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Is it up or down for you?

It’s all very confusing at the moment - government statistics say construction output grew by more than 6 per cent in the second quarter of 2010, but the CPA says construction workload has fallen over the same time period. So which part of the roller coaster are you on?

My own impression is that things are a little better but it’s still tough. There might be more enquiries coming in but you will have to do something special to stand any chance of winning. And yes that does mean price - but not just price.

Unfortunately, most of the alternatives to the price option tend to take effect in the medium term, and the companies who are benefiting now are those that took the advice of this column a year or more ago. But there is still time to move away from trying to win work with the lowest price. So here are some reminders.

Look at how you can deliver value. Dropping price is one (not very clever) way to deliver value. Another is to see what cost you can save your customer, perhaps by doing things differently.

One focus that the government is adopting as a leading client is how they can do things smarter to reduce cost. This is a theme promoted by private sector clients and large contractors since Egan 12 years ago. These clients all want to work with companies who can demonstrate original thinking that builds on past experience.

So think about what you can contribute and talk to your customers about this. You may not be dealing directly with large clients but you might be able to help those who are, becoming an integral part of the supply chain.

If you can shorten lead times, reduce inventory or rectification it will all contribute to cost savings for your customer. Constructing Excellence can give you lots of advice on this. If you do develop some clever ideas it will make your company stand out and can also make life difficult for your competitors.

It’s not just about new ideas; what are you already doing that makes your company special? Do your customers know about this and recognise the value it brings? Probably not. So don’t assume; tell them, not once but repeatedly. Find lots of different ways to remind them -newsletters, project stories, awards: use all of these to their maximum benefit.

Many of these initiatives do not take lots of money, just time. There are plenty of software packages on the web to help you with newsletters, websites and brochures. And if time is a problem look at taking on an intern.

There are a lot of unemployed graduates with good IT and graphics skills looking for work. But if you do go down this route make sure you give them an interesting role that can develop their skills and help them to get employed, or even offer them a job after a few months if all is going well.

Look at how you communicate with your customers. Is it frequently enough? Do you tell them about your successes? What do they think of your company and is it accurate? If there are bad points take some corrective action and then tell them how you have improved.

But don’t just tell your customers; tell your employees as well. If it’s good news they should share it in these difficult times, and if it’s bad news you need their commitment and support to change things. Very often in successful companies it is the (non-sales) employees telling customers about success and improvements that contributes most to a positive impression.

Recovery or double-dip, the message remains the same: those companies that are innovative and effectively market themselves now will survive and succeed. Those that don’t and rely on price will not be around for the good times, whenever they come.

Chris Ashworth, founder of Competitive Advantage Consultancy, provides strategic marketing services to the construction industry. He is a member of the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group