by Tami Hernandez
January 2, 2008

Generating new business—it’s the lifeblood of every successful company. Construction companies—in fact, all companies—that market themselves effectively differentiate their services from the competition and stand a much better chance of driving qualified new business. Those with the willingness to hone their messaging and offerings to specifically serve a particular niche within the wider market do even better.

It’s no secret that construction companies that develop and exploit a particular specialty niche tend to see a greater degree of success than those who try to be all things to all customers. A survey performed by North Carolina-based construction industry management consultants, FMI Corporation, found construction companies that specialized in serving a particular segment won bids nearly twice as often as those that did not.

Given that sort of advantage, if your business lacks such specialization, it may be time for you to re-evaluate to whom and how you’re marketing your services. Of course, a lot of companies still have reservations about narrowing the focus of their business, afraid they’ll push away other opportunities in the process. This just isn’t the case. In fact, it’s almost exactly the opposite.

By focusing on serving a particular segment—say restaurant or chain construction, high-end residential projects or sustainable “green” building—your company gains a golden opportunity to own that market space. You benefit not only from decreased competition for bids, but you’ll also come to be seen by future and repeat clients as a “go-to” expert in that space. The result: Increased growth in a field that suits your company’s specific sales goals and identity.

Finding Your Niche

When determining the niche your business will target, make sure it’s an area in which you’re both comfortable and capable. A good place to start is in considering your current and recent customers: Who is good to work with and why? What sort of projects does your company excel in completing, and which bring the greatest returns for your efforts? 

Answering these and similar questions will give you a good idea of where you should be directing your marketing energies, allowing you to build the business most desirable while pruning that which veers from your overall goals. Having a formally developed, ideal prospect profile will aid your next steps immeasurably. In essence, ask yourself what the ideal customer looks like, what their specific needs are and how your specialization would fit into what they’re looking for. Solidifying your goals in terms of desired (and realistic) growth will also help determine the scope of your marketing efforts. 

Once you have clearly identified your target niche, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to the work of developing business intelligence on the companies and/or individuals who fall into this market segment and meet your profile. For instance, you want to know who they are; where, when and how they do business; what publications they read; and where they congregate (i.e., trade shows and industry events). Of course, this is in addition to gathering statistical information on the overall size and saturation of the market, active competitors and growth opportunities.

Pre-existing customers whose qualities guide development of your ideal customer profile can be a wealth of actionable information, helping you to zero in on the hot-button issues faced by those in your target niche. Armed with this understanding, you can more accurately communicate your differentiating factors to other prospects who fit the bill. More importantly, this information will help you tailor your services more and more effectively to meet the unique needs of the niche.

Identifying Your Prospects

With the ideal prospect in mind, the next step is lead generation. The form and scope your lead generation efforts will take depends on a multitude of variables, including but not limited to the size and nature of the niche, the scale of your own operations and your pre-determined revenue and growth goals. Obviously, the larger and more complex these elements are, the larger and more complex lead generation becomes.

There are some constants, though. You’ll want to find those prospects that most closely match your ideal profile, identify the key decision makers you’ll need to approach and gather as much contact and background information as possible. If the niche is a sizable one, chances are you’ll be able to find directories, contact lists and research sources to help you build your prospect database. Even smaller, localized markets will have common points of contact, and these can provide direction as well. 

Regardless of its size or scope, methodically developing and maintaining a clean database of prospects gives you a roadmap to follow as you begin to communicate with that niche. Remember though: Contact data is a continually moving target. Statistics show that more than 70 percent of people change one or more elements on their business cards each year. Keeping your database clean and accurate must be an ongoing affair.

One of the key benefits of targeting a specific niche is that it makes allocating marketing dollars easier and more effective. Rather than blindly casting the widest possible net and hoping for the best, you can intelligently focus your efforts, messaging and face-time on those prospects who represent the highest potential return over the shortest timeframe.

A Roadmap for Success

Now it’s time to map out a plan for connecting with these prospects, whether through advertising (print and/or online), direct mailings or over the telephone. The best approach is a coordinated combination of all three. Ideally, all of the above should address the specific needs and interests of the target niche and be geared toward transforming that initial contact into a relationship.

Frequent (but not oppressive) meaningful contact with the filtered prospects in your database will help you secure the face-to-face meetings with decision makers that make deals happen. It’s therefore important that each subsequent contact build on prior communications with a prospect. This is known as nurturing the prospect, and it’s important to see it as an ongoing process rather than a single action. 

For example, information requests coming as a result of ad placement should trigger subsequent contact with more information. Likewise, initially targeting your ideal prospects with a direct mail offer should be followed up with a telephone contact. Telephone representatives can reference the initial communication and further nurture the prospect relationship, asking questions that enrich the prospect database while also answering questions and communicating your company’s unique value proposition. Each subsequent contact then becomes a means for deepening the relationship and breaking down any potential barriers to the in-person sales calls that follow.

Of course, the telephone specialists you enlist to make initial and follow-up contact with your prospects must be well-trained. Their role is to essentially begin a conversation between your company and the prospect, not close a sale. While they’re not calling to engage prospects in deep discussions, they should be capable of delivering your message with enough detail to solicit the desired action. 

Desired actions may include getting the prospect to accept further information on your company’s offerings or to schedule a follow-up call or meeting with a more experienced sales professional, depending on where the prospect is in the decision-making process. The key takeaway here is the compounding value of repeated, sequential and meaningful contact to build a relationship. Even if you’re not turning prospects into customers immediately, you’re still penetrating your target niche and keeping your company at the top of prospects’ minds.

Delivering Your Message

Successful niche marketing depends on clearly defining your niche, gathering business intelligence on ideal prospects and then reaching out to the niche in its own particular language, addressing its own particular needs. By profiling and gathering intelligence on these ideal prospects, you’re able to use marketing dollars much more effectively and efficiently, generally gaining greater penetration at a lower cost than wide-reaching marketing efforts.

The quality of the prospect database is a key component to effective niche marketing, and it’s in your best interest to make sure it is as clean, accurate and up-to-date as possible. Your database will give you the opportunity to act quickly on marketing opportunities to those prospects who fit your niche, and it will make establishing a calendar of mailings and other contacts much more feasible and easier to manage. 

Of course, once you’ve gathered the necessary business intelligence and developed your database of qualified prospects, it all comes down to persuasive and informative messaging. Take the time and invest the necessary resources into crafting your messaging, making sure you’re addressing the hot-button issues of your niche and clearly delineating your company’s unique value proposition.

Depending on the size and sophistication of your niche market, it may make good sense for you to engage marketing communications professionals to help you craft your messaging. In fact, partnering with such professionals can give you a clear advantage in successfully achieving all the requirements and aims of your niche marketing efforts. Regardless of whether you partner with a firm or go it alone, the steps outlined above will help you make the most of your marketing dollars and see great gains in capturing new business in your niche market.

Construction Business Owner, January 2008