Improving and focusing your marketing efforts is a competitive strategy your firm should consider implementing.

Raleigh, N.C.-based FMI, management consultants to the construction industry, recently conducted a poll asking contractors: "What is one new competitive strategy your firm has successfully implemented in the past year?" The most common answers related to improving and focusing marketing efforts.

"We are tired of beating our head against the wall with everyone else," one contractor said. "We think we have some talents that other contractors don't have, and we need to get the word out to owners that they don't always have to take the low bid."

Investing in market research is a way some companies are working to refine their marketing efforts and secure more-profitable work. Doing market research "allows us to adopt more of an account management culture, in contrast to a predominately reactive culture," one participant responded.

Another common contractor strategy is to identify core competencies and focus efforts in those areas. "We focused on developing our core competencies to our best level of practice in all of our geographical operating centers," one executive wrote. "It has helped us stay grounded in who we are and where we are going, and it helps us make decisions more confidently."

Respondents mentioned the development of employee training programs as another highly effective strategy.

No matter what the strategy, respondents repeatedly pointed out several keys to successfully implementing the initiative. First, the long-term strategy must be supported by short-term goals that will lead to the achievement of the strategy. Without short-term goals, it's easy to fall behind the scheduled implementation of the strategy. Second, employees must be involved in the process of identifying the strategic goal and how to reach it. Without this involvement, there will be no employee buy-in, and the strategy will not work. Third, always prepare for market fluctuations as you develop the strategy. And, finally, always have contingency plans if the strategy doesn't work.