I bet you hate to make cold calls. Over the last ten years or more, you didn't need to cold call, market or sell much to win your share of contracts. The phone kept ringing, and you stayed busy. I'm sure you also like it when potential customers call you with jobs on which to bid or propose. This "old school" marketing plan-letting your reputation speak for itself and waiting for referrals to grow your business-used to work. But now it doesn't.

In today's tough work environment of less work and more competition, you need to make outbound sales calls and implement a marketing system to keep your pipeline full of potential projects to bid. The following is my simple marketing system that doesn't require cold calls. Instead, it's more like a form of that Chinese water torture you saw in the old movies-Drip! Drip! Drip! I call it: "Bug 'Em 'Til They Buy or Die!"

The "Bug 'Em 'Til They Buy Or Die" Marketing System:

  1. Create awareness of your company
  2. Pique the potential customer's interest
  3. Stay at the top of the customer's mind
  4. Generate inquiry
  5. Get face-to-face interaction
  6. Convert a bid or proposal into a contract
  7. Develop customer relationships
  8. Get referrals

This eight step marketing system is designed to move the prospective customer through all eight marketing steps without a single cold call. The goal of this system is to get potential customers to call you versus you calling them.

This system builds an awareness of your company and what you can do for customers over a period of time.

Create Awareness Using the Rule of Seven

You must have at least seven contacts with a potential customer before he/she:

  • Remembers your name
  • Feels he/she knows you
  • Trusts you
  • Will take any action toward you

To grow both our construction and speaking businesses, we use the trusted U.S. postal service to build customer awareness. We mail something to everyone on our mailing list at least four times per year. Once is not enough, and we don't just mail any old boring piece of mail. We send creative, unique, fun, factual, caring and informative articles, photos, postcards, white papers, mini-brochures, checklists and guides. We use a professional design firm to keep our image consistent. Orange and blue are our colors. Everyone recognizes our orange hardhat or our blueprint background on every piece of mail we send out.

Everything you send out must do one of three things to create and build awareness:

  • Pique customer interest
  • Create a perception of value
  • Reinforce customer relationship

Pique Customer Interest

You must send out something crazy, funny, eye-catching, bold or unique. You want to stand out from the crowd and make a statement. Try to be clever, creative and fun enough to create the "WOW" factor. Never send those throw-away pens, ball caps and notepads like everyone else. If you send out cheap stuff or tacky giveaways, your potential customers will think you're cheap and not financially strong enough to handle their work. Send professionally created materials that consistently reflect your image. Quality counts.

Match your mail-outs to your customer targets. We use a newsletter that looks like a blueprint for our construction customers. But to attract bank investors, we use traditional white stationary with blue ink. On a mailing to lawyers, we sent out messages on legal pads. When we mail to meeting planners, we use a theme based on helping them make their meeting a success. To attract investors for real estate development projects, we send out aerial photos of the neighborhood along with pictures and renderings packaged in typical real estate folders. Potential customers respond to the familiar.

To pique interest, we also rotate mailing out cartoons, jokes, small hardhats, mini CDs or DVDs, estimating grid notepads, paper clip holders, coffee cups with hammer handles, business card holders, Post-it notes, golf tees, golf ball markers and American flags on the Fourth of July. Once we mailed envelopes full of nails with the banner: "When can we nail down your next job?" Last year, I sent postcards from Maui, HI, with the note: "Thanks to my loyal customers for sending me skiing. I appreciate your business!" The best things to mail are items that pack flat, play big and will not be thrown away. Don't forget to put your name and logo on all of your "Bug 'Em 'Til They  Buy Or Die" mailings.

Only send what your customer:

  1. Will read
  2. Needs to know
  3. Wants
  4. Will keep

Remember, your goal is not only to create interest, but to create the right kind of interest in you. Be sure that your mailing creates the right perception of value about your company and how it does business. To show potential customer targets that we were more than a small "local" company, we sent out maps indicating our project locations covering a 100-mile radius. To show we were qualified in a new business market, we sent out photos and resumes of key managers with years of experience in this "new" area. To create the perception of fast service, we mailed out "on-time schedulers" and photos of projects with the headline: "Another Successful Fast-Track Project." Decide what perception of value you want to present to your customers, and tell them about it.

At our company, we want to be known as problem solvers. To create this perception of value, we mail photos that show us completing tight schedules or overcoming tough logistics. We mail customized postcards of completed projects listing out extra services and benefits the customer received, such as personal service, quality control or value-added cost savings. We mail product literature that's new and interesting to keep them informed and reinforce our cutting edge technical capabilities. We mail tips, "how-to" checklists and cost estimating guides to help customers, which increases our value to them.


To create interest, potential customers must know that you deliver results. Your "Bug 'Em 'Til They Buy Or Die" mailings should often show people delivering results. Remember customers don't care about:

  • What you do
  • What you have
  • What you've done

Customers only care about themselves and what you will do for them.

Tell Them What You'll Do

Save reference lists, employees' resumes and photos of your greatest accomplishments for your corporate brochure and face-to-face meetings. That stuff is all about what you've done.  Future customers want to know what you'll do for them. This puts you at the top of their mind.

Show potential customers how you:

  • Helped your customers
  • Solved your customer's problems
  • Met customer's goals
  • Provided solutions
  • Gave customers what they wanted

Come up with a slogan or motto that tells the targeted customer what you'll do for them. We use: "Our Goal Is to Make Your Project a Success!" Keep your message and marketing motto consistent and simple. Put your customer-focused slogan on every piece of mail you send out.

People Care about People


Show them you care about them, their business and their lives. To reinforce customer relationships, use a personal approach with your mailings. Send article reprints that are directed at improving their company on topics like: leadership, management, staff retention, customer loyalty and making more profit. We also mail announcements of contracts, promotions and accomplishments to show working relationships between loyal customers and our talented staff. Send photos of your people working with customers on-site solving problems together. This shows you care about them and want to help improve their business.

Also use your mailings to show your company involvement in charity programs, children's sports groups, church outreach or industry leadership. Involvement in the community is part of what you do for them. This will create interest and reinforce the perception that you will also care for them as your customer.

Customer Awareness Is Easy and Cheap

Building awareness, creating interest, and putting you and your company at the top of mind of your future customers is a long, slow process, which requires constant action over time. To get started, the "Bug 'Em 'Til They Buy Or Die" system takes a minimum of a one- to two-year commitment to be effective. Marketing is never a one-time event. I've sent mailings out every three months since 1984. I've never stopped, because it works. I always get lots of customer calls after every mailing. Notice: They call me.

Doing this is affordable, too. We typically mail to 1,000 to 2,000 customers, potential customers and referral parties four times per year. The average cost (including postage) is $1 to $2 for each piece we mail. Our annual "Bug" budget for six mailings runs from $6,000 to $12,000 per year and is worth every penny.

We use a database contact software program for our marketing system to keep track of targeted customers. With the software, we can sort by address, industry, customer type or any other criteria we want to use. You can also create personalized form letters to mail. It only takes a few minutes to print 1,000 mailing labels.

We dedicate four hours every month to our "Bug" mailing program. On alternating months, we plan or produce the marketing materials. We constantly look for great ideas, helpful articles, perfect mailing pieces, and photo opportunities. To remain consistent and look professional, we've used the same professional design firm for over twenty years. But you can hire local marketing or graphic design students from local colleges or universities to help you get started.

After we select and design our mailing, the task of creating it in-house, using an outside promotional products vendor or getting it to the printer is easy. When we're ready to mail, we hire temporary help to print the labels, assemble the packages and stuff the envelopes.

Any Plan Is Better than a Perfect Plan Never Executed!

The key to "Bug 'Em 'Til They Buy Or Die Mail" is to do it-every three months, rain or shine. Build awareness. Create interest. Put you and your business at the top of mind of your future customers. You will get the inquiry. You'll be face-to-face. Your proposal will get you a loyal customer. And you'll have a lifetime of referrals. Future customers will call you. Do it. Get Started. What are you waiting for? Start now and "Bug 'Em 'Til Them Buy Or Die."

Construction Business Owner, April 2010