December 28, 2011
For many businesses, an online presence is as important as a telephone—perhaps even more so, since it showcases the company 24/7 around the world. Yet only 40% of Canadian businesses have their own website. Does your online strategy generate new customers and provide competitive service to existing ones?
When Pierre Martell started his home building business in 2006, he believed he could stand out from the competition if he could persuade customers he would deliver on time and on budget.
But how to do it? The answer was an online strategy that combined a sophisticated website with the adept use of social media.
The customers of Martell Home Builders can follow the construction of their home day by day on the custom-built site. At the same time, they—along with prospective customers—can interact with the Moncton-based company via social media and take advantage of online information on home construction and ownership.
The results have been dramatic. In a few short years, Martell has built a booming business that owes as much to his savvy use of the Internet as it does to hard work and craftsmanship on construction sites.
“We started using the Web and social media because we had no marketing budget,” Martell says. “It turns out they’re incredible low-cost tools that enable us to be accessible and transparent and to build our credibility as thought-leaders in our industry.”
Connecting with customers
Today, an online strategy is critical to the success of most small and medium-sized businesses, especially when it comes to finding and serving customers. It all starts with an attractive, user-friendly website. However, too many businesses have a static, poorly designed site—or no site at all.
In fact, a 2007 Statistics Canada study found that only 40% of Canadian businesses had their own website. “This is still quite low in an era when an increasing number of customers rely on sourcing and purchasing a wide variety of goods and services from the Web,” says Michel Bergeron, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs, at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
“A website is a storefront that’s open to customers around the world 24/7,” Bergeron says. “Depending on your business, you have to decide what you want your website to do. Maybe you want to provide more information about your offering, generate sales leads or simply sell online.
“Whatever you decide, your site should be well planned, well designed and frequently updated, so your potential customers can find your company and quickly understand your value proposition.”
At Martell Home Builders, a major part of the online experience is a password-protected area where not only clients but also skilled tradespeople, suppliers and other participants can find information on the progress of a home’s “99-day construction countdown.” Photos are updated weekly and clients can even have a webcam installed on site to watch their house go up in real time.
Having everyone on the same page eliminates miscommunication, delays and cost overruns. Martell estimates cost savings of 30% over traditional project management techniques and says that without the technology his company could only build about five homes a year. This year, it’s on track to build 65 on time and on budget. In more than 200 builds to date, the company has never missed a closing date and, according to Martell, has never gone over budget.
Create a social media strategy
At the same time, Martell, 30, has done a good job on website basics, such as prominently displaying contact information on each page. And he makes extensive use of more advanced marketing techniques, such as blogs, YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook feeds, and online advertising.
In social media, Martell’s use of Twitter has proven particularly successful in connecting him with homebuyers and generating sales leads. Before social media, the company would invest an average of nine hours to convert a prospect into a customer. Now, it can take as little as 40 minutes.
“Social media has allowed people to get to know us and trust us before we physically meet them,” says Martell, who has some 13,000 Twitter followers. “Now when people call, they already know us and what house they want to see.”
Digital media expert Soniya Monga says more companies need to view social media as business tools that can strengthen customer relations, attract new prospects and build a company’s brand.
“There’s a lot of misconception that Twitter and other social media are a one-way type of broadcast mechanism, rather than a business tool that allows you to connect one-on-one with like-minded people,” says Monga, who works with LinkedIn’s marketing solutions team.
At Martell, the website and social media have worked together to support the branding strategy goals of the company.
“Our whole business strategy is all about being transparent and caring—me as a person, our team, our company—and delivering that experience each and every time,” says Martell, winner of a 2011 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award.
“The Internet allows us to get that message out and reinforce it in a cost-effective way.”
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