Electrical contractors, historically speaking, are not avid fans of sales, marketing and promotion. However, the key word in that sweeping statement is “historically.” Things have changed and so should contractors and their views regarding such business management tools and techniques.

It seems like there are more management philosophies and theories floating around than there are businesses to try them out, but some things do remain constant. Sales and marketing, which go hand-in-hand, are worthwhile if done properly.

Various aspects and elements comprise sales and marketing. Typically speaking, the marketing and promotion aspects need to be considered before sales. Below you will find ways in which contractors can reposition themselves by utilizing various marketing tools.

Transitioning a company, especially one that does not actively engage in such activities, can be a long and tedious process if not undertaken in a coordinated fashion. It involves a change not just in daily operations, but in overall mentality as well. Changing the corporate view on marketing will ultimately determine whether or not the campaign succeeds or fails. If marketing is viewed internally as a waste of time, resources and energy, then the efforts will most likely be fruitless.

Where to begin?

The best place to start is to get a comprehensive understanding of your company’s corporate image, which is how you appear to the outside world. It is a powerful and constant message as this is how you are perceived, just by the mere mention of your name. This is a key ingredient in any successful marketing endeavor. By understanding your unique image, you will be able to infuse consistency throughout all of your promotional activities. The corporate image should be a true reflection of your business as a whole.

The next step involves the crucial element of creating a marketing plan. While this task can range from a fairly simplistic checklist to a full-blown assessment and strategic plan of action, it helps chart a path to stay focused since it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the marketing possibilities.

Note that you may need to add the cost of consultants to your budget. Though prices vary from region to region, it is safe to assume that the cost will be of importance to someone within your organization. Delving into this type of an extensive project is not something for the faint of heart. However, utilizing marketing consultants to get the ball rolling, especially if you have no prior experience or firsthand knowledge in this area, is not a bad idea.

Another option to keep in mind, mainly for those serious about making sales and marketing key components of the company, is that you may need to employ a marketing department. This can easily be started by one individual and grow accordingly from there.

The marketing plan is also essential to success since it is almost never financially or operationally feasible to undertake all action items listed within the context of the marketing plan at one time. Though you may be able to simultaneously achieve some of your marketing objectives, many will need to be placed on temporary hold. Each company will have different goals and objectives so each company will individually need to determine which items take precedence. Since no two companies are alike, it is impossible to say which items are more important than others.

Some examples

While marketing and promotion can mean different things to different people, there are some common elements that generally fall under this category. Some of the most common (and most useful to electrical contractors) are:

Collateral Material—This is, in a nutshell, any and all marketing material that promotes your business. The sales team and others promoting the company often use these materials. Items falling into this category include corporate brochures, project reference sheets, contractor qualification statements, standardized bid responses, etc. Graphics, corporate logos, photography and written content are used extensively throughout these documents.

Web Site—These still carry a lot of weight. Even though we were all somehow affected by the infamous dot bombs, people still poke around the Internet to do homework before buying pretty much anything (hence the educated customer we all hear about and constantly run into). If you don’t have a Web site, get one. If you have one, update it.

Trade Show Materials—If your business routinely participates in or attends trade shows, it just may be time to take the next step and become an exhibitor. To do so effectively involves using a display booth that visually represents your company.

Promotional Products—Call them what you want (giveaways, gifts, etc.) but these relatively inexpensive items do help keep your name in front of your customers. Keep them simple and in line with everything else.

Signage—This includes vehicles, uniforms, job site trailers and postings.

Advertising—Saved the best—OK, most expensive—for last. All forms of advertising should be examined: print, radio, television, online, etc. Though this is an involved and fairly expensive option, it is one that cannot be completely ignored. There are so many advertising options that abound; there is definitely one that fits your goals and budget.

Baby steps

Creating and implementing an effective marketing campaign takes dedication, consistency and commitment from all involved. When a company’s message is not consistent, the overall image can be negatively affected. When customers, or more importantly, potential customers, receive a mixed message about your company, they cannot make informed decisions regarding whether or not to choose you. And that is the point—marketing is all about gaining an advantage over the competition and drawing in both new and repeat business.

One of the worst things to do is to roll out a marketing campaign that contradicts itself. This does absolutely nothing except waste money and cause chaos. Contractors, perhaps more so than other industries, need to be highly organized when implementing such promotional programs.

This point becomes even more important for companies that have added to their overall suite of offerings (be it products and/or services) throughout the years. Many contractors have grown their respective businesses in this manner by responding to their associated markets by increasing their cumulative core competencies. A good example is the fact that many electrical contractors have added communications to their company offerings, yet many of their customers do not immediately realize this offering since it was never really promoted.

There couldn’t possibly be anything else …

Au contraire! One very important element was not listed above: public relations.

Contractors have been deficient in this area for so long, because they never really understood or accepted the true benefits that go along with an ongoing public relations campaign.

Committee, association and organizational membership and participation are public relation functions, as are community involvement, political association, press release issuances, public speaking, volunteering, fund raising and all other networking opportunities.

Though some may criticize the actual return on investment associated with these activities, it is something that needs to not only be explored, but put into practice as well. By constantly remaining visible and involved, your business benefits on many levels.

Choose your battles carefully. This old adage helps warn of the potential pitfalls associated with marketing. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the sheer abundance of options and to lose focus. Unless you are a Fortune 100 company, you most likely will not be able to do everything you want, especially all at the same time.

Start out slow and steady. Before you know it, with persistence, your company’s name will be heading in the right direction. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.