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Professional Development Leads To Marketing Success

Thu September 08, 2005 - National Edition
Pete Sigmund



How can contractors and subcontractors better sell themselves to bring in more business?

Construction organizations have many profitable ideas on that all-important question.

Their suggestions during interviews with Construction Equipment Guide (CEG) ranged from using the Web more cleverly to becoming better known in their peer groups. Here are some of their ideas that may help you improve your bottom line.

Develop a Reputation

Interviewees emphasized the importance, as a mainstay for all marketing, of developing a reputation for professional expertise and quality work.

“Professional development, both for a company and its employees, is very important,” said David Mendes, senior director of communications and education of the American Subcontractors Association (ASA) in Alexandria, VA. “It helps differentiate a company from other companies, demonstrating you have a higher level of skills and knowledge to meet customer needs.”

Accent Professionalism in Proposals

“If your company is certified professionally by an organization such as the American Institute of Constructors, emphasize that and individual certifications on your staff in your proposals,” Mendes said. “This will help put you above competitors and shows you can do quality work.” (Further information on certification is available on www.constructorcertification.org.)

Mendes advises that you also focus on other strong points, accenting specialties in your firm’s work in recent years.

“For instance,” he said, “If you’ve installed watering wells at 40 locations in the last two years, describe that. Some competitors may not be able to do that type of work.”

Have a Good Web Site

Web sites are invaluable.

“We provide information from our Web site about the marketing products that we offer, and also direct people to other associations in the industry that are helpful, like the Society for Marketing Professional Services,” said Kathy Hoffman, director of contracts and construction marketing services at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) headquarters in Alexandria, VA. “We certainly encourage our members to have a good Web site presence that provides address, e-mail, and other information, encouraging people to contact them. If you don’t have a Web site, that might work in your disfavor.”

Said ASA’s Mendes: “The Web is a way for customers to find you. You can’t find all your potential customers so you want to be there when they’re looking for you. Our subcontractor and specialty trade contractor members really are using the Internet to research their customers and potential customers. We also offer a site [sublocator.com] so you can find any contractor in your trade.”

ASA offers a directory of articles and documents, including information on marketing and business development, for specialty trade contractors. This can be accessed on the Internet through www.contractorsknowledgenetwork.org.

Use Leads

Good salespeople learn to develop leads. Contractors, likewise, can get leads from associates, trade publications, even members of their family.

“Personal connections are probably the best kind if you’re bidding a private company,” Mendes said.

Services such as McGraw-Hill Construction, the Blue Book of Building and Construction and other directories from trade associations are also excellent sources

“Once you have a lead, you can send an introductory letter,” Mendes advised. “If you find someone trying to get your kind of contracting, there’s nothing at all wrong with sending a reference letter.”

Join Trade and Community Associations

“We strongly encourage contractors to be involved in associations where you encounter other companies that are doing the same thing you are,” said AGC’s Hoffman. “This networking is extremely important. We also encourage them to be involved in their communities, whether through fund-raising, health clubs or other organizations, and letting people know what company they are with. We believe in both community and national networking.”

Learn from Marketing Seminars

Construction organizations also sponsor numerous marketing seminars, which can provide invaluable marketing insights, and give excellent opportunities for networking with peers.

“About 100 of our members are on our National AGC Construction Marketing Committee, which helps us produce marketing products and seminars for our members,” said AGC’s Hoffman. “This is especially important because in the last few years many of our members are looking at new ways to promote their services. Particularly in design-bid-build, some are now considering approaching steps, such as delivery systems required to get the job, in a more-negotiated way. They are seeking information on how to look at their firms, examine their strengths, and market these strengths.”

Hoffman said AGC’s national convention next March will include five or six 90-minute marketing business development seminars “addressing hot marketing concerns in the industry.”

ASA similarly is sponsoring a forum on business development this month, aimed at educating subcontractors about improving relationships with customers and potential customers.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) in Milwaukee, WI, sponsored its own seminar for marketing personnel this past May, open to any industry professional working at a member company.

“The aim was to help them better understand how to market their products,” said Pat Monroe, AEM’s director of public relations. It also gave them the chance to network with their peers and discuss issues which are specific to the industry.”

Are Contractors Selling Themselves?

Interviewees said some companies are better than others at marketing their services.

“Some contractors could do a better job at communicating their services,” Hoffman said. “They could make more money if they tackled marketing much more seriously and took advantage of the things that AGC has put out there for them. Other companies are very good at marketing themselves.”

Said ASA’s Mendes: “Many contractors have very aggressive marketing, but there’s still room for improvement. There has been a huge increase in marketing activity by specialty trade contractors, with much more sophisticated marketing than in the past, but marketing is still terribly underutilized.”

Marketing CD ROM Available

AGC has produced an interactive CD-ROM marketing guide titled “Marketing Your Firm: A Proven Process for Contractors” with different sections tailored for different types of contractors. Including eight hours of materials, which can be downloaded, interviews, and even quizzes with feedback, this guide can be ordered through the e-store section of its Web site, www.agc.org, or through AGC’s Publications Dept. Cost is $249 for members and $375 for non-members. CEG