Consulting 10 Tools to Better Equip Your Marketing Toolbox!
By Larry Silver

Every contractor knows the axiom, "The right tool for the right job." This basic principal maintains efficiency, safety and quality in the field. But what about a contractor's marketing program? Does "the right tool for the right job" apply here too? You bet it does!

Most contractors concede that their marketing approach is weak. They don't have the training, the time, nor the dollars to pay someone to do their marketing. I frequently hear "My business is mainly from word of mouth" or "I have as much business as I can handle right now." The operative is right now. What about next year when things slow down? The marketing effort you employ now will have its impact six months to five years from now. When the work runs out, it's too late to market for immediate projects. Planned and consistent field operations is the heartbeat of most construction concerns, but a planned and consistent marketing effort is almost unheard of.

Many contractors who have dabbled at the art of marketing will tell you that they invested money without the desired result; so they go back to the way things used to be. It has been said that more money is wasted in marketing than probably any other human activity. Case in point. It cost $9,000 a minute to fight World War II. It cost $22,000 a minute to fight the Vietnam War. One minute of advertising during the Super Bowl will cost you about $1.5 million.* So what is the solution. The key is to prudently and consistently invest your marketing resources to bring the maximum return.

Contractors, in general, are shrewd purchasing agents. But in the marketing arena, it is difficult to recognize a good deal. The tools of the trade do not look the same. There is a basic marketing toolbox that can help you properly apply the marketing function in your business. Don't panic if you are missing some of these tools, but plan to better equip your marketing toolbox in the months ahead.

1. The Paintbrush- Project Sheets paint a favorable picture of your company's experience. Highlighting your previous projects in a colorful and informative way is a powerful promotional tool for your Marketing Toolbox. They make excellent presentation materials and act as visual testimonials. Include them in a package to support a Statement of Qualifications or along with a brochure. Use them to demonstrate your special technology or industry-specific expertise. If only a small quantity is needed for regular use, the sheets can be designed on a computer and output to a color printer. The old-fashioned approach still works. Cut and paste and color-copy. Keep a complete library of project photographs (both in-process and finished). Cross reference relevant job information in a nearby location. When it's time to produce the Project Sheets, the needed information is right there.

2. The Pliers- The Company Brochure grips the prospects attention and holds their interest. The next tool is your firm's brochure or identity piece. Hiring a creative house or ad agency to create an award-winning brochure is not necessary. If you do, you may be spending too much on the cost of your toolbox. There is no doubt that a well done brochure (four to eight pages) will give prospects a warm fussy about using your company. However, if you produce this piece wisely, you can effectively communicate for $1-$2/brochure. A simple way to accomplish this is to assemble your own creative team. Find a reasonable color separater, printer and graphic designer. You'll probably save 25-30% compared to letting someone else manage the process. It may be advisable to do an 8 1/2" x 11" that tri-folds and fits in a #10 envelope. This can easily be done for a total cost of .25-.50 cents per piece (quantity of 2500 and up). Another trick is to use four-color on the outside but utilize one or two color on the inside. This will also impact the cost.

3. The Screwdriver- Newsletters turn company news into a personal and supportive sales tool. A company newsletter should go out at least twice per year. This gives the contractor a vehicle to share company news, interesting projects, achievements, and community involvement to a broad range of contacts. The newsletter gives you an opportunity to regularly communicate to prospects, allies and customers. Several contractors I know actually sell projects using a newsletter as their major sales tool. David Wood, a freelance writer in Weare, New Hampshire (1-800-HEY WOODY) packages the newsletter shell together for contractors leaving them only an article or two to fill in. Cost is typically between .50 cents to $1.50 per copy. There are very few ways to get coverage like that for the cost. There is only one marketing tool that brings a better return than the newsletter...

4. The Saw- Publicity cuts your firm deeper into the marketplace's mind. The area of publicity is the most underutilized tool in the Marketing Toolbox. People are easily influenced by the media. Reading an article in a trade publication carries authority and weight. If you are not publishing at least one informational article and one job story every year, you are missing opportunities! Market-driven and innovative contractors naturally fulfill this annual goal. They realize the beneficial exposure that publicity generates. It is objective and speaks even louder than a newsletter. Set some minimal goals in this area of publicity. If it's possible, try to handle it internally, because it can be costly to hire outside consultants. However, it's better to hire someone and be consistent than to try to save money and never get published. A little trick of the trade- always turn published articles into reprinted pieces. Black and white copies are acceptable if cost is an issue. If there are misquotes or mistakes, then ask for permission to correct them and reprint on you own. Redesign the article with new graphics and copy. Now the publicity becomes a usable tool.

5. The Drill- Advertising penetrates your target's awareness calling a few to action. Advertising multiplies the usefulness of all the tools in the Marketing Toolbox. To be effective in advertising, you must do three things. Know your target audience. Select only publications and media that is well suited to this group. Secondly, focus the ad's message and graphics. Develop one distinguishing benefit of your firm and make that the thrust for your advertising. This focus will complement the perception that your toolbox is already generating. Lastly, remain consistent. Planning the advertising budget annually will simplify the process and help avoid some stray advertising that pops up as a great deal.

Advertising is often equated with marketing, although it's just one aspect of it. If properly handled, advertising can have a multiplying effect on the marketing effort. One idea to capitalize on your investment is to reprint or copy the ad and use it as part of the sales presentation.

6. The Chisel- Direct Mail Campaigns chip away at interested prospects and expose your firm to all its contacts. Assuming that you keep databases of customers, prospects and allies, it is smart to periodically send a cover letter, press release, invitation, survey, etc. It keeps your contacts in touch with your firm's activities. Avoid mass mailing to prospects unless you are prepared to adequately follow-up. The salesperson can use direct mail as a tool to stimulate future business. The timing has a way of hitting just right for a small percentage of the mailings. Using direct mail in conjunction with telemarketing can bring solid appointments. However, there is a sacrifice here. It is time consuming to coordinate and track all of this direct mail and telemarketing activity.

7. The Hammer- The Salesperson nails down contracts and strengthens the foundational relationships. "You're only as good as your last sale" is the sentiment often conveyed to the salesperson. Of course this is not a professional or a long-term view of the sales function. Some contractors delegate the sales function to a "Business Development Manager". From my perspective, it is unwise to produce all these marketing tools without a salesperson to use them. Many CEO's attempt to sell new business. Undivided time and attention is needed to maximize the sales effort. These are two things that most CEO's do not have. A bookkeeper does the books, a Superintendent manages the field , and a Project Manager coordinates project details. However, the need for a trained salesperson is often overlooked. A good salesperson is worth their weight in gold. They are able to obtain new business through diligent prospecting and relationship networking. The salesperson should document their activities, set reasonable goals, and team up with the other key staff. In this way the company is not dependent on any one team player. It is the salesperson's distinction to establish a real presence and front line image for the company.

8. The Nails- The Sales Presentation connects the company story to client benefits in a concise and organized way. A well organized sales presentation is a primary marketing tool for telling the company's unique story and obtaining future work. A number of things should go into this presentation- a form which profiles the prospect and proposed project, testimonials, management team, project photos, benefit sheets, references, special technologies, approach to estimate, schedule and contract, safety program and record, communication procedures, project evaluations, advertising, association involvement, staff articles, publicity, trade show involvement, etc. Much of the above is predicated on the design-build delivery system. If price is what you are competing on, there may be no need to present all this proof and benefits.

9. The Ladder- The Management Team leans on its depth of experience and ability to stay on the same rung with the client. Clients gain a first impression from the salesperson. But they also place a high value on those performing the work. Leverage your construction team to gain the client's confidence. Individual resumes are worth documenting as well as a page that portrays the team together. How can you demonstrate to the client that your team works together well? One way is to present the proposed project together. Do not rely on just the salesperson or the president to do this. You demonstrate the depth and maturity of your firm when functioning as a team.

10. The Level/Tape Measure- The Marketing Plan/Budget keeps the marketing consistent and measurable. If you aim for nothing, you are bound to hit it every time! So it is with the marketing function. Without some financial resources allocated for the other nine tools, they will be unusable. I recommend a simple two to three page plan or summary of your marketing intentions for the coming year and the percentage of gross income or dollar amount budgeted for each tool. Then prioritize all your marketing activities and materials for the year along with a proposed schedule. With a marketing track to run on, simply modify and monitor the plan as you progress. You now have a built-in accountability for the sales/marketing staff to manage this function profitably.

About the Author : Larry Silver is the President of Contractor Marketing., a marketing consulting firm located in Dayton, Ohio, specializing in the Contractor market. Contractor Marketing is a member of the ABC - Ohio Valley Chapter.