As a founder of a twice-named Inc. 500 fastest-growing, privately-held firm and researcher and consultant to the A/E/P and environmental industry for many years, I learned long ago that one path to being more successful than your competitors is to outspend them in marketing. Yet, it seems like whenever I suggest this in a talk or a consulting session, someone inevitably points out that it has to be spent wisely. While I think that attitude usually results in a marketing budget that’s less than it should be, recent experience trying to hire an environmental firm points out there may be some validity to this point of view. A few weeks ago, I needed an asbestos abatement firm for a small project I’m doing. I did some Internet research on who is doing similar projects here in my area and turned up the name of a firm. I then got on their web site and filled out an electronic contact form and asked them to get in touch with me. I felt for sure I’d be called by someone from this company in the next day or two, but guess what? A week went by and no one ever contacted me. As I really needed the services of a company like this, I got back on their site and found the phone number of their local office. I called it and asked for the person responsible for asbestos abatement projects. I was given a name by the receptionist of a fellow who wasn’t in that day. So I asked for his voice mail and left a message telling him I had a need for their services and would appreciate a call back. More days passed with no response. So I called another time on a different day and was put on hold for so long, I eventually hung up in frustration. I don’t know why I have to keep telling stories like this. You would think by now that everyone in our business could see that this kind of stuff should never happen. Yet it still does! All the marketing dollars are down the drain because the firm simply cannot respond to incoming leads. These situations are, unfortunately, an everyday occurrence. There’s no good reason why they crop up. Sure— there are plenty of BAD reasons— like the IT department was unaware that electronic inquiries went to a dead e-mail inbox, or the receptionist is new, or “Bob,” the head of that particular service line, is “real bad about returning his phone calls.” It’s all a bunch of BS and really lame excuses. Companies who tolerate these incidents deserve to go out of business as far as I am concerned. And it’s a complete waste of marketing dollars spent to generate those inquiries. CEOs who learn of these kinds of incidents occurring in their own companies better get real excited (and probably agitated). You have to let your people know that this is a huge deal and not just something to shrug off as “business as usual” with a lick and a promise to do better next time. I can admit that there have been instances where leads weren’t responded to in my own firm, but I will also tell you that I didn’t just let it go. We even lost a principal once over this kind of lackadaisical treatment of clients. My friend, Mike Stennet, owns the local Fayetteville Steak ‘n Shake restaurant. He is a tough driver of an owner who really cares how customers get treated. One of the ways he finds out how well they are doing is he hires “mystery shoppers” who go to his restaurant, eat, and then send him an e-mail describing the experience. If he learns someone wasn’t greeted and seated, or someone sat there for a long time without being waited on, he freaks out and calls a meeting of the entire staff to discuss it, after confronting those involved in the incident directly. Maybe firms in our business should start using “mystery client inquirers.” It could be an eye-opener. Don’t let your marketing dollars go down the drain over stupidity and inattention. It’s completely avoidable.Originally published 8/28/2006
About Zweig Group
Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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