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Monday, August 31, 2009

Relationship vs transactional seling

Mel Lester makes some important points in his most recent E-Quip Blog posting:

In a weak economy, the pressure to follow a transactional approach increases. The need is to increase sales, quickly. So naturally we turn our attention to looking for near-term proposal opportunities. Isn't that the quickest way to bring in new work?

Unfortunately not. Writing proposals without investing in the up-front relationship building rarely produces success. Only the illusion that we're being productive. A better expenditure of that time would be to devote it to developing relationships that position us for winning proposals.

The evidence supporting a relational approach is overwhelming. Firms that make the effort to build relationships enjoy win rates of 70 to 80% with those clients. Firms that don't win only 10 to 20%. Plus the first group will negotiate higher profits, have fewer claims, and enjoy more repeat customers.
From a short-term "selling" perspective, relationship development seems to be an exercise in frustration, as you can' immediately quantify results from your efforts. How much do you gain from digging up some useful information (unrelated to immediate future business) for a current client, or doing someone a favor at a networking event, (without expecting that person to rush back with an RFP opportunity?)

Relationship development, as well, is sometimes easier said than done for people who are not socially brilliant, but we can get around that problem by doing our real work truly well, and reflecting and sharing our passions with respect for the people around us. Lester offers some other suggestions, which he elaborates in his blog:
  • Devote prospecting activities to identifying clients with long-term relationship potential.
  • Allocate an appropriate amount of time to relationship building.
  • Serve, don't sell.
  • Don't take existing client relationships for granted.
  • Keep the relationship at the forefront even in the latter stages of the procurement process.
Even if Lester overstates the change in hit rate between 10 and 20 and 70 to 80 per cent, consider the practicalities of the time you spend, saying that your hit rate increases from 10 to 50 per cent. This means you can expect to win five times as many jobs for the same number of proposals submitted if you focus on relationships rather than transactions. So, naturally, if you spend more time building these relationships and less time chasing bids, you'll actually win more jobs -- and generally have more fun in the process.

(Sure, you say, but what about this quarter's numbers! But that is the problem. Unless you can find a way off the transaction treadmill, your next quarter's numbers won't be much better.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Construction Marketing Ideas book

About a year ago, I set out to write a comprehensive book to share the insights gathered in writing this blog. Made good progress -- to the point that I had a first draft written by the end of December 2008. But then the project stalled, at the editing stage. Business pressures, challenges, and obligations intervened, and the project went to the back burner.

No more. I intend to send the book draft to our designer by the end of the month to prepare it for layout and then printing.

But I'm inviting readers here to peek at the draft chapters, comment on them, even edit them, through controlled access via this blog and Twitter, where I will post a daily link to a chapter (using Google Docs as a repository). This link won't be public; except through the Twitter connection. You can follow me on Twitter at

As a rule, I will only reference this initiative at most once a week in blog postings -- you will need to follow Twitter to get the daily update. Today, however, you can see the draft chapter here. (If the link doesn't work, please email me at -- it is possible the link will be blocked except with password permission.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Servicemagic and spam?

Was this spam email authorized by It is the second similar email I've received today.

Many in the industry have strong opinions about the leads service provided by Servicemagic. See this relevant forum on I won't editorialize on whether Servicemagic offers a good or bad service, but today, noticed a couple of strange emails in my in-box. I've posted a screenshot of one above.

When you click on the email from you are directed straight to the site. But who is ""?

A direct visit to the site gives the 404 error code:

Error response

Error code 404.

Message: File not found.

Error code explanation: 404 = Internal Server Error, please try again later.

And a search takes us to:

So this is a mysterious, recently registered domain.

I googled "Servicemagic Spam" and discovered other bloggers have reported that when they sign up with Servicemagic, they have begun receiving spam emails, apparently because their agreement with Servicemagic allows this to happen.

Is Servicemagic starting to spam itself, or has some contractor or supplier set up a program to direct leads there? I don't know -- but do know that I certainly didn't request the email from, whatever that organization actually is.

The challenge of change: Breaking free of your marketing conventions

Toby Henderson's question asking how someone who has been successful with online marketing can succeed in the offline world raises some important additional challenges. The question is: If we are successful with one model of marketing, how to we expand or change our approach?

The parallel example, and these days a much more common one, would be: "I've built my business on word-of-mouth and referrals: How can I succeed at marketing outside this approach."

Change, virtually any kind of change, is difficult, for good reason. You must leave your comfort zone, and you must go away from the place where you've developed expertise, confidence and insights, into a new world. And change in approach requires you to fight against one of the four RIMC marketing pillars (Relationships, Intensity, Money and Consistency, with the C for "Consistency" the key here.)

When you change course you must battle fear, lack of knowledge, and often throw piles of money at an unproven answer. (Henderson says he dumped $20,000 into the Yellow Pages with poor results -- which, again, says some not very good things about the Yellow Pages, of course.)

As I noted in my earlier RIMC posting, you can succeed at marketing if you have three of the four elements in place. So if you take "consistency" out of the equation (at least in the short term), until you find another stable and reliable model for marketing), you will need to use the other three resources, while being cautious about how these forces are working on you.

Adding to the mix, when you put money into the equation, you also find, yes, the dreaded "salesperson". Some sales representatives are more ethical than others, and some will play your "relationship" need (which is higher when things are stable or you are entering new places) to get your, you guessed it, Money.

I think you need to turn this process on its head. Use your relationships to find your alternative media and new marketing strategies.

This will be especially effective if you have relied on referral and word of mouth. Simply spend some time with your existing clients and learn more about which media they read/view, which associations they are members of, and which marketing messages get through to them. Then you can call the appropriate media and brave the enticements of their sales representatives.

Your other approach is to check with non-competitive peers in other markets similar to yours. You will likely find these colleagues through your industry associations. Note you will also find salespeople with various marketing solutions at association events. They can be helpful, as they at least know your industry, but make your decision through real connections with true peers first.

Undoubtedly, when you enter the new space, you will make mistakes and throw seemingly good money after bad. I certainly advocate ensuring you have solid measuring tools and resources. You need to know how many leads you are acquiring from the new marketing methods, their conversion rate, and the value of business you achieve.

This will allow you to assess your cost per lead and your revenue per lead -- and whether the marketing is profitable. (Undoubtedly, outside of referrals, online marketing and successful media/community relations initiatives -- our specialty -- , you'll find your lead acquisition costs are higher than you've experienced before; the challenge is whether the incremental gain in leads and sales can help you sustain and grow your business.)

P.S. I've raised this question on the forum, which you can follow to see what others think.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Responses and communication

One of the Omega Garage Door Service videos I discovered on Toby Henderson appreciates the effectiveness of video on local search engine marketing.

Yesterday, Toby Henderson of Omega Garage Door Service in Anaheim CA gave permission to identify his business, referenced in yesterday's posting. He sent this note:
In terms of local online marketing, yes we are on top.... (not to be confused with Florida's Omega Garage Doors), we are Omega Garage Door Service)....

Secondly garage doors seem to parallel plumbing in terms of acquiring the sale however plumbing many times can have a higher ticket price as in re-piping homes....

In terms of search-ablity try typing in garage door repair orange county... (more localized metro)
Henderson appears to have it "right" regarding local search engine marketing optimization. (I should note that since I am not in Orange County, the localized functions within the search engines will not give the same priority if searching generally.)

In a separate email Toby (wisely) asked if I could link directly to his site, which I have.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, I received this comment to the posting:
Online marketing is now the best way (not to mention the most cost effective) to reach your audience. Sadly, many business owners who come to me for help at (embedded URL removed) say they're online marketing is working but the reality is if you are not getting enough customers, it is not working. And 99.9% of the time that is because they do not have the knowledge or skills to develop a strategy and marketing plan. They are just throwing things out there willy-nilly.

For someone like your reader who emailed you, owning the local market is vital, and eliminating anything other than that is important. Don't waste efforts where they won't get customers.
I responded by private email to the commenter, saying that I appreciated the remarks but am reluctant to publish comments with embedded links.

The commenter responded to my email:
I can understand you not wanting people to spam your blog, but does it also stop your readers from getting worthy information that might help them? If you take a moment to look at my website you will see I strive to give away valuable tips they can use without engaging my services.

But it is your blog! I highly respect you run it as you see fit, so DO NOT take this as a complaint.

Thanks for the posting, hope it helps your reader.
In case you are wondering why I am happy to post the links for Omega but not the person who commented about the posting, it is because (a) Toby Henderson communicated with me offline with in important and valid question, and, (b), he is not marketing his garage door services directly on this blog (which unlikely has that many readers within his Orange County service area.)

I have a distaste for embedded links in comments when they are intended to seek self-promotional publicity. If you want to build a relationship with me, go ahead and comment. If you want a link, please communicate offline (or request a sponsored link -- see the little box at the bottom right of the sidebar for more information.)

Free links continue to be available for blogs and resources relating to construction marketing but these require individual review and sometimes a little time to assess. And I may provide some publicity to the person who commented, whose site/service may be useful to the blog's readers. Right now, however, I need to finish getting five regional construction publications to press (yes, the old print media!)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Readers' Question:

Late last night, I received the following email from a reader.

. . .as you can see by my email address I own a garage door repair business......

It has been three years now of success even in a down market... We owe this success primarily to our online marketing methods coupled with some really great closing techniques....... however we seemed to have hit a plateau ... Although we capture a lot of sales online it seems as if our traditional marketing skills are lacking .... We learned the hard way that Yellow Page ads just don't cut it any more to the tune of a $20,000 loss and have since been disabled by fear in the paid advertising arena...

Upon reading about Bestline Plumbing I wondered if their model would work for us as well...

What are your thoughts on this?
My response: (As I haven't received permission, I won't disclose the email writer's identity.)
I think Leoonard Megliola can teach you useful marketing approaches. So, much closer to your home (If the the top ranked Garage Door Service on Google is yours) , can Glen Kohlenberg of Absolute Aluminum in Florida.

(Just checked further, if you are in (a California location), you are far away from Florida, of course, but why can't I find you on Google ... are your online methods working the way they should, and have they been developed fully?)

Leonard has used flyers; Glen developed a co-op magazine, where he had affiliated businesses and suppliers pay much of his marketing costs.
Would I copy them absolutely, quickly, and without testing, however? I'm not certain. The reason is you need to find the model right based on your own experience and your style of business.

Paid advertising is indeed scary because most models require you to spend a significant amount before you know whether things are working. Leonard's flyer model is effective in his neighbourhoods, Glen's model requires a fair bit of co-ordination and may be challenging to replicate.

How are you marketing online?
Indeed, readers of this blog can find inspiration in the marketing success of some contractors frequently referenced in these pages. They appreciate that one size doesn't fit all, and that marketing techniques and methodologies need to be tested over time, and often changed. They generally do this in a pragmatic and logical way; without completely ditching the 'old' approach, they experiment with alternative methods, and if one works, they adapt it to their systems.

This is a challenge because you need to mix enough commitment to give a marketing idea a proper trial (usually first efforts don't work so well), with enough flexibility to change -- this is why fixed annual Yellow Pages contracts are, in my opinion, deadly -- you tie your budget for one medium and, worse yet, one that is in decline! (However if you are currently using the Yellow Pages successfully, don't ditch them without forethought and confidence that you can do something better -- I would seek independent consultation on making a smaller Yellow Pages ad more effective and then allocate the money saved elsewhere, though. Don't buy what the Yellow Pages rep sells you without a great degree of caution.

(Through an unrelated Internet group I have a friend who has just taken a job as a Yellow Pages representative in Canada. It will be interesting, as time progresses, to gather insider perspectives from the Yellow Pages organization.)

You can download the Bestline Plumbing Manual by visiting the Wordpress edition of this blog at, and viewing the sidebar.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Questions for client satisfaction surveys

A reader sent this question yesterday:

Hello Mark. I discovered your name while googling the topic of Client Satisfaction Surveys. I am wondering if you happen to know of any simple 3-5 questions that businesses have asked in person to clients while discussing a current or just completed project? Thank you Mark in advance for any assistance you can provide. Dave
The response here is worthy of deeper research than this brief blog posting indicates. The right answer gets into the (controversial) territory of Fred Reichheld's Net Promoter Score -- and the concept that "satisfaction" is not enough: You want your clients so enthusiastic that they will eagerly recommend your business to their friends, and even complete strangers.

The key question, according to Reichheld, is: "How likely are you to recommend our company to friends of colleagues?"

What about the other questions? Our general business consultant, Bill Caswell, recommends you keep your surveys to no more than three questions, as you will capture 80 per cent of the key information in these responses -- and results are lost in longer surveys, either because people won't complete them, or our minds are lost in the chaos of too many questions.

So, what about the other two questions? I'll leave it to you, but think they should relate to what you think is a key operational sensitivity; something you sense may need improving. Remember, while you are hoping for good news in the survey, what you really want to discover is if things need to be fixed, so if the question(s) are troubling you, they probably are right to ask.

I invite readers here to share their thoughts on this issue, as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Local search opportunities and challenges

This is a screen shot from the ReachLocal website. Leslie-Anne McAlllister has been marketing the local search co-ordinator's services by building relationships on Internet forums such as

Yesterday, I had a fascinating conversation with Leslie-Anne McAllister, who represents ReachLocal, a search engine marketing agency.

Based in Atlanta, McAllister naturally gets most of her business within her own region, but she isn't restricted in her territories, and so we initially "met" through the forums.

McAllister believes paid local search provides the best marketing opportunities for many businesses. Budgets will vary, but you can expect to spend $2,000 or so a "cycle" for paid keyword searches. The "cycle" won't be less than a month, but could go longer, depending on how keywords are taken up by the search engines, or the business's operational or seasonal requirements.

Not surprisingly, big Yellow Pages advertisers are the primary market for local Internet search providers, especially clients who want to mind their business more than the Internet, and are used to having dedicated advertising representatives to guide them in their decision-making.

McAllister makes a few interesting points. First, although she uses the moniker "Google Girl" in her online postings, she says Google is not the 900 pound gorilla in local search. Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing share the spotlight -- and she says Bing is currently providing better value and results than Google.

(She says ReachLocal isn't beholden to any single search engine, "We're agnostic", meaning her business will place the search engine ads with whatever provider provides the best results for her clients.)

Of course, local search services like ReachLocal provide some genuine advantages over the old Yellow Pages. You aren't locked into irreversible annual contracts with a fixed message; you can track, measure, and change your advertising strategies virtually instantly, and you can reach target markets and specific demographics easily.

(McAllister says the Yellow Pages, in fact, probably is only really useful these days in some specialized circumstances -- say you provide emergency roofing service and wish to get information out to potential clients when the power is out.)

Of course, the question arises, could you do things yourself, and would organic rather than paid search be a better value?

McAllister says the "do it yourself" approach is usually false economy, with experience, not-so-obvious keyword combinations often provide much better results, and the tracking and managing of local search is a task that truly is beyond most businesses. For example, she said: "Lots of people think Atlanta Plumbing or Atlanta Plumber is the way to go, but that can cost $10 to $14 a click, when 'leaky faucet' at $1.10 may be better, or localized search such as Roswell or Kennesaw might be more appropriate if you are in these neighbourhoods or suburbs."

However, she says one of the most important preconditions for success is to have a solid website, and she will recommend prospective clients fix their sites before they get started with an organized local search marketing campaign.

(ReachLocal also provides tracking resources for other media; you can include a tracking number in your print ads, for example. Calls are funneled through special phone numbers ensuring that businesses know how many people are calling from their online advertising.)

These points made, I asked if search engine marketing is best for business-to-business services such as hers (or ours). And here, I confirmed an important marketing distinction. She says that she gets most of her business through online forums, networking, community activities, and repeat business -- that she wouldn't expect search engine marketing to provide enough volume of the right type of clients for her own marketing, and probably not for mine.

In essence, she uses appropriate marketing techniques to market her own marketing services.

Can she (or anyone) help everyone?

"I have to make sure that we don't raise unrealistic expectations," she said. One electrician wanted to spend no more than $500 a month, and wasn't certain if he wanted to serve commercial or residential clients, for example.

This person will have trouble getting results, especially if he is expecting immediate reward.

Another contractor, with a specialized service, wanted to cover a wide geographical area. She suggested he narrow his search parameters to communities closer to his home.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What you really need to know to survive (and succeed) in business

Family weddings are great events. You see your closest relatives, and a large number of (until now) complete strangers -- friends and family members from the other side.

Because of scheduling confusion, we had an hour sitting at our table with not much to do but converse with our table mates. On my left, I chatted with my younger brother, who for years has run a music studio/support business in Vancouver. On my right, I met one of my brother's neighbours.

Overhearing two of the three Buckshon brothers discussing business, the neighbour to the right said: "You must have a lot of courage to be in business for yourselves."

I responded, "Well, not really, I think I have more job security than most people with regular jobs. If things get tough, I can lay off employees and keep my salary."

Then she explained how a friend had gone bankrupt in business. Turns out, he "invested" a small fortune in real cash in the operation, and it collapsed shortly after launch.


If there is one vital rule of starting a business, it is this: If you need to "invest" a significant amount of real cash in the business, (especially if it is your first), stop, right away, and drop the idea. Do something else.

While our older brother (one of whose daughters was getting married), inherited the family business (a pharmacy), neither Jim nor I wanted to get into the drugstore world. I wanted to be a journalist, and Jim, the younger brother, wanted to be a musician. Hardly careers where you can get rich, and hardly careers on the surface that match with business success.

But life throws its curves, and our upbringing in a home where our father said: "You should always be in business for yourselves", eventually struck a chord. I became a publisher, and my brother began renting studios to other musicians. We started our businesses on shoestrings -- no inherited family wealth to squander.

We've had our shares of ups and downs, but have been able to retain viable businesses by remembering the basics. It helps that we generally enjoy our work.

In the end, businesses survive and succeed because they provide value and meaningful service to clients willing to pay. Trouble is, at the start you aren't sure if they will -- and this is why investing significanct money in the hopes that your brilliant idea will succeed is often a recipe for disaster, especially if you lack business experience.

Can a party overcome the negative consequences of canvassing?

Leonard Megliola at Bestline Plumbing in Los Angeles keeps thinking up new marketing ideas -- and maintaining successful older ones. He is one of the leaders in implementing practical marketing approaches, and should be an inspiration to other contractors wondering how to really build their businesses in good and hard times.

This weekend on he suggests another idea, which he thinks will help mitigate some of the negative results of his (successful) canvassing initiative.

Actually, this is something I have been thinking about for many years.

Next week, I am going to look for a location in a neighborhood where I can give away free hotdogs, soda, chips, coffee mugs, calendars, ink pens, helium balloons, and literature. We may even get one or two arcade rides that will be free for small children.

As we draw in a crowd, we will hand out literature explaining the free services we will be providing in their neighborhood for the next week. We will set appointments at the booth. For those who don't set an appointment, we will warn them that our canvassers will be knocking on their doors to bother them.

We will deliver 5,000 brochures one day before the show and 5,000 brochures on the day we have the showday. Each brochure will have a coupon that will give free hotdogs, soda, water, mugs, etc. We will use our 10 inch by 6 foot Acrylic tube filled with candy to help draw a crowd.

This campaign will cost about $2,000 to $3,000. One good job will leave me with a profit and we will build a very good presence and branding effect that will be long-term. I may do this two times a year in each neighborhood.

Everybody love a good free hotdog.
I like these ideas, and I like his use of flyers, and so on, and think they all are good and valid approaches -- though I stand my ground that canvassing, while undoubtedly effective and profitable, is a bad form of marketing in most circumstances. Free hotdogs are good; waking up people at their homes, and disturbing their dinners to sell homeowners stuff, is not -- for the majority who don't want to be bothered with intrusive selling messages. But I can't argue against canvassing's effectiveness.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Working and measuring

This morning, in Vancouver, I'm reworking a story on Metrics for the SMPS Marketer. When I wrote the original story on deadline a few months ago, the people I interviewed said no one had recently completed surveys on how many marketers are actually measuring their results. Marketing consultant Sally Handley in fact said she believes fewer than 10 per cent are measuring their success.

Handley decided to do a survey and discovered that the number is closer to 38 per cent (admittedly through a self-selection process) though it is another story to know how consistently and effectively they are applying their measuring methodologies. These results are reflected as well in a separate survey by Leslie Sluger at Wals Studios in Washington, D.C.

In a phone interview this morning, Handley says most marketers are still measuring the basic and simple things, like the "hit rate" (percentage of proposals that turn into business), though some are getting more sophisticated. She says that marketers who discover the value of the simple measurements, are learning that more sophisticated information enhances their ability to justify marketing budgets because if they can clearly trace results and success from their efforts, they are more than "voodoo" and much less subject to arbitrary budget cutbacks.

So at a Starbucks in Vancouver a few hours before attending the wedding of one of my nieces, I am rebuilding the story, setting the stage as well for a more thorough follow-up piece where I expect to interview several marketers and pull together a comprehensive, strategic approach to solve the metrics challenge.

Friday, August 21, 2009

To Vancouver . . .

One of my nieces is getting married, so I'm off to Vancouver an intensely brief weekend visit.

There is an art in travelling inexpensively and in style. Next flight will be the beginning leg of the Toronto - Sidney, Australia flight -- and business class on this flight is in the international configuration, with sleeper seats and private pods.

Ticket cost: about $100.00 in taxes plus 40,000 Aeroplan points amassed on the credit card.

Lots of work to do tomorrow, as today is the deadline for our Canadian publications, and masses of material need to be processed. This will be handled with a laptop and a few cups of coffee at a Starbucks in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, I'm mulling why so many people are finding my blog by Googling "construction slogans". Do you remember any memorable ones?

Should you start your own business?

I've been following (and enjoying) John Poole's Constructionomics blog as he struggles with the challenges of unemployment and is now at the early stages of starting his own business. Recessions are often the best time to open a business because you simply can't afford bad habits and if you are determined and skillful, you can find opportunity.

But you need to find the opportunity, of course, and that is the challenge for anyone who is uncomfortable with the selling occupation. Starting up, unless you have some incredible good fortune, you will need to sell -- and it rarely is easy, especially when you don't have a track record.

John has wisely (but I deliberately put wisely in small type) chosen to use resources like SCORE, operated by the SBA. Experienced businesspeople, unless they live in the government space, tend to be a little wary of government assistance programs. Yes, you can access them, and if you play the system well, make good money in that space, but it can be an uphill battle as you battle bureaucracy, existing relationships, MBE rules, and the like.

I'm happy to note that quite a few readers are googling this blog through my references to the Brooks Act. Anyone hoping to sell construction design, engineering and project management services should read this stuff carefully because unless you are well connected, you won't gain access to direct government business and you will be relegated if you are "lucky" to be an underpaid sub-contractor for much government infrastructure work.

Sure, it is easy to tell a budding entrepreneur what won't work, but what will? Here things get complicated because the advice I gave myself would not necessarily resonate with others. Before I started in business in 1988, I had a secure, relatively high paying government job, which I quit to sell real estate. But I made that truly risky move at the end of a boom, where neophytes in the real estate industry could do well. (I simply don't know how well someone just starting out as a commissioned Realtor would do now.) The decision proved wise in an important way: I needed to learn how to sell to be in business, and that is just what I did.

Can you overcome lack of selling ability/experience and knowledge with great marketing? To a point, yes. Great marketing (including great blogging) often creates opportunities, and it is wonderful to receive the invitation to propose a project, or have your call returned quickly because a previous or potential client recognizes you from your marketing. But if you can't ask for an order, and actually go out and find the business, all the marketing in the world won't do you much good.

My advice to John would be to be ready to accept a commission sales job, whether it be canvassing, telemarketing, or whatever. Not as a permanent career, but as a base for learning some of the realities of selling. Spend three to six months doing this stuff and you'll at least understand the basics and receive some rudimentary sales training. Perhaps take a few different jobs -- no one is going to hold it against you -- and cross fertilize ideas and insights.

My next piece of advice is going sound like sacrilege in relation to my previous posting (and with respect to the misfortune befalling anyone who tries to canvass at my home.). I think anyone starting out in the construction industry has the best chance by seeking and winning smaller residential jobs, and the best and most inexpensive way to win these is to pound the pavement -- yes canvass! You certainly don't need to worry about the Brooks Act!

(You can assemble a crew of inexpensive subs and suppliers to do the actual work, of course.)

John and others should take this advice with a grain of salt. I am not the oracle of brilliance and one thing is clear, there are many different paths to business success. It is good to get started.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Intrusions and irritations: The morality of spam, canvassing and telemarketing

I'm starting to stir the pot on other forums with postings questioning the morality of canvassing.

Meanwhile, just after slamming the door on a canvasser at our home (I admit my manners here are terrible), I received another "blog comment" with an embedded link from someone trying to gain link juice and "SEO status" for their service. The effort to seek publicity wouldn't be bad, but clearly the organizing seeking the publicity had contracted an offshore vendor to send out "personal" comments to bloggers to escape the spam filters.

And one reason I'm not rushing to move to Wordpress from Blogger is that Wordpress's anti-spam filters are not strong enough: Sure the spam won't be published, but I have to read through the spam comments in the first place.

Spam, of course "works" -- or spammers wouldn't spam. So does telemarketing and canvassing, when you use these methods "properly". I put "works" and "properly" in quotes because I mean here they can be profitable for your business in generating quick and relatively economical leads.

But they are still wrong, in most cases.

Wrong is a moral rather than business word. Many immoral businesses are very profitable. The most profitable businesses are probably both immoral and illegal (though my brother is a drug dealer, and his business is profitable and is both moral and legal -- he owns a successful pharmacy in Vancouver.)

The point here is that some forms of marketing are effective but they cost far more to the people who are victims of the marketing "pitch" than the people who can benefit from the service. Do we have the rights as marketers to force ourselves into people's private spaces, when we don't know (or aren't reasonably certain) that they can really use and want our product or service?)

I would argue it is immoral to steal people's time and personal space to try to sell them stuff.

So how do you get around this quandary, (and by default, when is it morally correct to canvass, telemarket, and even send unsolicited mass emails (spam)?

You are giving useful information or materials, without expectation of return, and and what you give has enough value to justify the inconvenience you are causing.
An email with really good tips and insights that can help readers regardless of whether they respond to your email might technically be spam, but is probably not going to cause you any problems. When you knock on the door, and tell someone you are about to do work in the neighbourhood, and to call if there is a noise or debris problem, I don't think anyone would consider your uninvited visit offensive.)

When you truly respect privacy, personal space and the other person's circumstances.
This is both on a group and individual level. You need to size up the situation. If you are canvassing, calling cold on a bitter evening winter after a rash of home invasions in the neighbourhood is probably not a good idea. On a summer day, when people are out and about, and you have satisfied yourself that most people in the neighbourhood can use your service (or you can see it is necessary) you won't step too far over the line.

Alas much intrusive marketing for the construction and other industries these days fails these two tests. Go ahead, if you want, and if it is legal. But it is still wrong. Find another way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Publicity, recognition and awards (2)

Further to the earlier announcement regarding the Ontario Construction Report's Readers' Choice Awards, consider this earlier posting about which awards competitions you should enter, and why.

If you are participating in the Design and Construction Network (recommended), consider the "Best Website Competition" (if you think your website is best -- if not, can you learn some useful things from the competition's results?)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

As well, you can become an award sponsor.

You can nominate your own business, or your suppliers or clients can nominate you. We'll tally votes later in the year from readers. There is absolutely no cost to enter the competition and the reward -- free positive publicity -- is truly valuable for your brand and business.

If you wish to sponsor an award, you will receive these benefits for a modest sponsorship fee:

1) Company/Association Logo and Name to appear on all print ads and posters;

2) Company/Association Logo and Name to appear on the awards for the winner and finalists for your category;

3) Free ad in any feature articles we do on winner and finalists for your category;

4) Ability to provide marketing materials to all winners and finalists for all categories.

For sponsorship information, send an email to or phone (905) 228-1151 or 888-432-3555 ext 211.

To submit a nomination, simply visit the online nomination site. You can nominate one or more categories; and provide as much or as little information as you wish.

Bringing dead files to life

Many years ago, as a junior real estate agent, I set out into the world of business and sales without connections or client relationships. So I took every bit of sales training I could find, and discovered two sources of leads (until I started building referral and repeat clients).

The first group, "FSBOS", were people advertising privately their homes for sale. Using the "script" from a sales trainer, I would call them, start a conversation, and ultimately obtain a few listings. I determined the boundaries to call would be within the free calling area of my home (in a far suburb of the city).

Interestingly, I had the greatest success in another suburb, at the opposite end of town -- and by this community's standards -- a very long drive. But any time I tried to screen the list to be more geographically convenient, I failed to get business, even though when I didn't screen, I often found business away from this distant suburb.

Lesson learned: Don't screen too hard at the start, provided the core qualifications are met (but don't deviate from your qualifications.)

My second best source of cold leads turned out to be the real estate brokerage's "dead file", expired listings and records from former clients. I discovered a filing cabinet full of these records and set out to call them (with the brokers' permission, of course). Several were happy to hear from me, and signed up.

You may have dead records in your own office; it won't hurt to go through them and make a connecting call -- you may find new business that way.

I learned some other lessons during my time as a Realtor. First, I discovered I enjoyed the work as long as I was learning and growing; within two years, I had achieved my brokers license, and helped put together some reasonably advanced commercial transactions. As soon I stopped learning, however, I began to hate the work -- one deal seemed to morph into another; the actual intellectual exercise required for the work seemed to lack enough challenge to motivate me. Worse, while I was good, I knew I could never be great. I needed to move on.

My solution: Return to my first passion, journalism, but this time as a business owner. I would start a publication for real estate agents and brokers. Financially, the original venture never made sense, but it got me into a business I truly enjoy and where I can take the ups and downs because it always challenges me.

However, I haven't forgotten the lessons from the real estate sales experience. If you are starting out in sales or marketing with a construction business, maybe your boss won't mind you going through the former client files and calling a few of them -- and if it is your business, you might find gems of future business in those dusty files.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Small communities and big opportunities

The Design and Construction Network -- Ottawa is still at the early stages, but is part of a growing interconnection of international Internet specialized networks with local counterparts.

Following yesterday's posting, I engaged in email communications with Rory Swan at Servicez Unlimited in Washington DC and Leslie-Anne McAllister in Atlanta, GA. Both are contributing useful and effective resources on the forum and both helped answer some questions I had about construction marketing issues. (Rory clarified his CRM system is part of a much larger -- and much more expensive -- software package, and Leslie-Anne and I explored aspects of SEO and the local Internet vs Yellow Pages marketing.)

Dialogue on a Sunday morning between Washington, Atlanta and Ottawa, without any oral communications? (I'm setting up further discussions with both Rory and Leslie-Anne but we all appreciate that these need to be fit within sometimes intense business/work schedules.)

Of course, is actually a small community, and (not surprisingly) we find many of the same participants there in other online groups, and among this blog's readership. These communities represent only a tiny portion of the remodeling and renovation industry; tens of thousands of small businesses in communities around the world are nowhere near these online groups and networks.

But that is okay, because the people in this space are probably the most important community in the industry.

The reason is simple: By openly sharing ideas and best practices, they are gaining a powerful competitive advantage. Sure, some people out there are lurking, listening in without participating, and "stealing" ideas, but without active engagement in the community, they fail to realize the back and forth dialogue, insights, and market testing that goes on in these spaces.

The interesting and exciting development is that we can now begin taking these concepts to a more local level. Previously, your networking and business development opportunities locally would be through relevant associations and community groups (and your existing/previous client list). These resources continue to be the most effective route to networking especially for business-to-business marketing.

Now, however, you can link the online and offline network opportunities within your own area, and in many cases tie these to the larger online communities.

This is still at a very early stage, but the progress with the Design and Construction Network and local subgroups is exciting. You can see our early version for Ottawa, here, in co-operation with the Ottawa Chapter of Construction Specifications Canada.

The online communities are (still) relatively small but I believe provide forward-thinking construction industry marketers big opportunities for the future.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Some thoughts about CRM systems

I've always been wary of formalized CRM (Client Relations Management) systems, especially for smaller businesses or larger companies who serve a modest number of important clients (like most non-residential architects, engineers or contractors). Sure, you need good client relationships, but formalizing it within software packages which require data entry and maintenance seems to be putting your energy in the mechanism rather than the actual client relationships, not a great idea in my opinion.

But this weekend, facing a new sales lead management and co-ordination challenge (my sales team dumped the problem right back on me), I decided to reinvestigate the situation, and see if I could find a solution. And I recalled an interesting recommendation by Toronto painting contractor George Zarogiannis of Ecopainting Inc. recommending

By Friday evening, I had turned on for a test run. (It is totally free for up to three users, and if you wish to add a fourth, you pay only for that person, meaning your cost would be $12.00 per month). It is early going, but appears to solve the immediate lead-handling problem. Inbound inquiries from my website go into a holding file, where they can be reviewed for suitability before they are assigned to sales reps; and then can be tracked through their life-cycle: Exactly what I need in the circumstances.

I posted my findings on and received some interesting responses, the most useful from Rory Swan at Servicez Unlimited in Washington, D.C. He wrote:

I think for most of us. The CRM function will be more simplistic.
  • My software ranks the customer from the day the lead is first entered and changes based on factors
  • We capture the types of projects that come our way.
  • We also look at what jobs are more profitable than others.
  • We use the data collection as a way to market to lost bids and follow up with potential clients.
  • We enter the data in so that template letters can go out, that have enough customer info for them to seem personalized to that person, but not be difficult to produce.
  • Good CRM can tell you
  • What jobs are profitable,
  • How did a customer find you
  • What marketing avenues are working and what is the cost of acquisition
  • Did a past client send you any referrals, what was the result of the referral
  • A data base for marketing and promotions.
  • I keep a 5 year log most homes here are sold and renovated every 5 years
  • Maintenance data base to follow up on warranties and new sales opportunities
Good thoughts, and ideas. Not sure what software he is using to handle this stuff, but I'll ask.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Overwhelming choices (and opportuniites)

A little less than three years ago, when I began publishing this blog, I set out to find other AEC industry bloggers with the intent of providing free link-backs to their sites (and to credit them with being first.) I found a few localized initiatives, but (to my surprise) seemed to have the space mostly to myself.

Meanwhile, social networking groups like were starting to gain traction,but again few knew about them -- and I recall writing my first SMPS Marketer article on the topic and "connecting" with some SMPS leaders who hadn't heard (or knew little) about these resources. (SMPS: Society for Marketing Professional Services, the association for AEC marketers.)

Today, a quick look at this blog's sidebar provides just a slight clue to the number and range of online options for online construction marketing information and relationships. In fact, the choices here may seem overwhelming, with more options and choices available each week. I'm doing my best to keep up, but I'm not starting from scratch. How should you handle things if you aren't already established in the online space?

The answer to this question has two parts. You need to look at things from the framework of obtaining construction marketing information, and, separately, executing your own construction marketing strategies.

Obtaining information
If you spend all day and all night surfing around the Internet you may find some gems, but you won't do much for your own business. Ultimately, you need to select a few key places to connect.

I've expressed some biases in my sidebar -- these aren't entirely fair, as some really good blogs and resources are 'buried' in the long list of hyperlinks, but the ones I've chosen consistently provide useful information (and I selectively visit a few favorites outside this list, and report on them in regular blog postings.)

You should of course supplement these resources with specific trade and local information sources. Eventually, I think you will have a prioritization system somewhat similar to mine -- you'll routinely check five or six key places, and have a larger list where you visit from time to time.

Obtaining marketing results
Here things require more work, thought, and planning (and some speed!) If your goal is to use online resources to promote and develop your own business, you will need to decide which resources to use, and how to give them priority.

You can blog, contribute to social networking sites and forums, build a content-rich website, and use e-mail marketing, all melded to help out with your search engine rankings. Your goal is to make it easy for potential clients to find your business and, when they do, to be predisposed to doing business with you because you convey the impression and values they are seeking.

Of course, some businesses will provide these services to you for a fee. You need to be wary of promises and claims from unsolicited spam, of course, but you are probably safe if you land on a business which has obtained a free link in my blog's sidebar. (We offer a specific publicity/media development service relevant for businesses with annual sales volumes of greater than $250,000 to $500,000, but other services can help out with smaller enterprises.)

You can also do a lot for yourself and you will have to do some things without much help (unless you want to spend a fortune). Much Internet marketing and relationship building requires your material to express your own personality; you can't easily hand this off to a third-party agency, or junior employee who needs to go to you for permission anytime he or she wishes to say anything.

From a marketing perspective, there is still some good news. In many locations and trades, you can still be "first to market" and obtain the advantage of online marketing leadership. But you don't need to reinvent the wheel. Look at works elsewhere, and what you enjoy doing, and you will likely succeed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Business and proposal development: Quantity, quality or both

One of the surest signs you are heading down the path of failure in construction industry marketing is when you are chasing and pursuing leads and project ideas you have a faint chance of winning.

This often happens when you start getting desperate: You can see your order and project backlog is drying up and you want to get work started, fast, to prevent the crunch of idle workers, expensive capital equipment and (if you are the marketing manager, rather than the boss), the threat of losing your job when you know few other employers will rush to hire you.

Trouble is, of course, you run into the all-to-common situation where the harder you try and "work", the poorer results you achieve. Hours spent on public bid proposals will do your company little good if the competition has already been wired in favor of an incumbent, or at least a much smaller short-list group; worse, is if you make the short list as an outsider through sheer effort, then pour your heart and soul into the final presentation, again, only to discover that the incumbent or special friend of the bidding authority has already really made its decision.

On another level, what good do you gain by attracting a group of 500 "first degree contacts" or 1,000 "followers" on Twitter, when you know nothing about the people in your contact list, and your followers are just following you because you've induced them to sign on, somehow.

So what should you do?

Here, you run into another irony. If you've been "relying" on referrals or repeat business, or (even worse) if you have put all your eggs into a very small number of client relationships, and these businesses either have failed, or your individual relationships no longer are influential or control the picture, what do you do? You are in deep and serous trouble.

The answer to these challenges of course is effective marketing, and systems for lead and relationship qualification and development. Setting numeric goals is important, and following guidelines and rules for relationship and business development can be helpful. Sometimes it is wise to work with large numbers.

For example, I cited the example that it is folly to blindly seek connections within the new electronic or social media groups. But since individual connections require little effort, and could in some way help your business, it isn't necessarily a bad sign to have a large online network. Your challenge is to communicate and give enough value to your group so that you can earn some "reciprocation" points -- at the right time, members will, knowing your business and its priorities, share valuable insights, leads or projects with you. (This is why you are best posting useful information rather than self-promotional notes when participating in online discussions and forums.)

When it comes to public RFPs and competitions, once again, you need to be pragmatic and selective. Rarely is it wise to go all the way in a public presentation exercise with the hope that you can perhaps win a future job; you need to find some way to find and develop your relationships away from the "stand em up and shoot them down" approach to business development.

But information about public proposals and projects may provide you with key insights into what is planned for the future, who the key players are, and where their network exists. You can decide if you want to invest time and energy in developing these relationships perhaps through selective association involvement, seeking relationships through your existing network, or the like.

If you need a short-term fix, your answer is either to connect with your existing clients and look for ways you can enhance or add on to their business (or simply in some cases, ask for a little work), or to figure out innovative adaptations to solve problems and present/communicate directly with your prospective clients, perhaps after building a knowledge base of referrals and connections.

In other words, if you know you can save money or provide value before the prospective client even is thinking of putting it out to public bid, you can develop your relationships and often gain an audience for an unsolicited proposal. This can be a lot of work, and you risk your efforts being "stolen" by someone already on the inside, but your chances are much better in succeeding than when you heed the cattle call and rush, like a lemming, to follow the crowd into preparing a submission to an open RFP where dozens have already applied.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The construction marketing table

This blog posting has been moved to the new Construction Marketing Ideas blog site.

If you wish to go directly to the relevant page/posting, you can go here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Early rising

Yesterday, I had coffee with a successful sales representative, who has made the transition from the corporate world to a relatively small building supplies dealer.

He's always been actively connected in the community, and he knows the way to find business is to focus on the key elements in the decision-making and supply chain, while respecting and maintaining relationships.

He says he is amazed how representatives of building products manufacturers waste his time by "dropping in" on him at his office.

"I don't need to see these guys," he told me. "They could be much more helpful if they joined me or helped co-ordinate Lunch and Learns at local architects' offices."

Absolutely -- the vital thing in building products distribution (from the manufacturers) perspective, is to ensure your materials are in the project specifications; if you are fortunate and have a highly specific specification, you will get the business, no matter which general or sub-trade actually purchases the materials from the distributor or dealer.

So, when he isn't at architects' offices, how does he find business?

He gets up early, and heads to the construction offices with some Tim Hortons coffee or coffee gift cards. No one minds the "bribe" but everyone appreciates that he is on site at seven a.m.
And he writes up the orders -- often for emergency-needed materials. With these orders, he has new customers, and new business to serve.

I gave this successful representative a little "bribe" -- $50 in Tim Hortons coffee coupons. In return, he'll give me reports on the job sites he has visited, allowing me insights into whether they could be suitable for feature profiles in Ottawa Construction News. (His business also may receive another profile in a few months.)

"Let me know when you have a Lunch and Learn planned, where the architect and manufacturer wouldn't mind the publicity," I told him. "I'll come and write up a story which will give everyone even more publicity.

Then the sales representative reminded me: "If you are going on the sites in the morning, remember you need your safety gear, boots, hard hat and a safety vest?"

I said: "I know about the boots and hard hat -- I have them, but am not sure about the safety vest."

"No problem," he said. "I have some extra vests in my car, and I'll give you one." So now I have a bright green reflective safety vest in my collection of resources.

Meanwhile, we are both members of the local Construction Specifications Canada chapter Board of Directors and he is one of the first members of the Ottawa group of the Design and Construction Network.

Do you see how this type of relationship, connection, and community is a lot more effective than blind cold calls or "blast marketing"?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Art and Science of Publicity

This special report, The Art and Science of Publicity, explores how you can co-ordinate editorial publicity for your architectural, engineering and construction business without spending money on advertising.

You can request a copy by completing the form besides this posting. In return, you'll receive the PDF booklet, which you can also review with page turning software.

You can also request the booklet by email to An autoresponder will send the book to you.

Testing 1234 -- Strengths, limitations and opportunities in market testing

When you read through this posting, you'll see a "Test 1234" where you can help out, individually, because the only way I can figure out why our emails aren't working so well is to find if there is a real problem here. Testing can be invasive, irritating, subtle, or (perhaps i will find out) useful in involving your community in your marketing and business challenges. Thanks for helping out. You can click on the image to send the test email or email, but remember to phone or comment to validate the results.

Is your bright marketing idea really so bright? Often, I have to admit, my "best ideas" bomb in the real world, have unintended negative consequences, or simply don't work quite the way I thought they would.

Then of course, there are the ideas that didn't seem to have much going for them in the first place, but for some reason seemed worthy of pursuing. This blog, for example.

Is testing a way around this challenge? Can we keep ourselves out of trouble by trying the idea on a small enough sample and/or short enough time that we can tell if our marketing ideas are good, bad or ugly -- and catch disasters before they happen?

The answer at first may seem to be an obvious "yes", and I'm pretty confident I've saved my skin from some bad idea implementation by trying things out with a simple test first.

In one case, for example, we were exploring starting a new leads service, providing really valuable data in co-operation with a major partner, using relatively low cost print-on-demand technology and providing genuine value and service to readers.

My sixth sense told me to be careful, so I asked a non-employee sales representative (who I know was good at the type of selling required) to work with me for a couple of days to see if the idea would fly. It bombed.

But here is the rub, and challenge, of testing. Maybe the test really wasn't valid. Possibly some variable within the testing process had thrown the numbers off, and with a slight rejigging of the concept, either within framework, market or focus, it would have worked wonderfully. We'll never know, of course.

Conversely, we know of awkward tests that cause real market problems; specifically the infamous "mike tests" where politicians and celebrities are caught with their pants down (or, to use another cliche, their foots in their mouths) when they say things that really aren't meant for broadcast in an AV test.

Finally, in the construction marketing community, we have to contend with the reality that many of our most interesting and important projects arise from long-term and interconnected relationships, which run counter to the principals of simple A/B testing and other measuring methodologies. If the process has a long lead time, how can we figure out when and what to test, and where are the boundaries of good metrics and simply wasting our time counting things that aren't really important?

Here are some thoughts and guidelines that can perhaps help out on our testing methodologies.

If it can be measured, it can be tested.
You will find test results are most meaningful and easy to implement if you have some simple metrics to assess your ideas and results. Online resources provide a wealth of measurement tools, including hits, conversion rates, and the like, and you can develop simple processes to tell if something is working or not. Once you have a baseline, for example, on responses to your emails, you can try different things with A/B samples, sending one message to half the list and another message (with the change you are trying to evaluate) to the other. You'll know which works right away.

Testing works best if is real time, not obtrusive, and doesn't seem to be a test.
The "Hawthorne Effect", where the fact that by letting people know you are testing changes behaviour, is a real risk if you are obvious in your evaluations. So you need to be discreet. Market surveys are often problematic -- many people hate surveys and won't respond (your most important sources of information), or you need to be intrusive with phone calls and personal contacts (thus alienating the person you are seeking to survey, or again, you achieve invalid results.)

You need to catch subtle clues as well as objective measurements in your testing (carefully).
Sometimes the real results are not the ones you think you were going to find; so you need to probe into the observations you obtain and listen carefully to subtle clues. Of course you may have it wrong, but you may also score major insights.

So, yes, test your assumptions, your ideas and your marketing strategies, especially if you are planning to commit major resources to the process. But be wary of the testing pitfalls.

And now for a real-time test (and a request for your assistance) because we are having some strange email problems. Some emails I and my team are sending are not going through; in other cases, people are sending emails to us, which we aren't receiving. The problem may be spam blocks; I don't know.
  1. Please send an email marked "Test 1234" to me at
  2. At the same time, please post a comment to this blog (which operates on a different server) or phone me at 888-432-3555 ext 224. (If you wish to leave a comment and remain anonymous, just make reference to something in your email which won't disclose your identity.)
If you complete this test, I'll send you a copy of my new publication: The Art and Science of Publicity, but most importantly, a really big "Thank You".

The more responses the better -- the key measure will be the number of communications we receive through the blog comments and phone messages which fail to correlate with the number of emails we receive. But I'll learn other things, as well, which I'll share with you tomorrow.

Again, simply email a note to me at with a subject line: "Test 1234" and communicate offline, either by a blog comment or phone call to 888-432-3555 ext 224 to tell me you've sent the email. Thanks.