Bridging the construction marketing chasm (some thoughts about breakthroughs and incremental gains)

The Central Bank of Mozambique in Maputo under construction. Off the wall, far away . . . maybe this is where you can discover your marketing inspiration.

We like to think well of ourselves. And we sometimes (maybe often) dream of easy fixes and solutions. These two points express real challenges for construction marketing success.

First, I think we can only succeed if we start with a humble attitude. If we think we are great, we will be less likely to embrace radical changes in our approaches and outlook.

And if we are looking for quick and easy fixes, we are almost certain to be disappointed. “Miracle cures” of course exist, but the word “miracle” means you certainly can’t count on or expect it to work until it does. Certainly, some of have experienced epiphanies — “eureka” moments when we solve seemingly intractable problems and our lives are changed forever. But these genuine miracle moments only happen after much struggle and effort and energy. There’s a danger as well, after experiencing the epiphany, that we lose our humility because we’ve discovered “the answer”.

How do these observations impact our approaches to marketing in the AEC industry?

Can we overcome the reality of the long sales cycle?

Emergency work happens from time to time, but generally, it takes many months — even years — from project conception to purchase — and if it is a project of any scale, the work can take an equally long time to complete. This has advantages and disadvantages from a marketing and business development perspective. The advantages are that once you get the work, you have lots of time to prove your competence and maintain/expand and improve your relationships — putting yourself in the pipeline for more work.The disadvantage — especially if you are new to the market — is that it can be dauntingly difficult and expensive to break in and find your first opportunities.

Metrics are challenging when the sample size is small.

Some of us work for very large companies with many different projects. And others work in the retail/consumer markets for residential projects, where you can count dozens or hundreds of small accounts. Here, consumer-focused marketing based on statistical analysis and data crunching can certainly provide great advantages — but how do you apply these concepts when you are building $20 million schools and $50 million hospitals?

This makes it hard to apply some of the scientific and data-driven marketing approaches defining consumer products. (There are exceptions — for example, one large California architectural firm discovered a simple indication of whether a project should be “go” or “no go” by tracking how much unbilled time the practice’s key principals were spending on the work at the pre-bid stage, using the company’s time tracking systems. There was a direct correlation between principal time commitment and success — suggesting the somewhat obvious fact that if the business leadership is deeply committed to a project, it will more likely succeed than if it is just a throw-away effort.)

We need to learn, discover new things, and still have the discipline to persevere and carry on without much in the way of immediate gain.

Talk about a tough contradiction and this is one that really tests us. I discovered a way around the challenge as a young adult when I traversed Africa overland for eight months, and returned after the first trip to spend 18 months to experience the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. So in this context, I combined learning and discovering new things, and persevering — but that sort of adventure is really hard to sustain through our lives. (One thing I learned in my epiphany was that the type of adventuring I had done was great, but how would I sustain a stable family life if I continued travelling my entire life in the Third World?)

I wish I could wave a magic wand and suggest a solution to the chasm outlined in this post. The best answer I can offer suggests that outside of healthy changes and humility focused by crisis, we may all benefit from sabbaticals, time off, travel, and engagement in causes and interests which capture our passions. We’ll then persevere, learn the rules, and explore, and achieve the marketing breakthroughs we are seeking.

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