From file "032_R1_PSs" entitled "PWsummit.qxd" page 01
From file "032_R1_PSs" entitled "PWsummit.qxd" page 01

Every dealer I know is looking for an edge, a way they can grow their business and get more out of their marketing, particularly as we look ahead to a shaky 2007.

Recently, I uncovered some valuable lessons from two resources that will help any dealer ramp up its marketing efforts. First, a marketing survey conducted by ProSales and Baublitz Advertising revealed much about how dealers currently approach marketing. Second, I was fortunate to moderate a panel discussion, “Implementing Top-Notch Marketing Programs,” at the NLBMDA/ProSales Industry Summit, held Oct. 26–28 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Panelists Eileen Newman of Fidelity Capital, owner of Pro-Build Holdings; Geoff Brown of The Lumber Yard; and Bob Lucas of Contractor Express offered insights and practical advice.

These forward-thinking companies provided views that contrasted in many ways to the survey results, which revealed an industry lagging others on marketing efforts. And, though the panelists represent three very different organizations—one national, one regional, one local—all approach marketing using similar back-office processes.

Here is a five-step guide to planning and implementing a marketing program along with insights from the survey and the panelists.

Clockwise from left: Jim Groff moderates the “Implementing Top-Notch Marketing Programs” discussion with panelists Geoff Brown, Eileen Newman, and Bob Lucas.

1. Understand the market. While 33% of dealers surveyed said they have never engaged in formal research to gather market information, the panelists stressed the importance of gaining a richer understanding of customers and prospects, and each has developed ongoing methods for doing so. Brown, for example, reported that The Lumber Yard has created small groups of non-sales staff who go into the field to perform in-depth interviews with clients and prospects.

2. Align marketing strategies with business goals. Our expert panelists all make a conscious effort to clearly identify their organizational strengths and leverage those strengths to achieve stated business goals. Newman noted, for example, that a key strength of Pro-Build is the legacy of its individual brands. This recognized experience, and accompanying knowledge, are strengths Pro-Build will wisely seek to retain, even after re-branding as a new entity.

3. Differentiate yourself. Each panelist discussed the importance of separating yourself from the pack, using a short list of key differentiators as the platform for branding and marketing efforts. All three have gone well beyond just touting “service” as an attribute, quantifying traits such as speed to market, on-time delivery, absence of back orders, or national reach.

4. Develop and execute your plan. Dealers and panelists agree: An effective marketing plan combines high-tech tactics such as a Web site with high-touch relationship-building activities such as golf and stock car racing. Integration is the key; make sure every activity fulfills your brand promise.

Our panelists also placed a high value on turning staff into “brand ambassadors” through formal internal communications. As dealers pursue staff development/training to improve their performance in 2007 (the No. 1 survey response at 74%), it's critical that communicating your message to the market is part of the training agenda.

5. Evaluate the results. Measurement is crucial to knowing whether your marketing works and whether you're getting an adequate return on your investment. At the Summit, Lucas described how Contractor Express captures meaningful data linking sales and new customer acquisition directly to promotional efforts.

By contrast, dealers in our survey gave “customer feedback” as the preferred method for measuring effectiveness. Many companies seem scared of measuring due to fears of having to create intricate performance metrics. Start slowly. Set targets and track results, however limited your initial efforts may be.

The survey results underscore some glaring weaknesses in how dealers approach marketing. Fortunately, our panel provided an example of what can and should be done to market ourselves in tough times. In our industry, those who continually learn and evolve are those who succeed.

—Jim Groff is president of Baublitz Advertising, a marketing and advertising firm specializing in the construction industry. 717.854.3040.

Editor's Note: For more results from the marketing and branding survey, visit PROSALES Online.