Most electrical contracting firms hadn’t planned to enter the voice/data/video (VDV) market. Yet, many find themselves responding to their customer’s VDV needs and requests. As a result, these firms only had to market their VDV services when they wanted to expand their market presence beyond their existing customer base.

In addition, many electrical contractors that have not been in the VDV market before now want to enter this market. To get in, these companies have to market their services to both existing customers and potential ones. This article will address effectively and efficiently marketing your firm’s VDV services to both your existing customer base as well as potential new customers.

Marketing your firm’s VDV services

The VDV market is very different from the traditional power distribution market in the way that VDV work is obtained and the expectations of the customer. In the traditional power distribution market, the firm’s reputation for effective project management, qualified electricians, and a track record of quality installations will get it on a qualified bidder’s list for the project. Beyond this point, only price differentiates your firm from your competitors’ in the customer’s eyes. This is because customers typically view power distribution as a commodity.

In the VDV market, effective project management, qualified electricians and technicians, and a track record of successful projects are certainly important. However, customers do not view VDV systems as a commodity. The operation and reliability of these systems visibly impact business operations and employee productivity on a daily basis, which in turn directly impacts the customer’s bottom line. As a result, price is typically a secondary consideration in awarding work in the VDV market. The customer is not just purchasing an installation; it is also investing in your ability to provide the needed technology and ability to solve technical problems both during and after installation.

Because VDV systems are so important to the customer’s business, the customer is often very selective about who does the work. Your customers must know that your firm has both the interest and capability to perform their VDV work. In addition, they also need to be confident that your company is qualified and truly capable of performing their VDV work.

In this article, marketing is defined very broadly as anything that positions your firm as a viable supplier of VDV services. For existing customers, this often means overcoming the perception that your firm is a traditional electrical contracting firm that deals only in power distribution system installation.

A different customer

Even though you have been dealing with a particular customer for years and have a great relationship with them on power distribution work, it does not mean you will automatically get their VDV work. There is no doubt that the goodwill and reputation your company has built up over time with your existing customers doing traditional power distribution work is an important factor in your getting their VDV work as well. However, you will probably not be dealing with the facilities or maintenance group as the primary decision-maker on VDV projects. Instead, you will probably be dealing with the information services (IS) group as the primary decision-maker on VDV projects. This means that you must educate these new decision-makers about your VDV capabilities.

Overcoming the name barrier

Your company’s name and the quality of electrical work it stands for are very important. Over the years you have provided quality services to your customers in the power distribution business. However, while your name may be an asset in the traditional electrical contracting market it can be a barrier, or even a liability, when trying to break into the emerging VDV market.

You may have originally planned to enter the VDV market using your existing firm by setting up either a separate department or division. However, the name of your well-recognized and respected electrical contracting company may be a detriment in the VDV market. If you find customers reluctant to retain your firm to do their VDV work because they do not perceive your firm as a VDV service provider, you may want to consider a name change. Some firms have altered their names to make them more all-encompassing, while others have created a separate sister company or subsidiary under a different name more easily associated with VDV work.

If you decide a name change is warranted or a separate company should be established, carefully consider the new company name and logo. The name and logo for your new VDV business should be different enough to differentiate it from your traditional electrical contracting business.

However, it should not be so dramatically different that customers no longer equate your new VDV business with your traditional business. Your customers need to make a connection between your traditional electrical business and your VDV business for you to take advantage of all the goodwill you have built over the years. The similarity in the name and logo chosen for your VDV business convey to the customer that this is the same company the customer has always dealt with. Further, the customer can expect the same dedication to quality workmanship, customer satisfaction, and professionalism in the installation of their VDV systems as your company has always provided for their power distribution needs.

Changing perceptions

Again, marketing your VDV services to existing and new customers may mean changing perceptions about your company. Changing your name without changing your on-site image may not be enough. Consider what your customer sees when service representatives come to work on data processing and communication equipment, fire alarm and security systems, and other office and production equipment. Typically these service representatives are in uniform with their company name.

In addition, these service representatives often have a photo identification card clipped to their uniform. Instead of toolboxes and belts, these service representatives usually have cases for their tools and test equipment. How your VDV electricians and technicians look to your customer will make a big difference in how your company is perceived professionally. You can have the best electricians and technicians, but if their dress or demeanor suggest they are not the best, you will likely not get the customer’s VDV work.

Installation personnel are key to repeat business

Not only are your installation personnel the key to getting you in the door, they are also critical to keeping you in the customer’s facility and continuing to do work on a regular negotiated basis. Your VDV electricians and technicians must have a service mentality and be dedicated to a quality installation and solving the customer’s problems. Repeat business is always the best kind.

Cross-selling with your traditional business

Cross-selling between your traditional power distribution business and your VDV business can also be very effective and should be done at every opportunity. Being recognized as a single-point supplier of your customer’s power, communication, and control systems needs makes your firm unique and can give you an advantage over competitors limited to either power distribution or VDV services. Customers understand that the reliable operation of their VDV systems is as dependent on the power supply as on the VDV system operation itself. Single-point responsibility for the entire VDV system ensures a system that is completed on time and avoids dispute over who is responsible when the system does not work. Ultimately, what the customer really wants, and is buying, is a trouble-free “good night’s sleep.”

Project management and installation personnel from both the traditional power side and VDV business need to understand the important marketing and business development role they play. Both sides of the business complement one another.

Field personnel are in constant contact with the customer and know what projects are being considered and what they entail. Both the power distribution personnel and VDV personnel should promote the other. Therefore, both sides of the business will benefit through stable work and more of it.

Building your business through marketing

Eventually, you will want to expand and grow your VDV business beyond your existing customer base. This cannot happen unless you get your firm’s name out in front of potential customers. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Let’s examine ways you can efficiently and effectively promote your VDV business.

Referrals by existing customers. The best and most efficient way of expanding your VDV business is through referrals by existing customers. If you do a good job for a current customer, word will spread and new customers will call. To get this word-of-mouth advertising, all you have to do is a good job on all your projects. Your customers’ recommendations to new customers automatically establish your credibility and ability to do a good job. This is also the most efficient method of marketing your VDV services because there is no cost or time required on your part.

Sales calls. Sales calls require that you personally meet with potential customers to let them know what services you can provide to meet their specific needs. This requires your time or someone else’s. If it is your time and you are senior management, the value of your time can be very expensive marketing methods. It is also not as effective as using your ongoing customer relationships and referrals by your existing customers.

Typically, personal sales calls require that you identify a company with upcoming or ongoing VDV work, find out who the decision-maker is, and schedule an appointment to meet with that person to explain your company’s capabilities and desire to work with them. Often, the company you are calling on already has another firm handling its VDV needs. Therefore, the best you can hope for is an opportunity to do some future work when their regular VDV firm is not available or has had problems.

Because marketing and business development are so important to expanding a VDV business beyond its existing customer base-and your time is spread thin in other areas-a number of firms have hired professional sales people to pursue leads and make the initial contract with potential customers. Sales calls are not easy, and most electrical contracting firm personnel do not have the needed training, experience, or desire to be a salesperson. It is easier and much more effective to teach a good salesperson about the VDV business than it is to turn a good technical person into an effective salesperson.

In addition, a professional salesperson is usually much more adept at sensing and addressing customer concerns; comfortable discussing contract terms, conditions, and fees; and better at closing the deal and getting the work. The down side is that the salesperson’s salary, benefits, and support is overhead and must be recovered as part of the work sold.

Printed marketing materials. Printed marketing materials are important because they are sometimes the first contact a potential customer has with your firm and are certainly what is referred when that potential customer has a need for a VDV service firm. Brochures, business cards, and other printed materials can make a lasting impression on your customer-good or bad. Your printed marketing materials must be accurate and professional. Money spent on these materials should be viewed as an investment in your firm’s image and future.

Direct mail. Direct mail is less effective than direct sales when making the initial contact with a potential customer.

First, you have to know the right person within the potential customer’s organization to address mail to for direct mail to be effective. If you don’t know who the decision-maker is regarding contracting for VDV services, then direct mail will not likely be effective. If your direct mail piece goes to the wrong person, it is likely that it won’t be passed on to the right person and will probably go right into the receiver’s trash. Even if it does get to the right person, at best it will be put into a file to be accessed later when that person needs VDV services. It is rare that your direct mail piece gets to the right person just when there is a need for your services.

Direct mail is not the best way to contact potential customers initially, but it still holds value in generating new VDV work. Direct mail’s real value comes in the following-up stage, after personal sales calls. Direct sales calls will tell you who makes or influences the decision on VDV services. By knowing who the decision-makers are in the customer’s organization, you can target those individuals with your direct mailings. Periodic direct mailings will keep you firm first in mind when the need for VDV services arises.

Your direct mail pieces must be well done and provide value to the customer to be effective. The pieces should be distinctive and have content that is of interest to the recipient to read and keep. Direct mail can include anything from newsletters discussing projects that your firm has either completed or is working on, copies of articles for industry journals and magazines that your employees have written, technical information that your customers ought to know about, and other pertinent information.

Desktop publishing, digital photography, and color printers and copiers provide a relatively inexpensive and effective method of staying in contact with your customers. They also position your firm as a knowledgeable supplier of the VDV services they need. Your direct mail pieces can be distributed via regular mail, e-mail, or both. E-mail is an effective and very cost-effective method of reaching a lot of people quickly.

Web site. A Web site is a must for the electrical contracting firm entering the VDV market. Most corporate IS decision-makers will expect you to have one. The site may attract some new customers, but its real value is providing readily accessible information about your firm and its services.

The Web site doesn’t have to be the slickest, with graphics and interactivity, but it does need to be well designed and easy to navigate. Again, like direct mail, the Web site must provide valuable content for the visitor or it won’t be successful. You can have a static Web presence where potential customers can visit your site for information when they need it. However, it will be much better if you have dynamic technical, product, and industry information. This will keep potential customers visiting your Web site to see what is new and useful to them. You can even use your Web site and links to other Web sites as a way of providing more detail about your firm, your company, its employees, current and past projects, and other information that is just briefly referred to in direct mail pieces, company brochures, and other marketing materials.

Yellow Pages. Yellow Page ads are not nearly as effective as Web pages in promoting your firm to potential customers. However, Yellow Page ads are something that many potential customers expect you to have and possibly the first place they look. Yellow Page ads are not expensive and should be placed in the same Yellow Page sections as your competitors, which may be different from where the ad for your traditional power distribution business is located. Your Yellow Pages ad needs to be distinctive and can refer potential customers to your Web site for additional information.

News releases. News releases are another cost-effective way of keeping your company visible to potential and existing customers. The business section in most city newspapers often includes news about local businesses as well as about
people joining firms, being promoted within firms, or doing something special related or unrelated to their work. In addition, most large cities have a local business journal that is often published weekly and has similar features.

Getting your firm’s news into the local newspaper or business journal only requires the time to draft a news release and sending it to the section’s editor.

Advertising. Advertising is another way of promoting your firm to both existing and potential customers, and where and how you do it is very important because it can be expensive. To be successful in advertising your firm’s VDV services, advertising needs to target the people you want to influence. Print, billboard, radio, television, and other advertising media that works for consumer products is expensive and probably won’t be a cost-effective advertising platform from which to market your VDV services. However, advertising in newsletters and other periodicals published by the local chapters of professional organizations representing property managers, information service personnel, and others should be both affordable and target the audience most likely to use your services.

Vehicle signs. Your vehicles are mobile billboards and say a lot about your firm, what it does, and its commitment to quality. Having your vehicles parked around customer’s buildings is a great advertisement for your firm and an implicit endorsement of your company’s VDV capabilities. Investment in your vehicles and their signage, and keeping them clean and professional looking, will pay dividends.

Networking. In every city there are a number of civic, business, and technical organizations that you or your firm can join and be active in, either as a full or associate member. Joining these organizations can provide valuable contacts that may result in opportunities you would have otherwise missed. Having a personal relationship with someone in a potential customer’s firm—even if that person is not the VDV decision-maker—can still make a big difference because you will have a built-in reference. In addition, while networking you may hear of projects in the planning stage, which could give you a head start on your competition. You have a limited amount of time, so choose organizations that have the greatest potential to help your business.

Creating a VDV marketing plan

VDV market entry requires a realistic look at how both existing and potential customers perceive your firm. Only if you accurately understand this perception can you develop effective strategies to position your firm as the customer’s preferred supplier of VDV services. You need to develop a comprehensive plan and budget for marketing your VDV services.

Acknowledgement

This article is the result of ongoing research into the impact of information technology on the electrical contracting industry that is sponsored by the Electrical Contracting Foundation, Inc. The author would like to thank the Foundation for its continuing support.

Dr.GLAVINICH is Chair and Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at (785) 864-3435 or tglavinich@ukans.edu.