It isn’t pouring money into advertising and branding. It it is all about your client experiences and integrity.
By Mark Buckshon
Here’s a challenge everyone experiences in business: How do we attract and maintain enough business to remain viable and profitable, without burning up our resources and relationships in the process?
This question’s forefront importance sometimes causes us to be caught up in disruptive interruptions; the uninvited email, phone call or (worse) someone buttonholing you at a networking event (or worse) in your office to pitch you on something you don’t really want, at least from that individual at that time.
There are so many competing ways to spend your marketing dollars/budget (if you have any funds available), you rightfully may wish to throw your arms up in frustration and revert to bidding on public tenders, or relying on repeat and referral business. At least in the former situation you have a tangible opportunity where at least one organization will win the prize – and in the latter, you’ll achieve the best results without spending much, if any, effort.
However, there are effective approaches to marketing and business development that need not set you your finances off budget and which will allow you to manage the salespeople pitching their self-serving solutions to you.
Here are the basics:
Start by enhancing your client experience and employee/business culture.
My consistent surveys indicate that architectural, engineering and construction businesses earn on average about 72 per cent of their business from repeat and referral clients (30 per cent repeat, 42 per cent referral). In most cases you don’t need to work very hard to retain your business. It’s easier for current customers to stay where they are than to leave. However, among your good customers, you’ll want to work hard to foster more repeat and referral business – if only because even a modest improvement in either category will be truly significant to your bottom line. (A 10 per cent increase in repeat and referral business will, on average, generate an additional 7.2 per cent in sales – at virtually no cost.)
Earning, retaining and enhancing client trust really count for more than anything else.
Marketers like using words like “branding” – but when it comes down to it, a great brand is based on trust, coupled with visibility to your current and potential clients. You don’t earn trust by spending a whack of money on advertising and promotion before delivering an unsatisfactory experience.
In a recent article in the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Marketer Magazine, Michael Buell at CCI Mechanical, Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah, asked staff in his office to share their sentiments on how to earn their clients’ trust.
The responses tell a lot – and if you can answer affirmatively to these observations, you are probably on the right track:
We do what we say we are going to do;
We execute what we promise;
We engage in frequent, open and honest communication;
We give our clients clear and detailed schedules and we hold to them;
We don’t hide behind emails and texts . . . we get face to face to discuss important issues;
We don’t walk into a meeting with a phone stuck in an ear, showing blatant disrespect;
We don’t use excuses as an alternative for solutions; and
We are always mindful of the long0term impact of decisions.
Buell, obviously, has a much easier challenge as a business developer for this business than one where employees are concerned more about their immediate personal needs or could care less about their clients. How does your business/practice stack up in answering these questions?
Your community spirit and association relationships will carry you far, longer-term, when you handle things with an intelligently selfless attitude.
If I had a marketing budget of $10,000, would I spend it on advertising or community/association service? It may seem strange for me to advocate the community/association service option, since my business earns more than 95 per cent of its revenue by selling advertising.
However, if your have limited marketing budgets, you’ll achieve much better results by contributing to your community than you will by pouring money into third-party marketing services (including advertising).
The challenge: You need to be very patient, and have absolute integrity in your community/association participation – and to do this right, you can’t spread yourself too thin. (You can assign different key employees to different groups/associations, but I’ve found through personal experience that the commitment required means that you can’t really connect effectively with more than two or three at the same time – and you need to have a three-to-five year payback expectation for this work to be successful.)
Can you do this stuff yourself, or do you need consultants?
I wish I had a good answer here, because many consulting services are extremely expensive and fail to deliver. There are standard processes and systems, both within marketing and consulting practices, and these have advantages, but if you have a reasonable amount of self-discipline you can really handle many of the key decisions/responsibilities without spending much if any money. Nevertheless, a good consultant will be able to guide you and your staff along the path. Just start with enough knowledge to know what you should expect, and keep a mental check-and-balance on the assertions you hear.
The bottom line: Be true to yourself and learn what you need to know.
I can’t overemphasize the value of learning from successful non-competitive peers (this is one advantage of getting involved in relevant associations, especially at the provincial or national level), reading worthy books and articles, and listening to the signals you receive from your current clients and staff.
Do they care? Do they have passion, good-will and respect? If not, why not?
Do you trust yourself – and can you confidently say your clients and employees trust you and each other? If not, you should focus on what you need to do to solve the gaps causing the distrust. If it is there, then you can think about your marketing in the broader perspective – improving, enhancing and adding to an already good-thing to achieve even greater success.
Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes the Canadian Design and Construction Report and other publications and websites in Canada and the U.S. He has written two books about construction marketing, and publishes the longest-running blog on the topic at www.constructionmarketingideas.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 627-8717 ext 224.