Two recent blog posts outline how a couple of general contractors on the continent’s opposite ends share something vital in common: They have found effective ways to connect with potential clients long before projects are designed and bids are put up for quote.
South Bay Construction in the San Francisco area, for example, developed ballpark cost reference guides (in print and through mobile applications) that allow brokers, owners and others to gather quick numbers — without having to bother anyone else — when they are exploring early-stage ideas.
Meanwhile, Clark Construction in Lansing MI, has invested resources and cash in BIM software and knowledge to allow it to conduct “what if” tests at the earliest design stages — again facilitating decision-making and crucial “go, no go” decisions from developers and owners.
Neither of these services, in themselves, leads to much direct and immediate business. No one will select a general contractor simply because their estimator provided some free research support or they played around with an IPhone application downloaded free from the Internet. However, the difference is that the contractors have been able to put themselves in front-of-mind place among the people who are most likely to use their services.
I think a general contractor could achieve a powerful marketing advantage by combining the two strategies, though obviously with some care and qualification. Most GCs have pretty good ball-park measuring systems for their local markets; they need these simply to make the initial pursuit and estimating decisions (and to cross/check and validate detailed plans review and validation) — and they can check these numbers against published estimating and take-off report services. So “copying” South Bay Construction’s model in your own market area won’t be too hard (and perhaps offering a licensing fee for the application software will speed up your learning curve and save money in the long term.).
Meanwhile, Garry Myers at Clark Construction added a detail that I didn’t report in the interview yesterday. He said prices for design and BIM-planning software have declined significantly in the past couple of years. The costs are still significant — especially since you need to train yourself and others around you in how to use the systems — but they are no longer so high that only really big and well-capitalized contractors can justify the expense. Meyers has been using Beck Technology’s DProfiler software.
Of course, like anything, when “everyone” is on the trend, its value diminishes. Saying you can build to LEED standards is now more a necessity than a marketing advantage in the commercial space — the contractors and developers who have achieve true leading status in the environmental space have long-ago staked out their position.
However, from a marketing perspective, there can be a sweet spot, and I think I’ve discovered a few clues here since both Clark and South Bay Construction are regionally-focused contractors (though Clark is now reaching outside Michigan). Often the best ideas are developed in local markets, which can be adapted and replicated elsewhere. Of course, you need to be willing to stretch your comfort zone and (ideally) respectfully communicate with the idea-leaders — and of course others may decide to do the same adaptations as you. However, you certainly don’t need to reinvent the wheel to achieve construction marketing success.