Trust, relationships, metrics and construction marketing

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I’ve often repeated that the construction industry isn’t fair.  If your business is lucky (or more accurately, successful) enough to be in a place where you have well-respected clients who enjoy doing business with you, you don’t have to work too hard to find new business.  They’ll return for more, and with just a little encouragement (and often none) recommend their friends and colleagues.  If your great clients just happen to be leaders in their community/industry, these referrals carry even greater weight.  These principals apply even in the public sector where, in the purest situation, the lowest qualifying price “should” win the work.  Of course, many public agencies especially in the U.S. get around this restriction thanks to the Brooks Act which allows qualitative assessment to count more than price; or through other mechanisms including (to an outsider0 what appear to be unethical bid planning and rigging arrangements.  (These aren’t necessarily morally corrupt, though I suppose sometimes can be.)

I’ve also observed that a small number of architects, engineers and contractors handle things differently.  They don’t mind repeat and referral business, but go whole force with intensive and expensive marketing, spending a significant amount of their budget on advertising and business development.  The leads and business they find this way are much more expensive than from repeat and word-of-mouth, but they have much greater control of their business.  With careful monitoring and measuring, they know how close they are to their target business development and market conversion budget so, when the market slows down, they dial up their marketing enough to compensate.  These are the businesses which increase their advertising (successfully) during recessions.  They do well.  (If they are in the business-to-busines sor business-to-government area, they may increase their involvement and participation in relevant associations and networking groups rather than in conventional paid advertising.)

Now, perhaps you’ve arrived here looking for marketing answers to a start-up or distressed business.  In the first situation, you need to figure out what you can do to capitalize on relationships to build enough trust to get the critical early reputation.  In the latter you need to figure out what is wrong with your business, and fix it, quickly.  I will advocate that when you come down to the basics, your business is probably failing, from a marketing perspective at least, either in trust or relationships.  To solve these weaknesses, you need to dig down to the root cause of the problems.  (Obviously, if you deliver shoddy work, or don’t deliver the results your current clients expect, you aren’t going to go far in trust or relationship success!)

You may need to take some hard decisions including jettisoning employees — including long serving colleagues — who don’t care or connect with  clients.  You might need to look at your overall client experience and make some improvements.  Possibly a client-driven niche extension or expansion will help you offset declining market share in your original core niche; and possibly you need to shut down or spin off divisions or areas of your business which are draining far more energy and budget than they deserve.

Perhaps, also, you need to look at the way trust and relationships develop in the online space, and use the resources available to enhance and maintain these.  I’m impressed by how industry leaders ensure they now have Facebook pages and Linkedin.com groups associated with their organizations, and leaders within their companies write blogs and participate in Internet forums.  They also appreciate that trust and relationships are not short-term, flash-in-the-pan things, and that means you need sometimes to be able to take the heat and sometimes fall on your sword to correct or overcome problems and mistakes (clients rarely mind it if you make a mistake and accept responsibility, though of course you don’t deserve a second chance if you violate safety standards or conduct yourself unethically.)

This advice is simple:  Focus on your trust and relationships and measure your results.  These are the three keys to construction marketing success.

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