Gregg M. Schoppman is a consultant with FMI, management consultants and investment bankers for the construction industry. Schoppman specializes in the areas of productivity and project management. He also leads FMI's project management consulting practice. Prior to joining FMI, Schoppman served as a senior project manager for a general contracting firm in central Florida. He has completed complex construction projects in the medical, pharmaceutical, office, heavy civil, industrial, manufacturing and multi-family markets. He holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree in civil engineering, as well as a master's of business administration. Schoppman has expertise in numerous contract delivery methods, as well as knowledge of many geographical markets. For more information, visit fminet.com, or contact Schoppman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The days of "send it and forget it" are over. As consumers, we are inundated with millions of advertisements. Fortunately for the trees, more of the sophisticated builders have migrated to an electronic media. However, with little to no constraints on emailing, tweeting and Facebook posting, buyers navigate through a sea of "people that will save them money and time safely." It's almost as if buyers would relish receiving an actual brochure in the mail just to break the monotony of the email sludge they go through on a daily basis. Contractors, too, have migrated to electronic transmissions to demonstrate their affinity for technology. Is the extent of your company's marketing department a heavy reliance on blanketing potential customers with email messages touting superior quality, safety and service?
Marketing continues to morph and transform to accommodate advances in technology, all with the aim of further establishing a firm's brand in the marketplace. But there has to be a way to establish a superior, strategic marketing message that leverages a firm's ability to drive that message deeper and achieve higher conversion to actual construction revenue.
Targeted Audiences, Themed Messaging
The good news is that technology has enabled inexpensive, mass communication. The bad news is that consumers are becoming desensitized to emails and constant contact. While, undoubtedly, there is a statistic that shows the relevance and benefits of blanket communications such as this, it resembles more of a shotgun blast than a targeted rifle shot. There should be a deep connection between the firm's strategic plan and the audience to which you are marketing.
Revenue potential, current contractor alternatives and buying traits are all relative factors that should be involved in triaging this marketing list. With a healthy list assembled, it is important to tailor the messaging appropriately. First, it is probably time to shelve the messaging associated with being safe, on time and on budget. While it sounds like heresy, these three expectations are overused and trite. Themed messaging should be the first priority. Consider the following:
- Overarching themes—Consider how you want your firm to be known. For instance, maybe you are known for a strong portfolio of technology projects or sustainability or for working in sensitive environments. The firm's messaging should be constantly reinforced—saying it just one time will not be enough. To be famous for a particular skillset or niche, the firm should plan to pound the drum over and over again about its capabilities.
- Selling statistics—With a theme established, consider your numbers. For example, everyone has seen the commercial about "Four out of 5 dentists agree…" What testimonials and fact-based marketing can be leveraged? For instance, "On average, our crews finish our work 12 percent more efficiently than our competition…” or, "We have completed 25 clean rooms…” The key here is twofold—to definitively prove the value you provide and ensure the right message is making it to the right audience.
Training, Not Selling
Let's be honest. Most people don't like sales meetings. They are necessary, but meetings are somewhat of an awkward courting process. Business developers want to maintain an appropriate balance of selling and listening. On the other hand, most customers have heard it all before. Additionally, there may be an added wrinkle. A business developer may be speaking with a senior leader of a firm—maybe a general contractor—but is that person really the right audience or the decision maker? Should the courtship really include an audience of estimators, procurement managers, project managers and superintendents? One tactic to consider is to provide customized training to this larger cadre of associates.
For instance, as a mechanical contractor, it might be beneficial to provide training on the latest HVAC systems, the "dos and don'ts of mechanical construction" and the intricacies of clean environments. Granted, there is always a certain spin to this free training, but consider the benefits of having a captive audience while being the smartest technical people in the room? Ultimately, this establishes and reinforces the firm's ability to be the expert and develop deeper relationships. With a dose of interactive learning, the keen marketing professional can establish training that allows a potential customer to share their deep reservations, concerns and hot-button items. Even the most intimate sales meeting may never allow for this level of dialogue.
Marketing your Proposals
Look at your proposal. Really examine it. Would you buy your own services? Once you are past the bias of ownership, a deep dive into a proposal often provides a startling realization—it looks the same as every other contractor's proposal. It is important to realize that strategic marketing is as much a fact-finding expedition as it is a discovery of new customers. Done correctly, a strong marketer will determine important value drivers in the customer's perspective.
All too often, contractors determine what is important to the customer based on experience with other customers, hence the reliance on "safe, on budget and on schedule." Given the right amount of discovery, each customer has his or her own list of hot-button items. Maybe this project is heavily dependent on schedule. However, your firm's proposal only touts your safety record. Misalignment leads to a "commodity view" of a contractor's proposal. Since nobody listened to what was truly the most important driver of success, everyone is evaluated on price. It is naïve to think that no customer cares about price. However, each proposal should be customized to hit on that customer's most important feature.
When done correctly—the targeting, the selling and the proposing—there should be a seamless flow and a true alignment, from customer prospecting to building. The key theme to understand is that strategic marketing requires both time and firm-wide collaboration to be successful. For instance, measuring performance from a labor perspective to provide meaningful statistics requires a strong bridge from the "do work" team to the "get work" team. Ultimately, the value chain is truly realized when customers buy what you are selling and performing.