Mark Robert Halper

How would you rate yourself as a researcher of vital intelligence for your company? What do you read? To whom do you talk? How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the local economy? It has never been more important to constantly update your mental database with critical information. And it’s never been more important to apply this information-gathering to your marketing.

We all know that the marketing landscape has dramatically changed. What used to be a verdant meadow is now a near-barren desert. We also know that what used to work in many cases just doesn’t work anymore. Tactics such as direct mail, and newspaper and magazine advertising often don’t justify their expense. The bright spots in marketing involve belly-to-belly contact — or, put more politely, face-to-face relationship-building.

You Have Homework

Here’s my latest assignment for two marketing classes I’m teaching. Not every remodeler did every assignment, but all unearthed some gold nuggets to help them shape more effective marketing plans. They might also lead your marketing in a better, more relationship-driven direction.

1. Talk to clients. You may think you know why people buy from you, but how often do you really ask? This is not the same as doing post-project surveys to identify “raving fans.”

Explore the intake side of the curve. Call five clients who represent your ideal (due to finances, lifestyle, neighborhood, demographics, whatever). Capture, verbatim and in writing, their description of how they first learned about your company, how many other contractors they interviewed, and, ultimately, why they bought from you. Focus on the marketing and selling process — not how they felt about you after the job was over.

After you’ve accumulated these interviews, analyze them for patterns and similar emotions. Form your marketing outreach and your messages around what they tell you.

2. Make a list of all organizations to which you and your staff belong. Assess how active you are in each. Brainstorm with your staff whether other memberships might help the company expand its referral network, and how you can raise your visibility in these organizations without being obnoxious.

3. Explore feeders and strategic alliances. Feeders include folks such as real estate agents and interior designers, who may know of remodeling prospects before you do, and who could potentially refer a stream of them to you over time. Strategic alliances include allied businesses such as landscapers and cabinet showrooms that don’t do structural work.

Yes, their business is slow too, but that means you need more of them — and they can benefit from you cross-referring prospects to them. Make a list of complementary businesses and/or individuals with whom you are now allied. What have you done to market to them, to stay in touch, to say thanks? If you haven’t talked or met them for coffee or golf in the last month, get them on your calendar. Also brainstorm a list of allied professionals who don’t now refer to you but could. Contact them as soon as possible.

4. Gather intelligence on your competitors. Do what all big companies do (but few remodelers do): explore their websites, learn as much as you can about their services, their style, their messages.

Adventurous? Get someone (a spouse, a relative, a friend) to call your three to five main competitors pretending to be a prospect. Gather feedback on how they work, how much they charge for design, what kinds of testimonials they have. Ask them to mail some materials. Write up an analysis.

To go further, would your friend have the competitor come to their home and do a proposal and estimate? To some remodelers, this may not feel ethical. From my perspective, gathering intelligence is critical to keeping up with what the competition is doing.

None of this costs money, but the information you will unearth is invaluable.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;