Ed Lane, owner of Lane Homes and Remodeling in Richmond, Va., has his own community "ambassador" on staff.

"We knew there was tons of business out there that was going to other people," Lane says, "and much of this was because not enough people knew about us or what we do."

To get the word out, the company created a full-time "ambassador" position. The person is charged with telling the Lane story to, and building relationships with, selected groups of people, such as architects, builders, interior designers, and subcontractors -- "the centers of influence," as Lane calls them.

"We started meeting with architects to gather information and find out how we might be able to help them," says Lane. Some scoffed at cooperating with a design/build company they considered to be a competitor, but others saw potential value. "Their problems were poor estimating, and designing projects that were never built," says Lane. "We developed a system to review their plans, create a rough estimate, and make value-engineering suggestions -- all for a reasonable fee." Once the architect and client enter into a relationship with Lane, everyone understands the expectation that Lane will win the job and that it will not be offered to others to bid.

The Lane ambassador talks to dozens of companies in their identified centers of influence with the goal of creating win-win relationships that can refer business. The ambassador had discovered that each group had different problems, so Lane refined its message and its services to show how a strategic partnership could help both parties. "Sometimes, we give monetary gifts to those who send lots of leads," says Lane. "Other times, we simply do our best to send business back their way. Either way, these contacts know we appreciate their efforts."

Says Lane, "Our ambassador's job is not to sell projects, it's to build relationships. So we pay a straight salary from our marketing fund and look for people who are warm, outgoing, and self-motivated for the job. We're seeing results already and know that the potential is huge!" --Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Fulton, Md., (301) 490-5620, victoria@remodelersadvantage.com.