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Marketing

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.

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.

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.

Former Equipment Sales Eye Trends, Patent Technology to Serve New Markets

in Marketing
Stephanie Woodcock

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Chuck Justus, owner of Green2Go Rental Power & Light, a supplier of eco-friendly rental power and field lighting products, quotes Ford while explaining an industry that refuses to change. “On one hand, you have smaller rental houses that are mom and pops and don’t take chances, and on the other hand, you have large companies that are slow to change,” said Justus. “Because of the lack of innovation and this unwillingness to change, both sides are killing product evolution in the rental industry.”

Justus’ work experience helped him develop his patented technology. Years ago, he worked for a large company that manufactured equipment and saw engineers wringing their hands trying to find a solution when in 2015, a large portion of diesel engines in mobile applications were required to meet heightened emission standards. Contractors had to look in different directions for alternatives, according to Justus, which led to increased acquisition costs for generators and a longer learning curve for both technicians and end users. Power and lighting equipment were becoming more complex.

In 2016, Justus started Green2Go, an emerging supplier in the rental power industry in St. Louis. According to the founder, his products challenge the status quo and add innovation to an industry that had seen little innovation over the last fifteen years.

“I saw an opportunity I call ‘radically different’ and I took a chance,” said Justus, who cites St. Louis Art Fair as a client that uses his generators. “They were spending north of $50,000 in electric rental and installation for their festival. With my product, the were able to save 50 percent on electrical infrastructure.”

Keith Jackson, president and owner of 24/7 Onsite Cameras, also uses the words “radically different” when describing his mobile camera trailers. Jackson says there has always been security and there have always been cameras, but there hasn’t always been the ability to rent security mobile camera trailers.

“The concept of onsite security cameras is fairly new,” he said. “I took these two concepts – security and cameras – and customized them for jobsites. I made security trailers that were customized to be mobile and rentable because I saw the emerging market and need for this technology.”

There is a radically different mindset for renting versus owning security equipment, according to Jackson.

“You have to think about what can go wrong with a piece of equipment and how to meet the harsh demands of the environment. There is no rulebook,” he said. “You find a need and develop the product to fit the need, but if you’re going to rent it like we do, you have to industrialize it and be willing to invest the dollars in production and in owning that product for a long period.”

In addition to embracing and understanding the nuances of an emerging market, Jackson said he also pours much time and expertise into thinking through the manufacturing process. “For instance, when my mobile camera trailers travel, they have to have the capability of being lowered to a certain level so they can be transported by truck. From the industrial housings that store the electronics to the solar panels that make the product stand-alone, each production detail is customized to be ‘road rental ready,’” he said.

Jackson’s experience in the rental industry spans more than 25 years. When he launched 24/7 Onsite Cameras in 2010, Jackson says no one was renting mobile security trailers. “Few companies saw the need to have security on their jobsites,” he said. “Instead, they bought extra product to counteract the anticipated loss of supplies on a jobsite and hired security guards when necessary. Rental units never sleep, never take breaks or bribes, and have a photographic memory.”

Contractors today see beyond the benefit of security alone, according to Jackson. They can consolidate manpower, remotely oversee deliveries and contractors and reduce theft on their jobsites. Safety on jobsites is improving with onsite cameras, he says, because surveillance increases worker awareness. Mobile security trailers continue to change the jobsite culture.

The education process remains a big component of his long-term success, according to Jackson. Once contractors realize the return on their investment is beyond jobsite security, they become loyal customers. “But the industry is slow to change,” he said. “Hurdles in this emerging market are setting precedents with price and changing customer perceptions and expectations. Customers want to continue to do things the way they have always been done. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s too late. We are the least expensive first option and the most expensive last resort.”

Another business owner changing the culture of the jobsite and willing to invest in innovative equipment is Chase Darrah, owner of ChaseCo Equipment Rental & Sales. With four locations in the Midwest, Darrah started his rental company in 2004 after working in equipment sales for one of the largest Ditch Witch dealers in the world based out of Sullivan, MO.

In the 2000s, Darrah noticed the trend of contractors renting equipment rather than purchasing it.

“It made total sense to me,” Darrah said. “Why pay for the insurance, maintenance and taxes and have that fixed cost on a piece of equipment that you don’t use every day?”

At that time, Darrah also detected the need for a specialty equipment rental facility. “A great rental store does really well at managing the equipment from all aspects including purchasing, replacing, maintaining, servicing, delivering, inspecting and stocking,” he said. “The rental store isn’t in the building business or the manufacturing business. It is in the equipment business. On the flip side, many companies in these industries aren’t in the equipment business. It makes sense to sub the equipment needs out to the rental company,” he added.

Like his colleagues Jackson and Justus, Darrah saw an emerging market in renting advanced equipment that could change the landscape of jobsites. Every year the percentage of equipment that is rented versus purchased increases, according to Darrah. “I saw an unfulfilled need before other rental houses did, and I was willing to invest the dollars into my vision.” Like Justus, he faced a slow-to-change industry that favor adapting to new technology.

Darrah currently stocks Ditch Witch vacuum excavators (hydrovacs) in his rental fleet, trailer-mounted vacuums on steroids with high-powered water pressure systems commonly used in the directional boring field. This product, however, is in its infancy stage with so many unknown uses, Darrah says.  ChaseCo Rental was one of the first equipment rental companies to purchase these in the country, according to Darrah. “I knew we could present these to our existing customer base involved in directional boring, but I also knew we would have to educate our other customers in other markets for our rental revenue to increase. It has been a long road, but every year the demand is rising,” he said.

Darrah says uses for this product are plenty, but it takes a while to get customers on board. “We went through the same process with mini-excavators when we first opened,” he said. “Many of our customers were using full-size backhoes at that time and thought mini-excavators were a joke. But eventually, when they needed to rent an excavator, they began to see the many benefits that excavators provided over backhoes.”

Another commonality between the three innovators is their ability to gain traction from new, less traditional markets. Green2Go rents to event organizers.  24/7 Onsite Cameras rents to the oil and gas market, utilities, industrial and large contractors. Chase Rental Co. rents to large manufacturing plants.

Are You Losing Contact with Sales Humanity?

in Marketing
Tom Woodcock

By TOM WOODCOCK

The pressure to give in is immense.

Do everything electronically and save time. You’ll also cut costs. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Communicating by social media, email or text. Getting plans off FTP sites. Researching suppliers through their websites. Electronic deposits for payment (though for some reason, few “modernize” to this technique).

All of these make the need to meet face to face, or even voice to voice, obsolete. Nobody comes by the plan room anymore. iPads manage project information onsite and appointments are held via Skype. Attendance begins to drop at construction events and association meetings. Pretty soon, everything in construction will have an app.

I’m not an old fuddy-duddy, but I just don’t quite buy into the totality of complete, non-human communication. I’m the farthest thing from a computer geek and I still enjoy face-to-face contact with customers. I regularly speak to general contractors, subcontractors and their suppliers about getting personal again. They communicate a longing for the old days when you looked into someone’s eyes in a live situation, not through a computer screen. I find it interesting that purchasing products online during the holiday season has flatlined a bit. Isn’t it remarkable that so many people waited in line for a ridiculous amount of time to be first for Black Friday? Hmmm, seems people still like to physically go out and shop.

This really doesn’t surprise me in the least. It may sound simplistic, but people still prefer to do business with other people. Yes. Face to face, in meetings, working together. When you reduce your customer interaction to solely electronic sources, you lessen your own personal role in securing a project.

It’s easy to simply work through electronic communication and sit comfortably in our posture- supporting desk chair. This techno-generation finds avoiding personal contact preferable, not to mention do all our social interaction on Facebook or LinkedIn. Sheesh. Soon, we’ll just order our food online and have it delivered to our desk. Oh, you already do that? At least you won’t have to worry about sun poisoning.

The last time I looked, construction took place outside and around people. It amazes me how many contractors skip walk-throughs, client meetings or doing follow-up meetings on project completion. The more you eliminate customer contact, the more you make yourself exactly like your competitors. Why would anyone choose you or your firm over another if all the data came from each company electronically? You may think, “That’s what my customers want.” Well, my son wants cake for dinner every night, but I know it’s not the best thing for his health. How can you educate your customers on innovations, competitive differences or negative market practices if you’re not getting in front of them?

Accepting every electronic innovation that comes along is a bit irresponsible. Evaluate how effective the innovation is: Does it move you closer to the customer or further away? The closer you are to the customer, the more you’ll learn his/her needs, tendencies or preferences. Tweeting, posting or friending does not count as developing customer relationships. Tried and true sales tools such as the handshake, the smile and the thank-you are still alive and well. You cannot do any of these without being with the client.

I know you’re busy; having all this technology at your fingertips buys you more time. But that time is worthless if it comes at the cost of a lesser connection to your customer base. If no one visits plan rooms anymore, then I want to be the only one who does. If nobody delivers bids personally anymore, call me FTD. If you live by the price, you’ll die by the price. If Electrician A looks just like Electrician B, my choice will be made according to price. If GC A looks like GC B, who can build my building cheaper? It’s not very complex. For those of you who feel all of this is a waste of time and are convinced that 100 percent electronic communication is the wave of the future, please compete against my clients.

Once again, I’m not anti-technology. You should be getting email and project information on your phone, being active on business social networks and leveraging electronic marketing vehicles. These are simply no-brainers. However, they are merely support mechanisms, not primary communication tools. You are your primary communication tool. It’s much tougher for anyone to tell you “no” when looking into your eyes.

The one thing that this all takes is courage. So many people hide behind their keyboards and attack from cyberspace. I challenge you to buck the trends and keep the tradition of personal contact in your repertoire. It will truly make a significant difference if you stick with it. There are no quick fixes to a slow, fast or highly competitive economy. Yet by combining effective electronic tools with traditional human contact, you’ll have a greater level of success. As a matter of fact, I don’t just think it. I know it.

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.

Enacting a Construction Sales Process: Make Time for Sales to Have Sales

in Marketing/Sales

By TOM WOODCOCK

Contractors often must wear many hats – everything from estimating to project managing, vendor relations and, oh yeah, selling.

The selling part can often be an afterthought. The problem is that it needs forethought. Not allotting time and strategizing to sell can cripple a construction firm. Instead of trying to reshape an entire construction firm’s approach to sales, I often find it more effective to increase the level of efficiency and time usage. This is a process, but once enacted it produces opportunity.

My biggest challenge is to convey cause and effect, as many contractors tend to be a point A to point B types of thinkers. Sales rarely flows in that fashion. But if you practice the basics efficiently and consistently, results follow. The first step is to allot a percentage of time consistently to selling. This will require looking honestly at the amount of time you currently commit and what you can realistically designate for sales. Whether it’s a percentage of time or actual hours, start where you are, increase that number a bit and stick to it. A weekly total is most desirable.

The next level is to determine what to do with that time. What will get you the most bang for the buck? What actions will get you in front of more clients and potential customers? What is the quality of that contact time? This may sound daunting, but if you put a little effort into it, you’ll save time in the future.

Analyze which associations are most effective in generating opportunity. Which of the events you normally attend produce leads and relationships? Of the current relationships you have, which afford quality business opportunities? Invest time in these areas and reduce time in those that are nonproductive. Remember, you’re busy and you have other responsibilities. Sacrifice the more hit-or-miss opportunities that are out there. On a side note, make sure those other responsibilities are worth sacrificing any type of sales time to at all.

After you have time allotment laid out and know where you’re going to get in front of people, you need some preliminary marketing. The quickest, least expensive option is electronic marketing. But even in this realm, you still need to use your time efficiently. Hitting every aspect of social media can be alluring and trendy; however, realistically investing quality time into one avenue is best. Becoming consistently active on LinkedIn by joining the proper customer groups, connecting with industry professionals and searching for high-caliber networking functions should suffice – at least as far as social networking goes. Tie that activity to a monthly electronic newsletter properly designed and produced, and you have an effective platform.

Now you’re set to implement. Ah, there’s the rub. It’s far easier to get a company to strategize its approach and another to get it to diligently implement the plan. Even though we’re being respectful of all the other responsibilities that professionals have, still, many tend to put sales on the back burner. Effort cannot be structured into a strategy. It either exists or doesn’t.

Practicing efficient sales time usage will help with your corporate sales results, but true dedication to your firm’s sales dynamic always produces. Efficiency is effective, and yet a high level of time committed to a sales effort trumps efficiency – even if it’s not as effectively managed as a smaller, tighter effort.

There’s a principle in sales that holds true: If you’re out amongst people more, you’ll discover more opportunity. Projects come from unique leads, and introductions can be made to stronger network contacts. Creativity can be invoked in the sales approach, resulting in greater attention or differentiation. This larger type of time commitment is very rare in the construction industry. It’s usually inherent within larger contractors whose firms can afford specific business development and marketing personnel.

The final stage in this process is to continually evaluate what is producing the best results. Adjust your time commitment to those areas and expand their impact. Take actions producing good results and develop them into producing even greater success. Discontinue actions that are not producing sales opportunity, and you now have a formula for growing greater results. Of course, your efforts will eventually hit an artificial ceiling in terms of how much time you’re able to allot. The decision at that point will be to 1) stay put and maintain your new status quo, or 2) adjust the level of time your company commits to sales work. This is a good problem to have. It’s one that takes companies to the next level in revenue and profitability.

Construction is a hands-on industry. It’s filled with individuals who take complex plans and turn them into projects. Sales can be a foreign concept that is too often practiced on an as-needed basis. If the same amount of planning goes into a sales approach, quality results should be the expectation. The efficient usage of time relevant to sales can solidify a revenue base, not to mention increase overall profits. The old adage “time is money” must’ve been coined by a sales individual…if you consider Benjamin Franklin a sales rep.

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.

Relationship is to Sales what Messaging is to Marketing

in Marketing
Stephanie Woodcock

Good salespeople know the importance of relationships to sales and long-term success. Good marketers know the importance of messaging and the brand that supports that message.

There is a reason it’s called marketing and sales. They are two different things.  Marketing needs to create a message Sales believes in. Sales needs to help convey the message that is reflected in Marketing. In addition, Sales should also share input as to what the marketing message is, so that he can reinforce the message. Each department needs buy-in and the sharing of internal marketing needs to occur to get companywide buy-in. When the system is working correctly, Marketing generates leads and Sales follows up and closes.

With a cohesive email marketing campaign and marketing automation tools, B2B (business-to-business) companies can close the gap between marketing and sales by consistently nurturing prospects with helpful content and creative, concise branding. Buyer behaviors are changing. B2B marketers must communicate with buyers in new ways and create content marketing that answers questions, provides market insight and is personalized to the customer’s role, needs and level of interest.

One major change is that buyers do more research on their own. They investigate solutions on their own and discuss with peers before engaging vendor sales reps. Sales cycles start with the email campaign of the marketing department, and the message is key. The marketing team is tasked with developing a message and content that educates while it sells.

Too many times, marketers use existing content to power lead-nurturing campaigns but find that the content consists mainly of product brochures, technical white papers and press releases. Pushing this kind of technical content that does not have an underlying message pushes prospective clients away. Buyers have a low tolerance for commercial messages that sell first. The key is to engage buyers with a creative, cohesive message before selling your wares.

Marketers need to create a relationship, just like sales, between their brand and the leads they want to nurture. They need to create email campaigns that entice clients to open and click through for more information. New, educational content for these marketing campaigns can be culled through resources within the company. Sales, engineers, estimators and customer service personnel can add valuable, raw content for marketing to craft into a cohesive message.

Once the brand and message has been established, sales can use this as a starting point, engage these nurtured leads and continue the relationship and sales cycle.  One needs the other. Neither Sales nor Marketing should be operating alone. When married, the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” When Marketing and Sales are working toward the same goal, that synergy drives motivation, company culture and sales. It also increases more than the bottom line. It creates a culture of customer service, client relationship and client loyalty.

The marriage of both departments proves that while every company needs sales to drive revenue, they need marketing, too.

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.

Let’s Get Married! How Sales & Marketing Should Operate Together

in Marketing
Stephanie Woodcock

When meeting with clients, one important topic is how we, as a marketing team, plan to drive sales, engage the sales team and better measure our efforts. How do we marry sales and marketing? How do we create a long-lasting, meaningful relationship between the two departments that not only increases sales but also engages the company’s internal resources?

In many companies, the sales and marketing departments are still only dating and haven’t fully committed to each other.

Here’s a sample scenario: Sales pops into Marketing’s office unannounced and asks (pleads):

  • Do you have a flyer for this product?
  • Can you create some brochures for this trade show?
  • Can you work up a PowerPoint presentation for a new client meeting that I have tomorrow?
  • I need 25 of those polo shirts you ordered, like now.

Many times, these unexpected but welcome requests are time-sensitive, top priorities. Marketing rises from her desk and scrambles around trying to make Sales happy. They put aside their long-term projects and quickly (but lovingly and willingly) try to put a sales package together that doesn’t look like it was assembled five minutes ago. There is no real cohesion, strategy or underlying message between Sales and Marketing. They haven’t said their vows yet.

Another scenario that occurs is when Sales and Marketing haven’t even met yet and they are still going about their business as singles, with no inkling that they need each other. This is actually worse than the former scenario because there is no marketing message to support the sales effort. Sales is on its own, using material that he generated on his own, and he is basically relying on his skill, talent and likeability to generate business.

We love you, Sales. We love your passion, your tenacity and your ideas. We want you knocking down our door to get our marketing materials. We want to meet your needs and help you “bring home the bacon.” But in order to truly meet those needs, we need a plan. We need you to “put a ring on it” and together we need to commit to a long-term marketing message and strategy. Then we need you to help make it happen. We cannot do it without you.

Five Must-Haves to Make Your Good Website into a Great Website

in Marketing
Stephanie Woodcock

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Before we start with the list of must-haves for a good website, let me preface that first and foremost a website should be responsive and mobile friendly. Studies show that more than 50 percent of all websites and emails are opened on mobile devices; if your website is not responsive and mobile-friendly, stop reading now and find a web designer.

The next five points do not matter until you have a responsive site that people can read on their mobile devices. Take a look at your website using your smartphone. If the street address or services or pictures are illegible or too small, chances are it’s not mobile-friendly. You should not have to place your forefinger and thumb on the screen to enlarge the street address. A responsive site organizes the information on your website to best fit whatever screen on which it is displaying – desktop, smartphone or iPad.

Now we can begin. Here are five must-haves for a good, if not great, website:

1 – Multiple methods of contact easily visible and located in the expected places.

Potential customers are on your website – hooray – and obviously the next step is that you’d like to connect with them. Make this as simple for them as possible by making your phone number, address (linked and coded to map/directions) and email address easy to find. These items are standard in the footer and/or headers of a website, and this is where people will look for them, in addition to the “contact us” page of your website.

2 – Clear, concise content.

No one knows your industry like you. Now that I’ve landed on your website, please don’t bury me in industry jargon and terminology that I don’t understand. Your home page should be informative, concise and user-friendly. It should not be like reading IKEA directions (sorry, IKEA). You should be using layman terms to simply describe your product and services so that people feel like they can call you and have a conversation with you on their terms. Customers are not impressed by your wealth of knowledge and expertise in the field. They just want you to back up your work. They want to understand the gist of how you can help them and make their lives easier. Don’t be the hero in the story of what you do. Let your customers be the hero and you the guide.

3 – Unique, fresh content.

This is for all you Google-happy folks out there. Google crawls your page when new content is uploaded, hence the popularity of blogs on business websites. And Google is grading your content. Pencils down: Do your meta tags and keywords match your content? Is your content borrowed from another similar website? (That’s a big no-no.) Has your content been updated within the past 90 days? These three things heavily affect your search rankings. While many B2B companies in the construction industry don’t necessarily get their customers from Google searches, it is still important to remember and consider. Google is a giant with which to be reckoned. In order to play nice with Google, you need to have fresh, relevant content for your industry. A post once a month related to your services is a great place to start; this can easily be uploaded by office staff on the back end of a website built on a CMS (content management system) platform.

4 – Appropriate use of color and images.

I have seen many websites that look like a cookie cutter website with a logo attached. This is not a brand. This is a sad excuse for a website. Where is your identity? For what does your company stand? A branded website with strong sense of style, imagery and color helps set you apart from the competition and supports your sales effort by evoking a professional, signature brand. You don’t want to be known as the generic company that’s been around for a long time with that great salesperson. You want to be known for your brand. A brand can do a lot of things. It can make you look bigger than what you are. It can attract the right kind of customers. It can support a sales push. It can enhance work ethic of your company’s culture. A brand is so much more than looks, and it starts with your website. More so today than ever, a digital identity is crucial for brand success.

Lastly, and most importantly:

5 – A call to action.

You have a potential customer on your website! Now what? What do you want him or her to do next? Customers do not take action until they are challenged to take action. Unless we are bold in our calls to action, we will be ignored. We assume that we want them to buy from us, but that’s not correct. Customers have to be pushed into action. There is power in clarity. Make sure your site flows in a way that leads them to the action you want them to take, whether that is simply to learn more about your business or to pick up the phone and call you. Do you believe in your product? Customers aren’t looking for brands that are filled with doubt. They are looking for brands that have solutions to their problems. There are two kinds of calls to action: a direct call to action and a transitional call to action. For a good example of a direct call to action, go to the website of your favorite pizza chain. On the front page there is a call to action to get you to place an order such as pictures of delicious (albeit greasy) pizza. You’ll likely also find easy-to-click “order now” buttons. It will push you through the order, guide you step by step and try to upsell you soda and garlic bread.

As a brand, it’s our job to pursue our customers in a very similar fashion. We are the ones who need to take the initiative. Be bold and be direct when it comes to your website. State your purpose, have direction, include plenty of call to action buttons and methods to reach you, and support this clear messaging with a strong brand, logo, colors, imagery and easy navigation.

A good website can make or break a company. Let’s make yours.

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.

Help Customers Learn How to Buy From You: Let Them Play the Hero

in Columns/Marketing/Sales
Stephanie Woodcock

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

When a company decides to amp up its marketing, the natural tendency is to tell everyone how great it is. We assume that if we make the marketing good enough and explain better than our competitors how great we are, our prospects will come running to buy our services and confirm our greatness.

I meet many talented professionals who work for trusted, experienced and longstanding companies. Immediately when I ask them about what they want to tell their customers, they come up with a list of comparisons. “Well, we do this and they don’t do that. We’re the best at this or that, we do this faster, they don’t have this software,” etc. Some just come out and say they are the lowest priced and that’s their selling point. I’ve seen quite a few companies even insist on putting these bullet points on the back of their business cards, lest we forget. (Please don’t do that.)

How do we get more business? The default is to tell the customer base what it is missing. This is especially the case if said company has been doing this for a long time. Company personnel state, “Well we’ve been in business for X number of years. We’re a family-owned business. We don’t gouge our customers. We strive for customer satisfaction. We have the best people.” While all this may be true, it is not where you start with your marketing plan; this becomes white noise in the world of marketing.

The harsh reality is that customers don’t really care about your business beyond how it can help them. How do your business offerings solve a problem and make life better for your clients? These are the questions we should be asking in strategic marketing planning sessions. How can we make the customer the hero, someone who is admired for great acts or fine qualities? What qualities about our customers do we want to highlight? What do we do that could make our customers’ acts great?

It’s a shift in messaging. But, when companies do it right, it’s powerful messaging that cuts through the rest of the “look at me” marketing. Our brand will grow when we define a desire for our customers. People want to hear about themselves, not about inanimate objects such as services, software or years in business. They want a story, and they want to be at the center of it. Great marketing tells a story and places the customer squarely in the middle of that story.

Have you ever been told, “Wow, that person is a great conversationalist”? Have you ever left a meet-and-greet thinking, “Wow, I really liked that person. I enjoyed that conversation.” That’s usually because that person asked a lot of questions about YOU.  You probably did most of the talking (no offense). You felt needed and heard. You got to talk about yourself, and you were listened to. Shocking, right?

The same interpersonal skills can be applied to a company’s marketing strategy.  We want our customers to feel needed and heard. We want them to want to come back –not because they are convinced that we are the best due to our fantastic marketing efforts (“We are the best! We are the best!”), but because of how we framed our branding message to help them understand the needs they have and the solutions we can provide.

One of my client’s main marketing objectives was to increase online sales and get customers set up with unique online profiles. This required a couple of steps and a learning process. Rather than telling customers how great the system was (“You must join, even if you aren’t a techie! You have to figure it out and join. Look what you are missing!), we created a digital assistant who both entertains and guides. We named her, gave her a personality and brand and set up contests. But most importantly, we found a way to find a need the customer had and kindly guided him/her through a process to fill that need. In essence, we showed people how some needs they had could be filled and solved by following these simple steps. Once a customer set himself/herself up with a unique online profile, he/she realized how convenient and quick the system was for ordering, checking inventory and more. We made the customer’s acts great by saving him/her time and hassle. Thus, the customer became the hero. He/she conquered his/her digital fears, completed his/her tasks, and had extra time for other parts of his/her job.

In any good story there is a hero, a villain and a guide. In business, the villain is the problem our customers face. Rather than our being the hero who swoops in and delivers a great product or service, let’s let our customers be the heroes who use us as the guide to a solution. We still have a great product and service. Rather than singing praises to the product’s or service’s greatness and longevity, let’s frame these great products and services in a way that helps the market understand a need and a solution. As a guide we can shed light on a new way of doing things that could make the lives of our customers easier and more enjoyable. Rather than trying to be admired through our marketing efforts, let’s try to shine the light on those who keep us in business.

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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