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How to Turn Referrals Into New Business: Let Marketing Tell Your Story

in Columns/Marketing

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Stephanie Woodcock

As an architectural, engineering, or construction (A/E/C) company, how do you acquire business? Some common answers I’ve heard are through “trust, longevity, relationship, price, expertise and quality.”

I’ve also heard the following: “I don’t need marketing, because most of our business comes from referrals.” In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I heard this, I would be at least a few dollars richer. Companies who rely on their referral business and expertise or longevity in the industry may assume that they don’t need to market. But, the very nature of A/E/C company referrals has changed, and it has significant implications on a B2B marketing strategy.

According to a study conducted by a large marketing firm that surveyed professional services companies, more than 81.5 percent of these B2B companies have received a referral from someone who was not a client.  (Source: https://hingemarketing.com/library/article/referral-marketing-for-professional-services-firms)

There are three types of referral business:

  • Experience-based referrals
  • Reputation-based referrals
  • Expertise-based referrals

Most A/E/C companies are familiar with experience-based referrals. This type comes from direct business such as clients and professional partners. The vast majority of referrals, however, come from people you don’t know. They either recommend your company because they know your area of expertise, or they know you by reputation and know someone who has heard of you.

The key is to capture more of these last two groups of non-client referrals with a strong marketing strategy. In the A/E/C industry, 20 solid relationships will get you farther than 1,000 contacts. Why risk the possibility of not gaining a Top 10 customer because of lack of foresight in your marketing strategy? If 81.5 percent of our referrals are people who have not been our clients, we need marketing materials, brand presence and a digital identity to grab their attention.

How do we convert referrals to new business?

According to the same B2B company study, 51.9 percent of respondents ruled out referrals before they even spoke with the firm in question. While there is a detailed list of reasons the prospect dismissed the referral, the top reason, cited by 43.6 percent of respondents, was a lack of clarity about the provider’s services, expertise or capabilities. Other top reasons included inadequate marketing materials, insufficient clarity or overemphasis on selling rather than education.

Not only are we getting referrals from people we haven’t directly done business with; of those being referred to us, one-half of them are potentially not being converted into business because of a lack of marketing.

Maybe I should give my nickels back. If most of your business relies on referrals, you should be most concerned about marketing to the “low hanging fruit” you’ve worked so hard to attain through your reputation, expertise and experience.

You may let me keep my nickels, because I’m going to save you money with the following list. Of all the bells and whistles available through marketing agencies, here are my top four marketing strategies for B2B companies in the A/E/C space:

1) Content Marketing

Become the expert. Write blogs and newsletter articles. Speak at events. Attend association events. Set yourself up as the authority in your specialized field and watch the referral business come in. Get the word out through press releases, email marketing, social media, event marketing and association involvement.

This is how you help build reputation referrals. By using content marketing in conjunction with the rest of the tactics in this list, you can build a brand with a widespread reputation for your specialty and a greater understanding of your expertise, even among audiences that haven’t worked with you directly.

2) Consistent Website Presence and Marketing

Gone are the days that your website can be a “brochure website.” Eighty percent of buyers look at company’s website to check you out. New people are looking at your site for credibility factors, to see what you do, to find you through search tools, etc. Prospects want to find new content, a responsive website that answers their questions, one that is user friendly and stays up-to-date. Continually update and maintain your site with new blogs, white papers, landing pages, images and social media posts. Having a dynamic online presence that shares the expertise of your key professionals is the key to generating expertise-based referrals.

3) Creative Branding Strategy

Beyond your digital presence and white papers, you need ongoing creative branding and marketing campaigns that resonate with the customer base. This is the fun part of marketing. Introduce a new campaign around a theme that your customer base will appreciate. You need brand recognition, but you also need to make it fun. Keep your message consistent but interesting. This kind of brand recognition can lead to referrals and new business. 

4) Get Face-to-Face

Establishing a robust marketing strategy and digital presence does not mean we can vanish from being face-to-face with our customer base. You need to be at industry events, representing your brand, pressing the flesh and giving a face to the great reputation that is gaining you all those referrals.

Trust, longevity, relationship, price, expertise and quality are all admirable qualities with which to build a good company. How do we transform a good company to a great company? Good to Great Author Jim Collins says the secret ingredient is the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas, and then to seek continual improvement from there. Collins also says managing your problems can only make you good, whereas building your opportunities is the only way to become great.

The great companies that really stand the test of time and stand out to their customers are the ones who learn to tell their story. Your opportunity lies in how your story is told. Marketing helps tell your story. Marketing creatively outlines the specialties, expertise and reputation a company has in a way that resonates with customers, referrals and prospects. Your marketing message helps clarify why your company is great – and not just good – and gives substance to the words trust, expertise and quality. It’s worth a nickel or two.

Subcontractor Ordered to Repay Contractor for Faulty Construction Plus Lost Profits

in Columns/Law

By JAMES R. KELLER

James R. Keller

Missouri’s Southern District Court of Appeals affirmed on July 30 the decision of the trial court ordering a subcontractor to repay in full its contractor for faulty construction. The subcontractor also has to pay the contractor’s lost profits of 15 percent even though the owner had removed the work and never paid anything for the project.

The primary issue on appeal was whether the trial court applied the wrong measure of damages in the contractor’s breach of contract claim. The court of appeals determined the trail court correctly determined the damages.

The end result is that the owner paid nothing and received nothing of value. The contractor obtained an award for more than it paid the subcontractor, but of course it will have to pursue recovery if not voluntarily made. The court ordered the subcontractor to repay more than it had received.

The case is Fox Creek Construction, Inc. v. Opie’s Landscaping, LLC, 2019 WL 3423236, July 30, 2019.

The trial court, after a bench trial, ordered subcontractor Opie’s Landscaping, LLC. to pay $40,250 to contractor Fox Creek Construction, Inc.

The project was home remodeling for Mike and Annette Ensley. The opinion does not disclose the homeowners’ location, but it was somewhere in the Southern District of Missouri.

One portion of the remodeling project involved the construction of a waterfall outside Annette’s home library window.

The contract between the owners and their contractor was a cost-plus contract. This required payment to the contractor for the actual costs of the work plus an additional 15 percent as the contractor’s profit. (Many cost-plus construction contracts separately provide pricing for contractor overhead in addition to profits. In this case, the Southern District’s opinion only referenced profit.)

The contractor subcontracted with Opie’s to build the waterfall. Opie’s hired a specialist to do the work. The subcontract between Opie’s and Fox Creek was oral.

Oral construction contracts can be enforceable under Missouri law; they are not unusual. Their enforceability depends on the type of contract, its terms and circumstances. In this case, the appellate court did not know the terms. They were not part of the record on appeal. This did not seem to affect the final appellate decision.

Opie’s provided an estimate of $35,000 to build the waterfall. It took approximately one month for Opie’s to complete the work. The contractor paid Opie’s the $35,000 estimated price.

 

The homeowners returned from vacation shortly after the work’s completion. They experienced problems with the waterfall. First, the waterfall was in the wrong location. Opie’s addressed this problem by adding a second, smaller waterfall that could be seen from the library.

The homeowners discovered water flying down their driveway. The waterfall leaked so much that the pumps could not keep the waterfall flowing.

The leak was serious. Two months after the waterfall’s completion, the homeowners’ well pump was running 24 hours a day. This resulted in large electric bills during the summer months of June through August.

Unlevel rocks in the waterfall created another problem; they moved around instead of being stationary. The appellate court noted that someone described the workmanship as looking “shoddy.”

The subcontractor acknowledged it had used the wrong pumps, the wrong floats and the reservoir was too small. It claimed that all of these deficiencies could and would be fixed. The subcontractor also contended that natural evaporation of the water was the sole explanation for any water loss.

Frustrated, the homeowners contacted another contractor with extensive experience in water features, Fitzwater Design. Its owner looked at the waterfall. He noted that the problems included that the liner was showing, the water was falling over natural rock, a water hose was running continually and the reservoir size was too small.

Fitzwater recommended removing the waterfall and building a new one at an estimated cost of $35,000 to $40,000.

After a few more months, the homeowners told the subcontractor to remove the waterfall. Opie’s did this.

The homeowners neither paid the contractor the $35,000 nor the 15 percent additional profit that the contract called for if the waterfall had functioned correctly.

When the subcontractor refused to reimburse the contractor for the $35,000, the contractor filed a breach of contract lawsuit seeking $40,250. This represented $35,000 that had been paid to the subcontractor plus the contractor’s 15 percent lost profit.

Opie’s raised three points on appeal. The thrust of the subcontractor’s argument was that the trial court applied the wrong measure of damage.

Opie’s argued that the correct measure of damage under Missouri law was the costs to repair. The appellate court noted that the “fundamental flaw” with this approach was that Opie’s treated its damage claim as if it had contracted with the homeowners, when in reality its contract was with the contractor.

The appellate court rejected Opie’s argument that the contractor was only entitled to recover $2,500. Opie’s expert estimated this to be the cost necessary to repair the waterfall. The court stated that the cost to repair as a measure of damage is appropriate only when the subcontractor has substantially performed with some defects.

The trial court “implicitly” found that that was not the situation in this case. Opie’s had not substantially performed.

Rather, the trial court decided that Opie’s had breached its contract with the contractor. Opie’s did not contest this finding on appeal. The appellate court considered this concession important in its decision.

Because it was an uncontested fact that Opie’s had materially breached its contract, the contractor was entitled to cancel the contract and sue Opie’s for a total breach of contract.

Had Opie’s constructed a satisfactory waterfall, the homeowners would have been obligated to pay the contractor $40,250. Instead, they paid nothing.

Since the subcontractor did not return the $35,000 to the contractor, the contractor was entitled to recover $40,250 as full compensation for Opie’s breach.

James R. Keller is counsel with Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard P.C. where he concentrates his practice on construction law, complex business disputes, real estate and ADR. He is also an arbitrator and a mediator. Keller can be reached at (314) 446-4285 or jkeller@sandbergphoenix.com.

Data Here, Data There, Data Even From Mars

in Columns/Technology
Joe Balsarotti

I recently had the opportunity to have dinner with a real-live rocket scientist, Adam Steltzner, PhD, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Learning about the challenges, the technology involved and leaps of faith required to successfully land a rover on the planet Mars (as Steltzner has done) made for extremely interesting dinner conversation.

Compare the upload speed of the Mars Curiosity Rover – which can communicate directly with Earth at 0.032 megabits per second – with the average home or business connection of 200 megabits per second. But for about eight minutes a day, the Orbiter comes into view of the Rover and can relay signals about like an old DSL line can. Plus, considering that the time for the signal to get from there to here takes an average of 14 minutes, one wonders how in the universe we could retrieve those unbelievable images, atmospheric data and mineralogical analysis.

Something that stands out to me is that those connections are pure, useful data. Our home and business Internet connections, whether they are wired or wireless, are bogged down with endless (and in many cases, useless) data. The average PC is constantly sending out the connection to “ping” other computers to see if the printer is still connected, any email is coming in and if there is yet another update on the way for one of the dozens of programs loaded. Updates come down for antiviruses hour-by-hour, websites are constantly refreshed with new content and synchronization occurs between clocks, files and more; all of this occurs in the background before the user ever opens a window.

Add to all of that the endless garbage filling the data pipelines. By many accounts, more than 98 percent of all email never reaches a recipient. Why? Because it is outright spam or malware and it is rejected at the mail server level. It’s something we techs call “perimeter nuking,” not to mention the misaddressed email that sent to addresses no longer online. All this clutter makes us keep longing for faster and faster Internet speeds to do the basics, while 100 percent of the bandwidth from Curiosity is dedicated to transmitting actual data.

Although the next mission, Mars 2020, is the first step toward bringing Mars samples back to Earth so that maybe we get a version of the 1969 techno-thriller “The Andromeda Strain” that way, the Curiosity data lines don’t have to deal with viruses trying to hack into your home or business router.

Every time you or your staff download a program to your machine or add another online service or sync tool, your overall connection becomes more and more bogged down. Only the applications required to do the job should be allowed on company machines. In this publication on many an occasion, I’ve detailed the pitfalls of users loading unauthorized software, but beyond the security concerns and loss of control of your company’s data, your business also pays for those superfluous programs in slower network and Internet speeds.

My advice: Have both a written policy in your employee manual about loading unauthorized software, and systematically evaluate your company’s use of such programs to remove those which are no longer being used. They take up storage space and utilize bandwidth.

Steltzner’s latest task is as the project lead for the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. He was in charge of the landing team that invented the Sky Crane landing system, which successfully placed Curiosity on Mars. Learn about the landing at https://youtu.be/h2I8AoB1xgU.

Joe Balsarotti is President of Software To Go and is a 40-year veteran of the computer industry, reaching back to the days of the Apple II. Keep up with tech by following him at Facebook.com/SoftwareToGo or on Twitter @softtogo.

Cultivating the Best Customers: Build Them and They’ll Be Yours

in Columns/Marketing

By TOM WOODCOCK

Tom Woodcock

The challenge in developing a customer base is determining which customers represent the best possible opportunity. Which pay the best? Which are easiest to work with? Which are the least demanding? Companies market themselves to death trying to attract these types of customers.

That’s the core problem – thinking all you need to do is attract the best customers. It’s kind of like the woman who only seems to attract loser men or the man who only seems to attract needy women. That’s a lot of people.

Available, perfect customers are virtual unicorns. The key is you don’t attract them. You build them.

This is the secret in building a customer base that is loaded with grade A clients. As with any desire to get ROI in a sales effort, you must ask the question: What am I willing to invest? Too many companies make a passive effort trying to gain business and sales. They sporadically meet with clients, often only in relation to an upcoming project. This is not enough to build a quality customer base. Your investment of time and resources is imperative to achieving this end. Cutting corners or limiting customer contact can reduce the depth of your relationship. Merely evaluating good customers from poor customers is not enough. If a customer doesn’t feel you’re invested in the relationship, he or she can just as easily use your competitor.

The greater the depth of relationship, the stronger the bond of trust with your clients. The greater the trust, the more willing the customer is to accept your interpretation of project scope and pricing. Clients believe you will be fair and look out for their best interests above yours if they trust you. Establishing this level of trust directly impacts your bottom line.

How do you achieve this level of relationship? It’s not as hard as you think.

First, set aside time for the lunch, coffee and happy hour encounters that sometimes seem fruitless. During some of these, don’t even talk about a project or discuss business at all. Just laugh and discuss your favorite team’s season. Ask about their children’s achievements. (Black and white thinkers see this as a colossal waste of time; hopefully those people work for your competitor.) Invest in developing a friendship beyond a project-based relationship. If you do, when a project does arise, you’re the go-to in your area of expertise. If you’re not taking the time to invest in these encounters, you’ll never be considered more than a viable supplier. That’s what most contractors are to their customers.

Second, budget resources to entertain and recognize your customer base. People still appreciate a good lunch meeting, round of golf or a game. (I can hear the CFOs out there sighing in frustration. “Money wasted so sales personnel and customers can go play. What an extravagance.”) I’ve faced this my whole sales career. I even do with my staff now. If I hear one more, “I hope you had fun” in that condescending tone I’m sure many of you have heard, I’m going to snap. Yes, we did have fun. Lord knows, you wouldn’t want to have fun with a customer. Why on earth would you want to share positive life experiences with someone who can give you business? The last thing you want is to spend $100 on a client that can award you thousands or millions of dollars in contracts. This isn’t a license to abuse the privilege, but let’s get past the petty jealousy. We’re going for significantly higher and deeper levels of relationship here. That takes a greater investment. You get out what you put in. It’s that simple.

Third, you need the support of staff and company management. They need to realize you’re aiming for a uniquely deep customer relationship. They need to want that to happen and be willing to do all that is feasible to make that happen. This means assisting in processing paperwork, capturing information and performing with a level of excellence. This can free up sales agents to truly dive deeply into their customer relationships. If all hands are on deck in supporting the sales effort, results traditionally follow. An internal team that is mature enough to understand the need for a sales team to have the space and support to graft customers into the fabric of the company will reap tremendous benefits.

The challenge for many companies is adopting a sales culture that gives sales relationship development its proper priority. Allowing sales personnel to actively pursue relationship opportunities displays a degree of sales maturity not commonly seen. The construction industry isn’t known for this type of sales acumen. The pressure of bidding drives the transaction toward price. This negates the role of relationship and creates a level playing field, regardless of a contractor’s competence or integrity. Contractors would like customers to decide on these factors over price but don’t give enough attention to developing relationships to overcome the force of bidding. Securing premium customers is never achieved through pricing formats.

I’ll often hear one contractor say how much it loves working for a particular customer while another says it’ll never bid that same customer again. How is that possible? Well, the most dividing factor between those two perspectives is simply the level of relationship development. If you have a deep connection, communication lines are clearer and issues are resolved quickly. The customer doesn’t want the contractor to absorb a loss and will work to find an amicable solution to a problem. Those with less or no relationship will be treated more abruptly, and the customer will tend to protect its own interests. Often the customer is blamed, when in reality the contractor didn’t invest in developing that relationship. Many contractor employees whose responsibilities include sales also have other important roles. Whether it’s project management, estimating or even administrative needs, these all eat away at sales focus. It’s difficult to be impactful in sales when your attention is spread over so many areas. Once a project starts, the opportunity to work a strong sales effort diminishes.

Cultivating premium customers is the responsibility of those doing the selling. Putting the onus on the customer to be a premium client is a reverse rationale. A company that makes a conscious decision to invest in deep relationship development will see the loyalty and commitment it longs for from its customers.

Those who choose not to make that investment will battle the low-bid game going forward.

Tom Woodcock, president of seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached via his website,  www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com, or at (314) 775-9217.

City Immune from Construction Lawsuit after Pedestrian’s Fall off Retaining Wall

in Columns/Law
James R. Keller

Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals recently dismissed a pedestrian’s lawsuit against the City of Lee’s Summit, MO for serious injuries after his fall in 2017 from an unguarded retaining wall. The court held the city was immune from the lawsuit, even if its actions or inactions were negligent.

The case is State ex rel. City of Lee’s Summit v. Garrett, 568 S.W.3d 515 (Mo. Ct. App. 2019), decided February 13.

The city did not own or operate the property where the retaining wall was located. But it did issue the building permit for the retaining wall.

The plaintiff, Kurt Pycior, claimed that the city negligently inspected the wall or did not inspect it at all.

He also sued various corporations that designed and/or built in 2009 and 2010 the retaining wall and parking lot below the wall. The appellate court ruled Pycior’s lawsuit will continue in Circuit Court against them and potentially will be scheduled for an upcoming trial.

The wall was located between two differently elevated portions of a parking lot. The parking lot was at Summit Fair Shopping District within the city limits.

The City of Lee’s Summit had adopted portions of the International Building Code, more commonly known as IBC, as its governing regulation for design and construction of retaining walls. The IBC provides that “Guards are required at retaining walls over 30 inches above grade when walking surfaces are within 10 feet of the high side of the retaining wall.”

Many municipalities have adopted the IBC in their public contracts. It is widely accepted as a standard – if not the standard – in the construction industry.

The city required the corporate defendants, who remain in the lawsuit after this decision, to obtain building permits. The city’s agent, according to plaintiff’s allegations, either did not inspect at all or failed to inspect the project site and the design plans.

The city did collect the appropriate permit fees and issued the building permits, thereby allowing the corporate defendants to construct the retaining wall. Pycior claimed that the as-built retaining wall did not conform with the building code because it did not include a guard, fence or barrier.

Due to the City of Lee’s Summit’s alleged negligent inspection or lack thereof, the plaintiff sought recovery for his injuries including the award of punitive damages.

The city moved to dismiss, claiming sovereign immunity. The trial court denied this request. The city then sought a writ of prohibition in the Western District Court of Appeals.

A writ of this sort, if granted, prevents the trial court from what it decided and requires it to do something else, generally the opposite of whatever it did.

A lawsuit against a city requires the plaintiff to show enough to prove there is a viable lawsuit that survives a city’s typical immunity. Missouri’s courts have routinely held that sovereign immunity is not for the municipality to plead and prove.

Rather, it is for the plaintiff to allege and to show with specificity that there are facts that merit an exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity, simply stated, prevents a lawsuit against the city because it is a city.

Loosely speaking, the concept dates way back to the idea that the king and queen could do no wrong, thus they were above the law and thus above any lawsuit. A more modern American version, of course, is the expression, “You can’t sue city hall.”

But sovereign immunity is not absolute. The critical distinction is whether the city engaged in governmental functions or proprietary functions.

Governmental functions are performed for the common good of all. Proprietary functions are performed for the special benefit or profit of the municipality. They involve a municipality providing services or conveniences to its citizens.

The distinction can be elusive. This helps to explain why various plaintiffs over the years believe they have had a viable lawsuit against a city.

There have been many lawsuits before, some successful, and there surely will be many to come in the years ahead.

In this case, the plaintiff maintained that the City of Lee’s Summit engaged in a proprietary function when it negligently inspected or failed to inspect the retaining wall and then issued its building permit.

The city’s code and regulations required that it inspect the retaining wall to ensure safety and compliance with the city’s code and regulations, including the IBC. This duty was mandatory, according to the plaintiff’s allegations.

The opinion does not indicate anywhere that the retaining wall complied with the IBC. Yet, this was not the determining factor regarding the city’s liability.

The appellate court noted that governmental functions do not become proprietary functions merely because they generate a profit or in this case a fee for a construction permit. Instead, the court focused on the general nature of the activity being performed.

The court found this activity to be governmental in nature.

The appellate court stated that the city may have been negligent in its actions or its failure to act. This negligence may even have caused a breach of the city’s duty of care to enforce its building code.

From a legal point of view, however, this did not matter. The City of Lee’s Summit was carrying out its governmental functions by enforcing the building code. Therefore, the city is immune from this lawsuit. In fact, the court found that the city had an “absolute defense of sovereign immunity.”

The court of appeals ruled that the trial court erred in not granting the city’s initial motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The appellate court’s writ of prohibition is now permanent. The city is removed from the lawsuit.

James R. Keller is counsel with Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard P.C. where he concentrates his practice on construction law, complex business disputes, real estate and ADR. He also is an arbitrator and a mediator. Keller can be reached at (314) 446-4285 or jkeller@sandbergphoenix.com.

Phishing, Spear Phishing and Other Scams in the Digital Age

in Columns/Technology

By JOE BALSAROTTI

Joe Balsarotti

Gotta love the tech industry. We make up names for everything. The newest name to come to the forefront is spear phishing, since misspelling “fishing” makes it sound more futuristic, I guess.

Seriously, scams and outright theft in the digital world have become a sophisticated criminal enterprise. Whereas just a couple years ago, scammers would spam millions of email addresses hoping to reel in a handful of people, now thieves are researching companies, their staff, their suppliers and their customers in extremely targeted attempts to fool people into either giving up their user names and passwords or outright attempts to get money transferred.

Emails purporting to be from your bank, your brokerage, your suppliers or your clients –

recreated complete with company logos and fonts – claim there was a problem with their systems and all you need to do is reenter your credentials via a link they provide. That link takes you to a fake website, again, recreated to match the legitimate one down to the smallest detail. It’s a fake website just waiting like a spider for some person to let his or her guard down, just once, and enter personal info. Once it’s done, scammers quickly use those credentials to access the legitimate site and either spend the limit within seconds, redirecting shipments to a place of their choosing, or sit with the info for months – waiting for the right moment to take control of business dealings that can easily add up into six or even seven figures in a matter of hours. We’ve received warnings of targeted attacks from both our vendors and major clients. They’ve seen evidence of pinpointed attacks of even the smallest businesses.

Another common scam now is the thorough research of spear phishing, in which an email will show up in the inbox of an employee with authorization to transfer funds, supposedly from the boss’s boss, asking for money to be transferred to an account. Usually there is some supposed catastrophe or a “once in a lifetime” deal that will slip away if the money is not transferred immediately.

Luckily, any business with even basic security procedures in place should catch these attempts. After all, no money should ever be transferred to a new account without multiple cross-checks. However, once again, all these crooks have to do is catch the newbie – or someone having an off-day – and the money is gone. I know of two clients who have been targeted with these attempts. In both cases, a bank employee did not follow procedure. In one case the account number was mistyped, so what would have been a disaster was averted. In the other case, the bank involved had to make the client whole since the employee did not follow any of the verification procedures that were in place. Still, in both cases, there was a considerable amount of wasted time and a lot of stress that shouldn’t have befallen these businesses in the first place.

Besides educating staff about these threats, businesses that regularly transfer money should consider using a separate domain (and separate email addresses) that are not connected to the company’s everyday domain name when sending financial data and requests. Also, all emails that contain account numbers, usernames or other such information should be encrypted. Office 365 has this capability, as do several third-party services such as Bracket from Mailprotector. Also, no funds transfer should be initiated without a second type of verification. For example, if the initial request comes in via email, the verification should be by telephone.

The same applies to attempts to snatch employee data. Like the scam I outlined above, this time the scammers pose as someone needing to verify employment info or say they’re from the employee’s bank and are trying to troubleshoot why the employee’s direct deposit didn’t go through. Once these scammers get the SSN and/or bank account info, employees will be dealing with cleaning up identity theft. And if it gets traced back to the employer, look for the lawyers to circle. I had a relative who was scammed by the opposite version of this. She was contacted supposedly by her employer’s HR office to verify bank info for a direct deposit. The result? Scammers redirected her paycheck to their account. The employer’s failure to verify that it was indeed my relative who initiated the change – and failure on my relative’s part (as the employee) to hang up and independently call the HR department to verify the action – led to the success of this scam attempt.

As owners and managers of small businesses, we are very juicy targets to these scammers, who are usually overseas and have significant resources. Using information specific to a business owner, scammers try to find a soft target such as an employee who is distracted, new, not well-trained or just doesn’t follow procedures. Simple searches of company websites, press releases, LinkedIn and the like provides a treasure trove of information that these scammers can use. Fake emails, texts or voicemails ask the employee to transfer money to a supposed new bank account, pay a new vendor in advance to get a project moving or impersonate the identity of one of the business’s long-time vendors, which just so happened to have changed its remittance information today.

Joe Balsarotti is President of Software To Go and is a 40-year veteran of the computer industry, reaching back to the days of the Apple II. Keep up with tech by following him at Facebook.com/SoftwareToGo or on Twitter @softtogo      

Building a Legacy: The Vision Continues

in Perspective
Mike Chollet

Washington University in St. Louis has played a unique role my life. Though I was never registered there as a student, I spent a large part of my youth on its storied campus.

Our cover story in this issue features a transformative $280 million project called “Campus Next” which is focused on the east end of the Danforth Campus at Washington University. Growing up in University City, my family home was about five blocks from that area, but back then it was known as the Hilltop Campus. As a kid, I thought the Hilltop Campus moniker made a lot of sense given the elevation of the property and the steep hill which extended from the north side of the athletic complex down towards the old Channel 9 building and Forest Park Parkway. My siblings and I called that stretch of landscape “suicide hill” and it was our favorite destination for sledding. When we needed to thaw out between sledding runs, we found the perfect spot in the lower level laundry rooms of the married resident housing. Every Spring, our entire neighborhood crew looked forward to the annual Thurteen Carnival fundraisers. The rest of the year (assuming the statute of limitations for trespassing has run its course by now) I confess that we pretty much ran wild, exploring campus buildings, galleries, tunnels and engineering facilities. Those were much simpler times.

In my twenties, I found a more legitimate excuse to hang out on campus when I took a job as a manager of the Whittemore House, a wonderful old mansion built in 1912 on Forsyth Boulevard which serves as the faculty club for professors and staff of the University and the medical school. The five years I spent at Whittemore House ultimately laid the groundwork for what turned out to be a rewarding 30-year career in the hospitality industry. During my time there, I was privileged to meet many of the great people who helped make WashU what it is today and whose names now grace buildings across the campus.

In a roundabout way, I could even credit WashU for the existence of my two wonderful children, since the campus is where I met their mother Debbie. In the late 70s, she took a job waitressing at the faculty club to help finance her graduate studies in the engineering department. As she neared the completion of her degree, Debbie began her job search. Always one to aim high, she reached out to William Tao, one of those great people who helped to write the University’s story. Tao was a true giant in the local engineering community, a member of the Washington University governing board and, conveniently enough, a Whittemore House member.

Debbie likes to say that his written response to her resume, in which he thoughtfully provided suggestions for some other companies that she might consider, was the kindest rejection letter

she ever received. Soon after the letter arrived, Debbie was working a club party when she spotted Tao and his wife Anne and approached him to thank him for the letter. After a five-minute conversation, they agreed to meet again later that week to continue their discussion. Charmed by her intelligence and tenacity, Tao hired Debbie as his assistant. She worked for William Tao & Associates for more than eight years and in the process built a lifelong friendship that continues to this day.

Washington University has always been a dynamic part of the St. Louis landscape, and its reputation as one of the premier educational facilities in the world is a diamond in our city’s crown. Over the decades, the University’s visionary leadership has provided the St. Louis building community with a continuous supply of challenging and innovative projects and we look forward to continuing our role as documentarians of the University’s the next chapter. As for me, my sledding days may be over, but the WashU campus will always hold a special place in my heart.

A Good Story Well Told

in Columns/Perspective
Mike Chollet

St. Louis Construction News & Review was launched in 1969 as The Voice for the St. Louis Construction Industry, and the founding Publisher was adamant about his choice of the word “for” rather than “of” in that tagline. Nearly 50 years later, we are mindful of that subtle but very important difference. Our stated purpose is not to speak on your behalf, but rather to provide a voice for the local construction industry. We see our role as story teller – the stories themselves are yours and our goal is to document and share them.

Every year around this time, the St. Louis CNR team comes together to brainstorm and identify topics for the two or three “Industry Features” that will appear in each of the six issues scheduled for the upcoming year. As you can imagine, it’s a tricky assignment to look ahead, sometimes 14 months into the future, and land on a dozen or more stories that will be timely, relevant and interesting to our readers.

The “Building Features” you see in each issue are obviously more time-sensitive, subject to unexpected setbacks, projected completion dates and dependent on our ability to round up the industry contacts we need to help us tell the story accurately. Whether the topic is chosen 12 months or 12 days before we start writing, the truth is, setting up those interviews can be a struggle. The more players connected to a project, the more difficult it is to identify the right spokesperson for each entity and locate a window in their schedules for the interview.

When we can get it, access to a subcontractors list is optimal. Those lists give our writers perspective on the complexity of the project which improves the accuracy of their reporting and often adds dimension to the stories that might have been missed. Subs lists also make it more likely that we will get the attributions right. For the record, publishers hate running corrections. Not because it’s inconvenient, but because it means we didn’t get it right the first time. We are always grateful to the General Contractors who understand the value of a good story well told and support our commitment to getting it right by providing subcontractors lists for their projects.

Occasionally, our efforts to report on what’s happening in a particular segment of the industry are similarly thwarted by communication issues. In fact, we were forced to cancel an “Industry Feature” planned for this issue when significant efforts to arrange interviews with leading providers of the products and services we intended to cover failed. My optimistic evaluation is that everyone doing this particular line of work is swamped right now and too busy to talk to a reporter. Our team was disappointed about losing what we thought was an important story, but we also regret the lost opportunity to support those companies by featuring their work.

On the heels of this loss, our always-sunny editor, Kerry Smith, made what I think is an important observation. Kerry noted that most of the companies she called were not prepared to tell (or to help us tell) their stories. Without a designated media spokesperson or an understanding of the value of editorial coverage in their home market, opportunities were missed. If my hunch is right, and all the companies we called were buried in work, that’s fantastic, but the missed coverage still matters because it might have helped queue up projects for when the pipeline eventually slows down. The next time the phone rings, whether it’s St. Louis CNR or another publication calling, remember that your story is worth telling, and you can help make sure it is a good story well told.

Publisher’s Perspective

in Columns/Perspective
Mike Chollet

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein

The library has always been one of my favorite spots. As a lover of history and an avid reader, I believe I’ve probably learned more in the last 15 years than I managed to absorb in the previous 50 combined. Inversely, the older I get the more challenging it becomes to embrace change. Depending on how you interpret Einstein’s statement above, I could be headed for a zero-sum game, intellectually speaking.

History tells us that while mankind’s relationship with change is complicated, great things can happen when a society is willing to embrace new ways of doing things. In this issue of CNR, several feature stories highlight the connection between the construction industry and our city’s need to adapt and change. We hope you enjoy the issue and we invite you to reach out and share your own stories with me or with our editor, Kerry Smith. 

In this issue:

Prefab to Fast-Track Projects – The practice of pre-building large components before delivery to the jobsite is on the rise. Advantages include convenience cost-savings and one partial solution to the challenge of recruiting and retaining a qualified labor force.

Construction Management Programs in Higher Education – Colleges and universities are taking the bull by the horns to address the construction labor shortage, offering degreed and post graduate study programs in construction management, engineering and other programs. It is a forward-thinking trend that promises to be a great boon to our industry in coming years. 

Engineering to Withstand Modern Threats – Engineers are being put to the test as they face down the challenge of designing public buildings and schools that can withstand terrorist threats and the increasingly common occurrence of natural disasters.

Back to School – In the midst of an economic downturn that decimated the construction industry, we were encouraged to see funding continue for construction and expansion of colleges and universities. A successful $85 million bond referendum, passed in 2016, is providing funding for an extensive rework of Ladue High School.

Transforming Olin Library at Washington University – Sometimes, building projects are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. Read about the challenges Alberici Constructors faced in effecting “inverted vertical expansion” as this WU landmark was transformed; literally, from the ground up.

Mike Chollet

mike@stlouiscnr.com

Is Traditional Marketing Dead?

in Columns/Marketing

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Stephanie Woodcock

Cold calling is dead. The days of the “hard sell” are behind us. Thank goodness, right? However, this places the onus on the marketing departments to support sales even more and create a united front of messaging and brand positioning. Both departments need to work in tandem with each other with the new trend of “soft selling,” a trend that is here to stay.

If your company depends heavily on referral work and repeat business, you’ve been in business for a while and you have salespeople and project managers who possess years of relationships and experience in their field, chances are you are already employing the soft sales approach. How do we increase its effectiveness? We engage Marketing. Yes, you – Sales – will not get rid of us. You need us. The hard sell is going away, but we – Marketing – are here to stay.

Companies lose important sales opportunities when they don’t engage Marketing. They don’t understand this new relationship between marketing and sales. In the old way of hard sales, Sales could act more independently through cold calls, forceful sales letters and unsolicited pitches. The customer knows he or she is being sold to. There is no gray area. Marketing was able to act more independently as well, while employing more traditional, straightforward marketing techniques that didn’t need the salesperson’s collaboration.

The buyer persona is changing. Buyers are more aware, more informed, doing their own research online, choosing when they buy and preferring to order online with a few clicks on their keyboard or mobile device rather than picking up the phone.  Because this customer/sales dynamic is changing with a new, softer approach, Sales and Marketing need to work together to strategically find ways of informing customers rather than pressuring them.

This type of selling focuses on the relationship-building aspect of sales and finds less aggressive ways to show customers the solutions they need. Enter Marketing.

Marketing should support the sales effort with a brand image and message that delights and informs the customer. Useful and creative messaging that captures the customer’s interest and information is the key to growing your sales pipeline. While Sales engages customers, builds relationships and becomes trusted advisors, if Sales doesn’t have the brand, messaging and marketing expertise to back up this soft sell approach, Sales misses out on major low-hanging fruit opportunities.

It’s actually more than a soft sell approach. It is a creative and strategic partnership between Sales and Marketing that connects the customer base with the identity of the company.

Many undermine or dismiss marketing’s importance because it is more difficult to measure. I was recently asked, “Are print ads in industry magazines really worth it?” Why was I was asked this? Because it is difficult to measure results and the bottom-line value.

My answer is simple: If your customers are reading that magazine, if you want to position your company as a premier, experienced expert in your industry… then yes, they are worth it.  And guess what? You can measure an ad’s effectiveness.  While the main point of print ads, billboards, commercials and more are to position and elevate your brand, they can be measured through analytics. A customized website link can be printed on the ad that directs traffic from that ad to a monitored landing page.

Image is power. You are presenting an image of your company that helps support your sales effort.

Both traditional and non-traditional marketing techniques are needed to accomplish a cohesive strategy. The older, more traditional way of marketing will not properly reach those newer buying types and is being reinvented to remain relevant. Landing pages, digital marketing, analytics and SEO/SEM are all part of this reinvention. These non-traditional methods are becoming an integral piece of the marketing playbook. The key is for Sales and Marketing to develop a strategy that uses the best of both traditional and non-traditional marketing.

So how do we accomplish this? I sit down with marketing teams to discuss and create strategic approaches. How-to videos, white papers, social media engagement, search engine optimization, electronic newsletters, lunch n’ learns and digital engagement are just a few of the marketing tools my clients use to become the go-to source for their customers.

My clients also still use traditional marketing techniques such as print ads, billboards and press releases – but these traditional techniques have been

reinvented. Traditional marketing is not dead. It is reborn. Billboards call attention to creative website URLs to increase traffic and SEO on a mobile website. Press releases link to blogs and white papers on the company’s website. Print ads have call-to-action links to increase online engagement.

In softer, strategic sales, we shape the narrative. Because the soft sales approach relies on expertise and relationships, our marketing position plays an important role. More importance is placed on the marketing team to help facilitate the soft sales process. It’s no longer a transaction between a salesperson and a customer. The whole company’s image is becoming part of the transaction.  Website presence and traffic, search optimization, digital tools and electronic marketing are all essential in a comprehensive communication strategy. If the brand and message of Marketing isn’t in line with the values Sales is presenting, then the relationship with the customer – and the customer’s trust – is at risk.

How do you increase your marketing efforts and image? Each company and industry need a customized approach. The good news: There are so many tools in our arsenal now to make an impact. The bad news: Learning how to master each takes more skill and a team of people to facilitate.

I find that companies are still struggling to get sales and marketing departments on the same page. They each go their separate ways, as if their paths do not cross. Whether you know it or not, your paths cross. Your customers see what the marketing department sends out and then they see the salesperson. The two need to be unified in their approach. Get a good team of people, work on a strategy, solidify your identity and work together. Marketing and Sales need each other. It’s “’til death do us part.”

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Seal the Deal Too, a St. Louis-based marketing, creative & communications firm. She can be reached at stephanie@sealthedealtoo.com.

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