elsewhere, and apply this knowledge to your own business to create your own 'magic bullets'. The supplier who hoped for the secret to airline success, for example, has contributed some knowledge that has simplified and improved my business harmony, saving me thousands of dollars in waste (while earning him, equally, thousands of dollars in well-deserved fees).

Yes, I could write a direct marketing piece with this phrase: "I earned $100,000 with a single phone call" and it would be true, but the question is, could anyone replicate exactly the circumstances that led to that profitable call? If anything could be that easy, of course, we would have a truly incredible inflation problem!

You can put the pieces together, and if you are lucky, over the course of your life, enjoy a few really exciting flashes of insight that change your perceptions.

But most of what you achieve in marketing will be on a foundation adapted from your experience, readings and conversations with others, and sometimes some luck.

(You can phone me at 888-432-3555 ext 224 or email your credit card number to for the Secret. The fee is $10,000. Just kidding.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

The (marketing) cost of business sloth

Today, on the SMPS Listserve, I read three posts about a competing publication that touched close to home -- too close, in fact, because the posts came close to describing some of our own business practices a few years ago. (The competitor will not be named here -- under no circumstances should any business speak negatively of the opposition -- I didn't of course initiate these posts.)

Has anyone had a good or bad experience with (publication name deleted)? They recently approached one of my clients to do a story on one of their projects and assured them that they had created a special edition under a new business model for clients who don't share vendor lists. But when my client said it was okay for them to do the story, the magazine's people contacted the project manager for a vendor/sub list; when he wouldn't give it to them, they went directly to my client's client and requested it from them. My client is really upset and embarrassed that the magazine approached this important client without her knowledge or approval. She said she will never do business with them again. I wondered if this was an isolated problem or if other people have had similar experiences.
This message resulted in the following two postings, both naming the same publication:
My firm will not do business with (name of publication) at all anymore. We had similar experiences. They also contacted our confidential sub list and solicited advertisement on our behalf, even though we told them not to. I have had many unpleasant conversations with them.
We worked with them on a couple of corporate profiles, but they merged two of the publications where separate profiles were to appear and they didn't tell me. They just posted both profiles in the same publication. The profiles were written for completely different audiences and distributions, so I was very irate. Eventually I got our money back, but that was the last time we worked with them.

I recommend avoiding them.
Reading these observations, I think of any business which fails to understand the basics when is representatives go out into the marketplace and oversells, under-delivers, and manipulates people for short term gain. I'm haunted by our own previous business practices where, with a lack of management control and common-sense respect for clients and the community, we sometimes stretched ourselves beyond the point of rightfulness to manipulate the process. Sure, we got the sale, but we lost respect for ourselves and our place in the community.

How expensive is it to get things wrong? Consider this: The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) has more than 6,500 members in most major U.S. cities (and soon will have an Ontario chapter) and the members of this association are responsible for recommending and allocating the marketing budgets of the nation's largest and most successful architectural, engineering and construction businesses. Now anyone who had any doubts about the unnamed competitor, reading these observations, knows what to think about it and its proposals.

On the surface, this type of publicity is no good for us as well, because, gulp, we earn most of our revenue by publishing features about businesses and selling advertising to suppliers largely from lists provided by the featured businesses. But there are differences, and they are fundamental -- and we learned these lessons the hard way.
  • You never win long term by misrepresenting short term to get the sale. Ever.
  • You can sometimes manipulate the story by going around some one's back. But when you do, you will effectively stab yourself in your own back.
  • Conversely, you can achieve the seemingly impossible -- achieving co-operation where you would otherwise not expect it -- by playing fair, expressing creative and sincere generosity, and respecting everyone in the process; regardless of stature.
Clearly, you risk major long-term costs to your reputation and brand if you allow your sales practices to degenerate to the point that you invite and allow the type of negative word-of-mouth represented in the three listserve postings reproduced here. Thankfully, we learned our lesson.

Construction Marketing Website FAQ's

Seth Holdren offers some fundamental resources in this video.

The referrals are drying up -- What to do?

Publications such as Ottawa Renovates! can be effective in building your business and brand, but we note that most of our advertisers in the publication's first issue are experienced marketers, who have consistently used advertising as part of their marketing strategies, in good times as well as difficult. If you've never paid for advertising before because you have relied 100 per cent on referrals and repeat business, you need to proceed cautiously when purchasing advertising in any media. (In this case, as we are producing this magazine at the request of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association Renovators' Council, the risks of trying something new are of course greatly reduced.)

You've relied on word-of-mouth and referrals, and repeat business, and your reputation for quality and service and meant you never really had to advertise or market your business to keep busy. Now, with the economic slump, things are different. Your backlog has eroded, you are starting to think about advertising, or maybe leads services, or something, anything to find new business. What should you do?

My first piece of advice is to think carefully (but quickly) before spending any money on promotion or marketing. You'll probably throw much good money after bad if you don't. The problem right now is that while advertising and other marketing services will still work to bring in new business, they will be much less effective than in good times, and the quality of leads you receive will be significantly poorer than the type of leads to which you are accustomed.

Businesses which had a systematic advertising and marketing campaign in good times are in better shape to handle the current circumstances since they have metrics and experience on which to base their budgeting. Knowing they will achieve fewer results at a higher cost per lead, they can plan their campaigns accordingly to keep their pipelines full. But if you have relied exclusively on referral and repeat business, and never 'marketed' because you didn't need to, you won't have this track record, so you could end up in a deeper hole, quickly, if you are not careful.

What should you do, then?
  • Your first and most important priority is to engage with your previous clients both for referrals and for new maintenance business. You can phone, visit, or email them (or all of the above). If you have their email addresses you can send them an electronic newsletter on a regular schedule. Seasonal greeting cards are helpful. Meet them at community and association functions.
  • Are their community and trade groups where you can connect with potential clients, build relationships, and discover opportunities? You can get in front of current and potential clients this way.
  • Canvassing and cold calling are hard rock, painful, and perhaps demoralizing approaches to find business, but if you have nothing better to do and you are starving, you can bring in results quickly. But I understand if you don't want to go that route. I wouldn't, myself.
  • Take advantage of free listings with Google Local, possibly Craigslist, and maybe inexpensive media like community newspaper listings.
  • Finally, and this is perhaps my best advice, check with your peers in other communities who are experiencing some success. If they advertise, learn what they do that works, and copy it.
Also, remember that if you in good times had a backlog with really satisfied clients referring others to you you have achieved the first and most important success in marketing: You have developed a great brand. If people trust you and respect you enough to refer friends to you, you are on the right track and you can, and will, survive the hard times. Remember that not all work disappears in these conditions; and if you have the highest skills in your trade and profession -- and a passion for your work -- you will be able to survive even the most severe downturn.