Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Sell the Benefit of Your Construction Services

Matt Handal, Trauner ConsultingFor this week’s Guest Post Friday, Musings gets some marketing advice from Matt Handal. Matt has spent the last decade successfully marketed real estate, architectural, engineering, and construction consulting services, helping firms realize tens of millions in fees from projects ranging from $500K to $2 Billion. He developed the industry’s first video podcast, Construction Netcast, which teaches professionals in the construction industry how to successfully manage and administer construction projects. In addition, Matt serves as Contributing Editor to Marketer magazine and is the co-author of the Marketing Handbook for the Design & Construction Professional. Furthermore, he hosts HelpEverybodyEveryday.com which is an open forum for A/E/C marketers to discuss emerging trends and topics.

I’ve never sold legal services. In general, my marketing experience is in selling engineering, architectural, construction, and real estate consulting services. But I have found that there are some universal truths in the world of business. One of those truths is that often we know exactly what we should be doing, but rarely do we ever actually do it.

Let me give you an example. We in the business (and especially the marketing) world are very enamored with ourselves. We just love to tell clients how great we are:

We’ve been in business for 30 years
We have 10 offices throughout the United States
We provide six highly integrated services
We were voted the “best place to work” three years in a row

There is only one problem. So What?

So, you have been in business for 30 years. If that’s important, I’ll just hire the firm that has 31 years under their belt. Yes, you have 10 offices, but my needs are here. I don’t care about the breadth of services you provide. I’m going to be honest, when I’m buying something I only care about me and what I want. I am not really impressed listening to you stroke your own ego.
I know you’ve heard this before. You have to speak to the clients needs. Everybody knows that. It is what we marketers refer to as “selling the benefit.” So why don’t the majority of firms do this very simple thing? One issue is fear. These are the bullet points you have been using for years. And if you stop using them, your business is going to fly out the window.

Another thing working against you is that you made a mental commitment to this way of pitching your services. And this internal commitment is very hard to break. It’s like that old pair of jeans you just can’t bring yourself to throw away. But the key to marketing success is being effective. Marketing success has never been about your comfort.

Plus, how do you know those old self-serving bullet points ever convinced someone to buy your services? Did you regularly ask your clients why they chose you over a competitor? Probably not. Most firms don’t ask clients this question, so you are not alone. The problem is, the firms that do understand what the client wants and exploits that knowledge has you at a disadvantage.

Let me give you an example from the construction world. A long time ago a group at the Army Corps of Engineers was assessing the merits of proposals submitted by three firms competing for one of their construction-related contracts. All three of these firms had worked for the ACOE in the past and the people who were evaluating the proposals had a solid understanding of each of the firm’s capabilities.

Often when you get down to a short list of firms, it is very hard to pick a clear winner. There is not always a clear distinction from one firm to the next. And in this case the proposals, having used ACOE’s standard form, were all pretty similar, except for one thing. One proposal ended with a single line that read as follows:

“We have never submitted a claim to the Army Corps of Engineers.”

There was some debate among the evaluators on whether by ending a proposal in this manner the firm had given themselves an unfair advantage or broken the rules. But the evaluators knew that, in fact, this firm had never submitted a claim to the ACOE and the other two had. Guess who got the job.

That firm separated themselves by simply selling the ACOE a benefit that the competition could not provide. They were less likely to submit a claim than the other two firms. You won’t always have a unique advantage to tout. But by understanding what the client wants and giving the client a clear understanding of what he/she would gain from making the choices you promote, you are creating a competitive advantage. This advantage sometimes simply exists because most firms neglect to “sell the benefit.”

And yes, you have to straddle the line between selling the benefit and being too presumptuous. You can often address this by being direct and explicitly asking the client. What are your objectives? How could your current provider have done things differently or better? What challenges do you see for this assignment? How would you define success in this endeavor?

Take a close look at how you sell your services and ask yourself, “So what?” Try to figure out the client’s need, determine what will influence their buying decision, and “sell the benefit” of hiring you. Try this, because more than likely that old pair of jeans is doing you more harm than good.

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6 Responses to Sell the Benefit of Your Construction Services

  1. I have often thought the tried and true in legal marketing had become staid and boring. The one that I see among firms in our area is something like “Over a hundred years of combined experience”. Well, maybe that sounds good to them, but it sounds a old as Ben Franklin to me. It is almost the antithesis of being in touch and on top of the game. But, that is my opinion.

  2. Thanks for the comment Chuck. Your input is always welcome. I agree. Your firm’s experience means less than what you can do to benefit the client. Reputation may get you the initial contact, but selling the benefit gets you the business in my opinion.

  3. Chuck,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve always found that “combined experience” sets off the BS detector. I think it would be better to say that we helped 100 people with your exact problem. That’s showing “social proof,” which is one of the key ways to influence a person’s decision.

  4. I read a story recently about the company Hermes that relates to the Chuck’s comment of not becoming irrelevant. Hermes was founded (over a hundred years ago”, a fact that is not what draws customers to their logo today. They began as harness makers and moved into custom saddlery. Now I am sure that there are people out there buying saddles but the business never recovered from Mr. Ford’s success. If they had not had the foresight to cross over into custom leather wear they would not be the iconic maker of ‘au couture that they are today.

    Beating your own drum or blowing your horn will only drown out the sound of your customer’s. By asking questions and listening to their answers you may just create a pleasing symphony and a lasting relationship with your customer.

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