By Mark Buckshon
What are the best techniques and methods to find new business in the current era of rapidly developing technologies and intensified competition?
The answer to this question combines some new approaches with long-standing traditional and effective marketing strategies. You need to build on your brand – and that is primarily based on your actual client experiences and their genuine enthusiasm and enjoyment in working with you.
Then you apply technological innovations to accelerate and enhance your positive reputation, with effective client-focused editorial and visual marketing content, a solid website, and some easy to manage social media strategies. Finally, if you wish, you can package these qualities, combining current technologies with future-looking concepts including Building Information Modelling, virtual/augmented reality, and – looking forward – the powerful potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
At root, the basics of effective AEC marketing haven’t changed in decades. People (and business-to-business clients are of course individuals working for companies) like doing business with organizations where they feel good about their experience. Clearly, your actual work/service/product must be competent, but if your clients’ overall experience isn’t at least satisfactory, you will have a one-time relationship. However, your goal should be to make their experience super great, by anticipating needs, communicating frequently, and where you can, providing value added extras that don’t cost much money but make the process more enjoyable.
Why is the client experience so important? Consider the fundamental data that I’ve gathered over the past decade through an ongoing poll on my constructionmarketingideas.com blog. At least 71 per cent of the contractors, architects and engineers who have responded over the years say that repeat and referral business is their most important source of revenue. (It breaks down to 41 per cent from word-of-mouth/recommendations and 30 per cent from repeat clients.) Advertising (at 13 per cent) and leads services/open RFPs and public tenders (at 11 per cent) are significant business builders but don’t really move the needle as much. Irritating and intrusive techniques such as telemarketing and door-to-door canvassing work for only a few contractors (at five per cent).
The point in these numbers is that anything you can do to improve your repeat and referral business will have disproportionate impact on your bottom line. So you need to do everything you can to connect with and deliver value to your clients.
Your goal: Win sincere testimonials and recommendations – so you can make it easier for other clients to say “yes” – and of course, to develop additional repeat or recurring business.
Please note: While it is essential to provide great client service, you must never assert that your marketing/business strength is providing “great customer service”. This is ineffective. If anyone asserts this fact (assuming it is true), it should be your customers themselves, through their actual experience and testimonial statements, either written (or even better) in video format.
That said, there are some things you can do beyond delivering an incredible client experience. These include:
- Developing an expertise and reputation building content creation strategy (blog, white papers, videos);
- building a truly effective website; and
- adapting your website and content to responsive social media relationships and concepts.
None of these strategies requires much money, though they all require some effort and co-ordination. I’ll outline some approaches to succeeding in these three focuses.
The goal here is to make it easy for current and previous clients to say good things about you, and to learn valuable information to build on your quality/expertise reputation. Your blog provides a good starting point – because by regularly writing/videoing your insights, observations, and stories, you add to your reference points and knowledge.
Your blog messages can easily be posted to your website (see below) and then auto-posted to social media.
Videos don’t need to be slick or fancy. In fact, testimonial videos that are grainy and rough are in my opinion more credible and effective than slickly narrated commercially produced efforts.
However, I think your writing should be solid and well-edited. If you don’t have someone who writes well on your staff, you may need to contract with a freelancer to generate or edit your material. This will cost you some money, but will be far less expensive than conventional paid advertising.
Developing your social media relationships
Company profile pages for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be created without fee, and you can easily connect them to your website so that every time you add a relevant post, it will auto feed to the relevant social media sites, leveraging your marketing presence, without costing you any additional money.
You’ll want to develop tools to monitor and manage your social media image, inducing positive testimonials and comments while avoiding negative comments and reviews. There are some third party services that help this process. They invite your clients to provide a “satisfaction” report, and if it is excellent, they will encourage customers to post their positive comments directly on the social media sites. If they are negative, they will encourage your clients to communicate with you privately so you can resolve the issue and avoid negative reviews.
How much will all of this cost?
Your greatest expense will likely be the review/enhancement of your internal processes and existing client service/relationships. You may need an outside consultant to look more closely at your operations and suggest improvements, but if you can see the issues that need to be resolved and make things more friendly and satisfactory for your clients, you’ll be well on your way.
Full-scale website development services vary in price, but generally you can get a specialist to complete a solid project for you for about $5,000 or so. If you are ready to do it yourself or contract directly with website developers, you can reduce this cost by one or two orders of magnitude. (Yes, that would mean $500 or even $50.)
Writing services can be free (outside of your time) if you are competent and literate or have an in-house staff person who can write well. Expect to spend upwards of a few hundred dollars per significant piece if you need to pay a freelancer or outside marketing consultant for these services.
Forward thinking options
If you are ready to step into the future and embrace new technologies, you can achieve a significant marketing advantage by building on your uniqueness and forward thinking vision.
I think the best starting point for most AEC professionals will be to embrace Building Information Modelling. Costs for BIM resources have been declining, and there are increasing opportunities to learn how to use these tools. With BIM skills and resources, you can have fun with automated/virtual reality (and really showcase your presentations/projects in an interactive way).
If you want to go even further into the future (but we are talking years, not decades), recent developments with machine learning and artificial intelligence offer exciting if somewhat scary automation options – because the machines can learn from their environment and ultimately the science fiction concept of computers being smarter than humans could become a reality.
Conclusion: You don’t need to spend much to achieve a lot
Even if you go full-bore and contract out all the services described above, I can’t see it necessary for you to spend more than $10,000 a year on a truly effective marketing strategy. This is a drop in the bucket compared to even the cheapest forms of paid media advertising. If you elect to spend money on other forms of marketing/advertising, including trade show exhibits, print and paid online advertising, the client relationship, website and social media models will provide you with a powerful backbone and will boost the effectiveness of your more expensive marketing approaches.
Go for it. You can truly achieve great marketing communications results for very little money.
I’ll provide you with a list of service providers (and some observations/recommendations about them) without charge if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.