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
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.