Marketing

Selling Thru a Challenging Economy

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By TOM WOODCOCK

I’ve been around the sales block a few times in my life. I’ve seen trends and varying market conditions. I’ve gotta be honest: I’ve never before seen what’s taking place in the economy right now.

Many contractors are still thriving with the backlog they’ve established. Some are even having record years.

Don’t be fooled. When interest rates go up, construction slows. Period! Combine that increase with the inflationary aspect of building, and eventually you price out construction consumers – regardless of the size of the customer or project. This, my friends, is about to happen. I’ve been sounding a clarion cry to my consulting clients, and from the stage at every event I speak at. I think if most contractors are honest with themselves, they see it coming.

So how do you counter a potential slowdown in construction?

There really is only one answer: Sell. No, not your business. Sell your services. By expanding your customer base, you can counteract any slowdown that takes place in the market. This means getting out there with your existing customer base, protecting the volume you have with these clients to make sure it continues, while also hitting targets that are opportunities.

Here’s the challenge: You have to manage your current projects. Some of you may be at your wit’s end timewise to even take care of what you have now. I completely get that. The first order of business is to evaluate your time management and determine where you can find some additional time to increase your sales work. We all waste time. If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s just human nature. Finding three to four extra hours in the week can result in two sales calls. If that’s two more than you’re doing now, you’ve increased your sales effort.

The second course of action is to qualify the existing or target accounts you want to pursue. Which give you the most realistic bang for the buck in relation to your time spent? Next, determine the best way to connect with these individuals. Can you invite them out for lunch, meet them before an association meeting or catch them at a networking event? Any strategy that can help bring you face to face with these prospects is worth the time committed. That needs to be your goal, as most salespeople will rely on email or social media communication, which is lazy selling. The more personal contact you have with existing or potential clients, the more you’ll stand out from the pack. It’s a more time-consuming and expensive process, but well worth the investment of both.

Frequently when the economy tightens and construction slows, a common first reaction is to spend more on marketing. Though there may be a legitimate reason to increase that spend, if it’s not tied to a stronger sales effort it ends up wasted. Combine your sales and marketing strategies to have a significant impact on the marketplace. It’s more common to put money into a website than increase the amount of time a company puts into its sales effort. It’s the age-old mentality that your marketing sells for you. This is rare. Marketing can create interest, but it’s the sales work that lands the projects. Sales work isn’t always easy. There’s a lot of rejection, and often customers are hard to read. Understand that sales is a numbers game. The more people you’re in front of, the more you’ll succeed. It’s a basic sales formula that cannot be denied.

We are almost to pre-pandemic levels with respect to personal contact. People are meeting in person again and spending time together. Association attendance has increased significantly, and major events are back on. These contacts should be a part of your regular sales regimen. Begin to be creative in your approach. Learn your client’s tastes and preferences. Cater to those tastes in your sales work. Small things make a difference. Your customers will notice you took the time to understand them and their needs.

As the economy contracts, most forecasters are saying a recession is either upon us or imminent. Be prepared by setting your sales strategy. If you don’t know how that’s done, get help.

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.

How Construction Companies Can Protect Their Reputation in Times of Crisis

By TIM LEON

Tim Leon

In 2020, more than one in five workplace deaths occurred in the construction industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While your company may have great safety protocols in place, the fact is that accidents can still happen, and how you communicate with the public and employees in the wake of a tragic event can make or break your reputation.

Is your company prepared to handle the media inquiries that will come your way if an employee is seriously injured or killed on the job? What about if violence erupts at the workplace, or if a facility you built is found to have a structural problem that has harmed or could harm occupants?

With that in mind, here are the top things to know about communicating during a crisis.

It’s important for companies in the construction industry – builders, architects, engineers, electricians and others – to have in place a crisis public relations plan to help preserve your reputation as you navigate requests for information from media and the public. 

A PR plan allows an organized response during a chaotic time

When a crisis event occurs, obviously your first objective is to mitigate further injury or damage, making sure people are safe. Handling media requests will need to be a priority as well. That’s where having a solid crisis communications plan comes in handy. You will already know who the spokesperson(s) will be, and you’ll have guidance on constructing talking points. You’ll also know how you will notify your company’s various audiences: employees/families, media, business partners/sub-contractors, neighboring businesses or residents and government officials, as appropriate.

Having a pre-determined crisis team and communication plan in place will reduce the anxiety that comes with handling a stressful event and instead give you a better sense of control over the situation. 

“No Comment” can backfire

These days, a “no comment” response appears to the public as trying to hide something. It’s always best to be forthright and to do it in a brief, measured way.

If you decide not to face the TV cameras and microphones right away, you can instead release a statement to the media. This allows you to control your message and also satisfies reporters and editors eager to get a response of some kind for their story.

Failing to provide information can result in media coverage that is one-sided or inaccurate, putting your company in a bad light.

What to say

With integrity and honesty as your guides, find ways to communicate only the relevant information, with no speculation or extraneous details that can muddle the message. Don’t release figures unless you’re certain about the accuracy.

Draft talking points, rehearse them and stick to them. A PR professional can help develop the points and provide media training to prepare the spokesperson to handle unexpected or “trick” questions.  No matter the question, it’s important to return to the talking points as much as possible when responding.

Show empathy

Don’t be afraid to express sorrow or sadness about the loss of life or property. It’s important to carefully word media statements and talking points for interviews to show your humanity while also factually stating what has occurred.

Monitor social media

Thanks to social media, negative news can spread rapidly, often before the media even picks up on it. It only takes one person on the scene to Tweet or post about the event and the word is out. That’s why it’s important to actively monitor your social accounts and respond appropriately and with empathy. Again, as with the media, stick to the facts and keep it brief.

Micro-site for updates

For an ongoing or extended crisis, it can be helpful to create a micro-website to post regular updates. Direct reporters and the public to the site so they feel connected to the latest news.

Finally, keep the messaging consistent across all channels – media statements, talking points for interviews, press releases, social posts and websites. Frequent updates will help quell rumors and allow your side of the story to be told.

Having a crisis PR plan can considerably reduce the chances of a negative incident harming your company’s reputation. Instead, you’ll be able to minimize the impact of the crisis and protect your standing in the community as a builder of integrity.

Tim Leon is president of Geile/Leon Marketing Communications. He can be reached at tim@geileon.com.

What’s Your Strategic Marketing Plan in a Changing Economy?

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Stephanie Woodcock

The economy is a big topic lately. How does a changing economy affect small businesses and the St. Louis construction industry?

What do we do in an unsettled economy?

Get more sales.

Now more than ever, sales and marketing teams needs to be aligned. Marketing’s job is to provide qualified leads for the sales team. Sales’ job is to nurture those leads and convert them into sales. Companies with better sales and marketing alignment are 67 percent better at closing sales.

In times of economic uncertainty, we need to go back to the basics. First, we need to know and keep our customer base. Second, we need to maximize the efforts of marketing and sales to increase that customer base. Increasing our market share helps offset any reduced spending that can occur with our regular clients. The two teams need to be aligned to do this. How do you develop an effective marketing strategy in a changing economy?

Build your brand and go back to the basics. Here’s how:

#1 – Fortify your existing customer base.

It costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. 

In a downturn, the market can get more competitive, as everyone scrambles for market share. The weakest competitor will get desperate and undercut with price.

Knowing your customers and building up those relationships increases brand loyalty.

Create a customer advisory board. What better way to gain that knowledge than through your existing customers?

Use your salespeople. They are the frontline and know the customer. That knowledge is gold and should be maximized by marketing. Marketing teams should be interviewing salespeople and developing plans together on tactics and strategies to increase leads and sales.


#2 – Know how your customer is reaching you.

Part of knowing your customer better is knowing how your customer found you. Referrals, associations, supplier/ vendors, online searches, LinkedIn, website leads, email marketing – all are ways for customers to find you. Any lead that comes into a company through a marketing channel is considered an inbound lead.

For B2B companies, inbound leads are on the rise. Why? Buyers are getting more educated. They prefer to research a company independently because information is so easily accessible.

Knowing how they found us helps us know what marketing channels to continue to develop. Creating a better customer journey increases the overall brand experience and loyalty.

#3 –Build Better Brand Position

Every company has a brand position. Your customers are looking at your website to find out what that is. A good marketing team provides the best first impression and a proper “brand position” at a glance.

Because of the rising trend of inbound leads, leading B2B companies increasingly respond to intensifying global competition by putting customer centricity and experience at the heart of their strategy.

For example, Monsanto (now Bayer) transformed itself with an online platform from a supplier of seed and crop protection products to a productivity partner, providing advice on subjects ranging from product selection to sowing and harvest timing.

The company saw the trend of more educated buyers and decided to meet that need with more information about the overall market, creating a stronger brand position of being customer driven.

In the same way, we should be thinking about our brand position. Are our marketing channels portraying our brand position and meeting the needs of our future customers? Marketing is not just for the company’s benefit. It’s for the customer’s benefit.

#4 – Develop Buyer Personas for Ideal Customers 

A buyer persona is a target customer profile that describes an ideal customer – what their days are like, the challenges they face and how they make decisions.

Knowing what ideal customers need to make decisions helps us craft the best customer journey.

In B2B companies, we know the customer has a unique journey. Relationships go deeper, are long-term and usually have recurring sales. They also involve more individuals. Customization is more widespread in B2B than B2C. The stakes are higher in B2B deals. One customer could make or break a company.

It’s sales’ and marketing’s responsibility to predict and craft that journey to be as seamless as possible.

#5 – Treat Your Company Like a Publication

Because buyers consume more knowledge, we need to keep feeding them information. That means ramping up our content marketing. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. Write! Content marketing generates three times more leads than outbound marketing, with LinkedIn being used by 96 percent of all B2B content marketers.

Many people within their own company tend to assume others know what they know. It’s known as the “Knowledge Curse.” Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. This presents a problem when we want to share our knowledge with our customers. We can’t readily recreate the simple problem and solution.

The key to communicating with customers is finding out what they still don’t know about us and giving them those answers. The audience is everything. Many companies can create content, but it may not be meeting the needs of their target audience.

Simple communication sounds easy, but simple is not easy.

The magic in marketing is when you can pave that information highway with effective, simple communication to correct the information imbalance that can occur between people inside and outside a company.

Simple communication and breaking the knowledge curse is the key to building relationships that will endure through a changing economy.

It’s a simple formula. Build your brand + Back to the Basics = Better Marketing.

No one knows what you know. Let’s change that and get creative.

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Too Creative, a St. Louis-based marketing and creative design firm for businesses in the building industry. Contact her at Stephanie@toocreativestl.com or (314) 753-1148.

Material Delays Killing Sales? Hold On

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By TOM WOODCOCK

Tom Woodcock

Are material and equipment delays are killing your ability to secure projects and orders?

Who can do business in this climate? Is there an end in sight?

These are all very common questions in this construction sales environment. If you’ve followed my articles for any length of time, you’re well aware I’m not a fan of excuses. In 35 years of selling in the construction industry, I’ve determined the best companies see any negative influences on the market as opportunity. The conventional response is to complain and find blame. This is the easy position to take, eventually throwing up one’s hands and saying, “Oh, well.”

I’m currently hearing this reaction often.

Hold on a second. This might be a better situation than you think.

It’s no secret delays and pricing increases are all over the construction arena. Bids are only good for a week and pricing on materials may only be good for a day. Pricing escalation clauses are being incorporated into contracts. Project work is held up waiting for material or equipment. This can make it difficult to complete a project on time or on budget.

Yet from a sales standpoint, this is the best vehicle to close business! It takes some guts or a good firm approach, but you can secure projects and work by closing a bit more aggressively. I’m usually not a proponent of hard closing, but in this economy, it is actually a benefit to the customer. How? It’s very simple.

You are the expert in your industry or trade. Clients are counting on you to steer them in the right direction, of course couched in integrity. You see everyday what’s happening with material and supply availability as well as pricing. By informing customers that they need to pull the trigger quickly on deciding who their contractor is, you are saving them both time and money. The next step is to simply state you need to order material and supplies asap to avoid price increases or change orders. Say this in a fashion where it’s obvious you really mean it, because you do really mean it. And although I’m describing this as a sales technique, in reality it’s simply fact.

The tough part is that many contractors fear being this firm with their clients. They would rather leave information ambiguous instead of applying a little professional pressure. They fear this will push the customer away and they’ll not get the project.

In reality, it’s the opposite. A good close can secure the project with more immediacy. Trying to massage the customer in this climate is ineffective and somewhat of a disservice. Different market conditions often warrant a different approach. The construction market has been holding, but there’s a slowdown looming as interest rates increase and construction spending cools down. Securing projects now is critical to carry companies through any dip in the market. Throw in the challenging labor shortage, and you have a recipe for a significant market shift. We’ve seen it before, and it wasn’t pretty. It’s especially true with customers that reward you with recurring business. You have an even stronger platform with this type of client to apply a little extra closing pressure. You already have the client’s trust, so your client will more readily embrace your insistence to move quickly. They’ll understand you’re not crying wolf and are looking out for their best interests. It may even deepen the relationship to the point where things improve, and they still move on your direction.  The truth is, they need your guidance as they most likely aren’t acutely aware of the circumstances in your area of expertise.

Sales can be challenging, even in times when there’s an abundance of projects. The number-one buying motive is trust. This is a great time to either establish or increase this key deciding factor with your clients.

It’s not a half-bad idea to even roleplay this firmer closing technique within your own company. The more comfortable you are being firm with advising your customers, the easier it is for them to accept the premise. Not applying that pressure can increase the bleeding.

Instead of whining about the current pricing, availability and labor issues that exist, convert that into securing a higher percentage of your opportunities. A higher close rate always beats increase your estimating volume.

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.

Effective Digital Storytelling Must Be Compelling, Persuasive, Complete

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By CRAIG WORKMAN

Craig Workman

Storytelling is all the rage in today’s digital marketing world as organizations seek to connect quickly and often with their target audiences in deep and meaningful ways. But attention spans are short, so marketers and communications professionals now craft shorter and shorter stories loaded with keywords intended to find their way through the clutter of busy media platforms – with just enough information to generate a click, share, open, like, response or purchase.

Whether you are selling a product or service, making a point or giving a speech, you need to reinforce what you’ve got to say with a great story.  This means making it personal, emotional, truthful, valid and relevant to the audience for which it is intended to influence.  Great storytelling should be compelling, persuasive and memorable for your target audience, which means is also must be complete. 

Great storytelling takes more time and creativity to prepare and produce than barebones messaging, but the rewards are well worth your trouble. Consider the significant benefits of “earned media coverage” to the sales and marketing communications programs for any type of organization.

Earned media is achieved by first presenting a compelling idea for a news or feature story to a targeted news editor or key influencer, and then convincing that editor that your content has great news value for readers or viewers. The story idea can be built around the key marketing messages being advocated by the communicator and then creatively linked to the interests of the publication or digital media platform being pitched. This process often involves research, writing, preparation of background information and effective interpersonal communications with the editor or influencer to present a complete story. 

News releases are often the source that leads to your earned media successes. A well-written news release should provide all the basic information needed to stand on its own as a news story in the media outlets you are targeting. This information should announce the who, what, where, when, why and how of the news being publicized and include visuals, links to related information and keyword optimization.

A well-written news release should make an editor’s or influencer’s job easy, but all too often that is not the case in this digital marketing age. One trade journal editor I know told me that he receives an increasing number of news releases that are only one or two sentences long and do not provide any context or background to make the news more interesting to his readers. While such brevity has become the norm for achieving clicks, it does very little in advancing the reputation of the organization or individual behind the announcement.

Indeed, earning great publicity in today’s “tradigital” media is still one of the most highly sought-after results in the marketing mix of most organizations. News and feature coverage conveys very high levels of importance, credibility and accuracy for your brand or organization to a large and targeted audience. And it often leads to more earned coverage for your organization in the future. Great news publicity makes for equally great social media content for marketers to further optimize.

As the use of digital marketing channels and techniques evolves, many marketers are taking another look at the importance of good storytelling and reputation management in their marketing mix. One local marketing communications trade association recently announced that the featured speaker at its upcoming chapter event is an expert in news media relations and storytelling. The association says its members can benefit from learning and adding this effective storytelling strategy to their marketing plans.

As the storytelling style of your organization or brand evolves, remember that for stories to be more compelling and persuasive, you need to tell the whole story.

Craig Workman is president of Workman Communications Group, a St. Louis-based public relations and brand management agency that has served clients in the construction industry since 1996. He can be reached at craig@workman-company.com or (314) 640-9033.

The Rise of New Media: What ONE Thing Should Marketing Teams Be Focusing On?

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By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Stephanie Woodcock

This is a black and white industry. 

In a typical RFP, there are a slew of numbers. Percentages, fixed fees, hourly wages, rate schedules, exclusions and more. It’s as black and white as it gets. 

So, as I paint the picture of why content marketing is important to the bottom line, I’ll try to be as black and white as possible. 

Words matter. 

Every company owner wants more leads. But sadly, it’s not point A to point B anymore. Salesperson calls prospect. Converts prospect to buyer. Nope.

Buyers are savvier.  It’s marketing’s job to build trust, create demand and help fill the sales funnel. Trust is not black and white. 

Gone are the days where we can get traction from cold calling. Think about your own personal buying behavior. I hang up. I don’t have time for cold calls. But when I want to purchase something, I do make time. 

I take time to do the front-end work of researching and educating myself, so I don’t have to deal with the potential fallout of making a wrong decision based on slimy sales tactics. I would rather depend on my own research of a subject than someone who calls me randomly, selling me something. I also tend to trust companies that invest in content to educate me, the buyer. 

What becomes most important to my buying decision?

Content.

Trust sells.  Content marketing is the key to building that trust. This should be the number-one priority of every marketing team in this industry: increase content marketing. Buyer behaviors are changing.  Two-plus years of doing most everything digitally has changed the marketing landscape. People are online researching!

Some quick stats:

  • 70 percent of business buyers find content directly on the company’s website.
  • Content marketing was the most popular B2B marketing strategy in 2020.
  • B2B email marketing produces the highest ROI.
  • LinkedIn is the most effective platform for B2B lead generation.
  • 52 percent of B2B buyers say they’re “definitely” more likely to buy from a brand once they’ve read its content.

Because buyers and owners are self-educating and becoming more sophisticated, we must finetune our marketing strategy to be where they are looking.

This is called inbound marketing – creating content that someone will find through research, whether it be on your website, a LinkedIn blog post or in a magazine. 

Where are they looking?

  • Association & Industry Events
  • Expert Panels & Industry Resources
  • Online & Print Industry Magazines
  • LinkedIn
  • Email Inbox
  • Company Website

Anywhere that content can be seen, heard and shared is where your prospects are looking.

It goes beyond traditional marketing. Traditional marketing is direct mail, direct email, billboards, one-sheets, flyers and cold calls. They have one static message: “Buy from me. Here’s why.”

Content marketing is a long form answer that addresses customer pain points and provides solutions.  It’s white papers, blog posts, articles, press releases, videos and podcasts – where knowledge is centerstage.  It’s not “Buy from me. Here’s why.” It’s “Trust me. Here’s why.”

The best marketing teams are made up of in-house and outsourced marketing experts who know your industry. Our jobs should be to curate content from the experts and harness thought leadership and insight from team members across department and roles. Content marketing should not be relegated to those who have free time on their hands or solely to salespeople. A brand and its employees are the subject matter experts. The content creators are the content marketing experts.

Hiring an intern to post on your Facebook page is NOT going to suffice for your “content marketing plan.”

Content marketing should be present at all levels of an organization – from the company executives’ keynote speeches at an industry event, to a salesperson closing a sale by sharing a white paper or blog post article – it all seeks to inform, inspire and reassure target audiences that they are making the right choice. 

While it’s very possible to measure ROI of your content marketing plan, it also can be difficult and not nearly as black and white as we may like. 

Take paid LinkedIn ads as an example. A user will rarely click a paid ad and immediately convert on the landing page or website. The process may be more gradual.  More likely, a user will see a LinkedIn ad, research the company on Google later, read a blog or article and then later begin the buying process. That’s three to four different types of content marketing platforms. If we only measured the value of the LinkedIn ad by the click-through rate and leads generated, we would never run a paid social ad again.

Our target audience for content marketing is not finite and easy to predict. The goal of content marketing shouldn’t be focused only on known potential buyers, but rather on working to build a brand that informs future buyers on problems that they may or may not know they have.

An effective content marketing plan communicates expertise, longevity, flexibility and problem solving.  It’s not just about telling a story about history or years of service. It’s about instilling trust in a brand, conveying the DNA of that company, establishing credibility and educating for the future. It’s not black and white.  It brands the past and paints the future. In full color. 

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Too Creative, a St. Louis-based marketing and creative design firm for businesses in the building industry. Contact her at Stephanie@toocreativestl.com or (314) 753-1148.

The Market is Alive: Shake off the Rust and Get Back Out There

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By TOM WOODCOCK

Tom Woodcock

Well, I hate to say, “I told you so,” but I told you so.

The minute pandemic-related restrictions were beginning to be lifted, outside sales activity started picking up.

Zoom is fading. The desire to meet face to face is once again taking center stage. The new normal didn’t quite happen as predicted. Whoever said the handshake was going away obviously had no idea how business works, or he simply doesn’t know how people prefer to interact.

We are now coming back to the way it was. The big question is: Were you working your sales effort properly before the pandemic took center stage? The past two years have seen sales efforts deviate from tried-and-true methodology. People scrambled to find ways to stay connected to their customer base and often resorted to digital communication. Since so many took this route, a lot of sales individuals simply melded into the white noise of social media, video conferencing and electronic communication. The introverts amongst us loved it; they said, “It’s the way to go. We’ll never have to go to the office again and interact with other humans.”

Sorry, wrong.

The point is this: People want to interact with others. Psychologist after psychologist attests to this fact. Therefore, we need to structure our sales efforts and aggressively implement them. Time to go back to blocking and tackling, covering the basics.

The first step is to make sure your information gathering system is in place and up to date. This will help you in reaching out to potential targets and give you a home for the customer information you collect. The next step is to determine which organizations and associations you want to engage with. Remember, your first criterion in making this selection is the degree of customer involvement present in the group. Focus on customer-rich environments. People are heading back toward these organizations to restart the interaction process. Skipping this step can lengthen the amount of time it will take you to reengage with your customer pool.

The next step is to set your customer targets. These can be existing customers you need to retain or grow, or new targets who haven’t used your product or service in the past. The one thing I promise you is that you’ll see there’s been a personnel changeover in many of these firms. Also, keep in mind that a contact is a person, not a company. Relationships you’ve held onto during the shutdowns and restrictions should be the first face-to-face meetings you schedule. Make sure all is well with those who have hung in there with you. Then move on to the true development of sales. Set a high level of activity and see as many people as possible. Letting competitors get out ahead of you can result in lost opportunity. The floodgates are open. You need to shoot right out of the gate. This can create an initial advantage for you. The old adage; “You snooze, you lose” is a reality in this scenario.

The final step is to actually close the business. Our economy is all over the place currently, and legitimate sales opportunities need to be secured as quickly as possible. Between the financial and political landscapes, the level of uncertainty is increasing. This can slow down construction spending at any point. Nailing down projects you’re being presented now can go a long way in getting over any slowdown. The supply chain and raw material cost factors are real. They have significantly affected efficiency on construction projects. Using these factors as a closing strategy is actually a good idea during this period of time. You’re simply taking a factual situation and relaying it to the client. If the client waits on a project, it may not hit the client’s schedule or your client may end up paying higher prices due to escalating material costs. This is absolutely acceptable sales behavior.

The ultimate point: Now is go time. Don’t be lulled to sleep by the past two years of sales hibernation. Shake off the rust, clean the machine and blast off from the starting line. If you need a refresher, get out those old sales videos or books and hone your approach. True professional businesspeople understand the critical role sales plays in their businesses. It’s only the most important aspect of any business.

Why on earth would you wait on full implementation the minute it is possible? The market is alive.

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.

Field of Dreams: How to Showcase Your Company’s Best Assets Through Marketing

Stephanie Woodcock

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

At the time of this writing, I am stranded at a hotel near The University of Massachusetts Amherst for my son’s first college prospect baseball showcase. Our predicament is courtesy of “Henri” making landfall on the New England coast as a category one hurricane for the first time in 30 years. Though it was downgraded to a tropical storm, it was angsty enough to cancel our return flights to St. Louis. Not good. The showcase got moved from the campus’ pristine baseball fields to an upper gymnasium with no air circulation. The camp was reduced from 8 hours to 2.5 hours. The school tour was canceled. The only originally scheduled event was our free lunch at UMass’s “award winning dining hall.” What should have been a delightful campus stroll to lunch morphed into a gusty, mad dash through a torrential downpour. It was a no-frills, soaking wet showcase.  

Let’s not let this happen to you.     

When a company asks me, “What’s the best way to spend my marketing budget?” I say, “Create professional marketing assets that showcase your company’s talent, identity and culture.” I get really excited. “Let’s turn your work into art,” I add.  

“Why?” They react. “Don’t we want to sell, sell, sell? Print up a flyer about our services? Promote our great products with a blast?”  

While these things are important, “No,” I say, smiling. “Sit down. You’re making me nervous.”   

Then I explain how professional, well-executed marketing assets like video and photography can transform a company’s image and brand to showcase the best part of who and what they are. When done right, these marketing tools are elevated to art. They evoke a sense of something bigger than a sales vehicle, while still becoming the engine that drives your sales. 

It’s difficult to convey the culture of a company – the “who” behind the “what.” So much of our business comes through our relationships, longevity in the industry, reputation and referrals. It’s the nature of our industry. We network.  

So how do we extend those relationships in this digital age through our marketing efforts?  

In an age of endless Zoom, Microsoft Teams and digital influences – when everyone is grappling to be heard – production-value video and custom photography tell a deeper story.  These assets provide more long-term, greater traction than the traffic and buzz of today’s next big thing in digital marketing.

Photography and video should portray something intangible about the identity of the companies they showcase. They create brand voice, a major marketing component necessary before unleashing the salespeople with flyers and promotions.

In other words, when you’re inviting a client to come to your proverbial “campus,” we need to show them the green, well-groomed baseball fields before we drag them through the rain to the dining hall. We need to show them our culture and identity – why we are worth doing business with – before we get to the hot upper-level gym.    

I recently asked CEO of Solstice Productions, Amanda Aschinger, how important video is to our marketing. She gave a great answer: 

“There are some set standard expectations in the A/E/C (architecture, engineering and construction) world, such as on time, quality, safety and on budget. What makes one company a better fit for a given project often comes down to the people, the experience and the approach. Construction is a long, sometimes painful and expensive process. The ‘who’ of the team can greatly impact the ‘how.’ Aside from an in-depth in-person session, a well-crafted video is the best way for prospective customers and employees to experience the who and how of your team.” 

Aschinger adds, “Video is not a standalone solution. Like any marketing or sales tactic, it works best when used in a full strategy. All of the channels (social, email, web, trade show) can be made more effective when video plays a role.”  

She recommends a standard package of videos that every A/E/C company should have:

  • Company intro or overview 
  • Capabilities-specific videos (one for each) 
  • Market expertise-specific videos (one for each) 
  • Core values/culture – something that works very well for both business development and recruiting, and is really focused on your people 
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Aschinger also recommends highlighting key milestones as part of ongoing video campaigns. Adding a new division, targeting a new vertical, celebrating an anniversary, completing a high-profile or unique project and releasing a new product are all great times to use video to help communicate your wins.

The value of seeing and hearing a company’s faces and voices through video is more than a sales avenue. It is a way to portray a company’s true identity, culture and mission, beyond what we have to sell. In the relationship business, we don’t want to lead with sales slicks, fancy flyers or rock bottom deals. We want to lead with our voices. We want to show, not tell.

My dream clients are ones who need and want content creation. They want to figure out the best way to tell their story and convey their culture. Great marketing educates, energizes and engages. When a story is told right, customers get excited, too. They see the beauty of the campus, the “field of dreams” and can envision their own success. When a story is told right, customers see the company’s best assets and want to “go the distance.”

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

We’re Back in Circulation and Life is Opening Back Up. Now What?

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Tom Woodcock

Things are opening up and people are crawling out of their basements. Commerce is coming back to life. We’re beginning to see business after Covid. Even though the construction industry held strong through the various incarnations of lockdowns, business still was not quite as usual.

Now companies will need to reengage their sales strategies.

The big question is this: Exactly how do you accomplish that? The first step is to take a breath. Review what was effective prior to the pandemic and take the successful elements into consideration. Your outside sales effort will still be vital to ongoing success, especially if the market turns in any fashion. By meeting with customers face to face, you can gain a pulse of what’s trending.

The opening of associations and organizations is a good place to begin as you interact with your customer base. Attend consistently and be sure to focus on customer-rich groups. This will allow you to connect with a larger pool of clients and potential clients. Get to as many events as possible and maintain consistent involvement.

Frequenting proven networking groups and events can also reignite your sales mojo. Casual business functions provide the opportunity to be more relaxed and knock off some of the rust.

Oh, you will be rusty. For some, it has been a year since they’ve engaged with customers in any format that doesn’t include a computer screen. It is already becoming apparent that Zoom meetings will not be the differentiator. People who prefer these types of virtual meetings over traditional in-person sales work will be forced into more intense pricing situations and less development of true customer relationships.

Relationship growth is always the differentiator in sales. It increases the level of trust and creates a fertile environment for gaining critical information. Two crucial elements tilt the scales in your favor: 1) The opinion that sales work can now be done from the comfort of one’s home, which is misguided, and 2) That salespeople will be the drivers of businesses’ recovery, which is absolutely true.

As for crucial element number one, if we’re already seeing people taking sales appointments post-pandemic, it’s only a matter of time when those who don’t get out publicly will attract less attention.

I’ve witnessed multiple revolutionary sales trends over the years that eventually fade, and there is a return to the tried-and-true methodology of outside selling.

Covid dealt a severe blow to many in the sales realm. Some were forced to move in new directions, others are coming out of it hungry. Those with an appetite will be aggressive and leave those who are hesitant in the dust. Waiting to see what transpires may seem prudent, but this strategy could put you behind the frontrunners. Markets are a bit unpredictable at the time of this writing; the one thing that will be a constant is that the most active sales personnel will be those who bring the greatest results.

As for crucial element number two, as PPPs, unemployment compensation and backlogs fade, people will become more anxious to produce. Those with the responsibility of selling will need to be the drivers. New business will need to be secured, and there is a great deal of instability in the construction industry. The combination of escalating material costs with tight labor pools can compress opportunity. This will require an expansion of your customer base to cover fluctuations.

Clients who may have previously been consistent, recurring business may no longer be as reliable. Qualifying new customers and beginning the process of winning some of their projects will not happen overnight. Getting in front of them before the rest of the pack could give you an edge.

I feel the need to reiterate that I’m not trying to set a standard for anyone concerning their response to the pandemic. That is an individual choice. I’m simply pointing out what is already becoming apparent: The choice to engage with the customer base is going to prove effective in moving the sales bar. Not all customers will be ready to embrace the return to traditional sales work initially, but plenty are jumping at the chance to get out and reconnect.

The question is this: Are you ready?

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.

How Do I Work This Remote? Three Tips to Survive and Thrive in the Digital Marketing Era

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By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Stephanie Woodcock

As we continue embracing digital and virtual marketing strategies, the process can feel like getting a new television remote.  We are pressing the buttons and nothing is happening. This is infuriating. In my home, when someone moves the central Hub and the remote stops working, things get ugly fast. Tempers flare. Arms are raised in despair. Lots of finger pointing occurs. As the de facto IT director, I have to “realign” the Hub so that everything is “connected.” This is accomplished through an app on my phone.

Meanwhile, my husband throws up his hands and blames the device. My kids reject the prospect of watching TV altogether and play Xbox. The family is divided. Each to our separate rooms.

Funnily enough, the remote’s name is Harmony. 

A company’s digital marketing is like the Harmony remote. 

If the hub is not aligned properly and synced with the rest of the devices, all hell breaks loose. It’s normal to wonder how to get to this blissful state of alignment. How do we work this thing and keep it humming? How do we maximize its efficiency? How do we keep everyone in the same room? Marketing, sales, operations, accounting – all departments need to be on board with the digital marketing tools.

Social media, email campaigns, banner ads, search engine optimization, Pay Per Click, Search Engine Marketing. The list goes on and on. They are all different buttons available on a digital remote. 

Here are three tips to help you embrace and navigate virtual marketing:

  1. Make your website the hub of your digital marketing. All channels should be aligned to drive traffic to the website. If your lead generation is accomplished through an email marketing campaign of industry news, videos and feature projects, connect these emails to related content on your website. Your website is the gatekeeper to your digital marketing goals. When you get someone new on your website, you want him or her to have a good experience. You want your visitor to read a blog post, watch an explainer video and engage with the content. Use landing pages to enhance the experience and clear call-to-action buttons to encourage engagement. Half the battle is getting customers to your website. Don’t lose them there.
  •   Know your main digital marketing channels and use them wisely. Our marketing budget is a finite resource. In this digital world where options seem infinite, selecting the best channel can seem daunting. From guest blogging as an industry expert (content marketing) to running a drip marketing campaign through email (email marketing), the list of options is endless. Don’t try to do them all at once. Pick a few strategies that work best with your overall goals. To simplify, here are the six main buckets digital marketing channels fall into and a brief description of each:

1) Website/SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

2) Social media posts (building an audience organically)

3) Social media ads (getting clicks through sponsored content)

4) SEM/PPC (search engine marketing and Pay Per Click)

5) Email marketing (direct email campaigns)

6) Content marketing (guest blogging, article submissions, PR campaigns)

Each channel has pros and cons. What are your goals? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Do you want to drive traffic to your website or increase quote opportunities? Do you want to attract the best talent for employment, raise the profile of your company’s services, highlight industry awards or be an expert in your field with guest articles? Each goal requires a different channel and strategy. Some companies benefit most from Google ads, some from growing their social media presence organically and some from direct email campaigns to existing customers. The size of your company, ways you get business, lead generation goals and overall brand health are all factors to consider when laying out a strategy.

        3  Don’t ignore your brand. The word “brand” can be interchanged with “reputation.” How do your customers view your business? Acclaimed marketing guru Marty Neumeier says: “A brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.Branding is not a buzzword for marketers. It is the art of trying to steer your reputation in the right direction. My job as a marketing consultant consists mainly of reframing companies’ brands into an intentional brand versus an accidental brand. Then we create the best strategy to portray that intentionalbrandthrough specific channels.

A brand should be aligned with a digital marketing strategy. Virtual marketing is a brand (reputation) first and foremost. Before we start playing with all the buttons on the remote, we must create a strong visual with clear copy. By creating a true representation of our brand before implementing various digital marketing channels, we increase our chances of “alignment” and success.

It’s like that television show you want to watch with your family. The remote can be connected and the Hub aligned. But if what’s actually on the TV isn’t inspiring? In the same vein, if your customer doesn’t see strong visual with clear copy, he or she will just turn off the message. And we’ll all go to our separate rooms.

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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