We are facing a revolution in the way in which our Clients are engaging with us, and the Facilities Management industry faces significant challenges in the way we are marketing ourselves to meet those changes. This post is the first in a series of two. In this post, I want to deal with the subject of marketing Facilities Management, and in the second post, next week, I will deal with the 5 Best Practices of Lead Generation for Facilities Managers.

If you read to the bottom of this post you will see an offer to download an accompanying slide deck for these two posts entitled 5 Best Practices of Lead Generation for Facilities Managers.

In the last few months, I have had the massively pleasurable task of heading up my company’s Business Development or Sales department. While I have been selling Facilities Management for most of my career, lending credence to the cliche that we are all in sales, I have never actually led a Sales department.

I have always had a firm view on how we need to sell Facilities Management, and this was my opportunity to put those thoughts into action.

In researching this topic, I came across a survey done by the Building Services Group in the UK on how Clients in the UK purchase their Facilities Management services. The survey respondents were the CEOs and business development directors of over 50 of the UK’s biggest Facilities Management Service providers.

Biggest Sales and Marketing Challenges

It goes without saying that the ability of a supplier to win new contracts is a crucial determinant of their capability to grow. In the findings of the BSG survey, unsurprisingly the majority of the respondents stated that FM had become a very competitive market and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd.

The survey reported that the top two most significant sales and marketing challenges were

#1 Finding new leads @ 24%

#2 Accessing the right decision-makers @ 21%

These were by far the most significant challenges with Client retention only coming in third with 7%.

The biggest FM marketing challenges are finding new leads & accessing decision-makers. Click To Tweet

How do Clients find Suppliers

Tracking down suitable Clients is not all one-way traffic. For reasons we will see later on, Clients are becoming much more active in tracking down suitable suppliers. For FM suppliers that are struggling to find and access Clients, it would then be useful to understand where Clients are looking for suppliers and how are they assessing their supplier base.

The survey pointed out that 87% of Clients are finding new suppliers through referrals from colleagues or associates with 70% accessing online articles including social media, web pages, and blogs.

This gives rise to a turnaround from what has historically been the business of marketing and selling to Clients. This disruption to the traditional status quo presents three significant challenges that FM service providers need to address in their marketing.

3 Challenges

1. Buyers find Sellers, not Vice Versa

Traditionally, suppliers would spend lavishly on tradeshows, Business breakfasts, advertising campaigns and other promotional tactics. This was done in order just to get their brand name in front of potential Clients to raise awareness and in the hope of securing interest from a prospective Client.

Using terminology gleaned from the battlefield and quasi-military tactics, an army of sales representatives would then converge on the market to cold call, hunt down prospects and attempt to convert these into long-term Clients.

By large, this is still the process of choice within the industry. However, the world has changed, and buyers are less susceptible to marketing spin and are wiser to these intrusive, interuptive and unsophisticated sales techniques.

Access to the Internet and a ubiquitous source of information online has changed how we research and consume information. The information revolution has leveled the playing field. No longer can we force feed information to our Clients in the hope of educating them just enough to be able to sell them our services. Clients are educating themselves and are often more informed about the market and our services than hapless, uninformed salespeople sent out to storm the beaches and land a new Client.

Statistics have shown 81% of all FM buyers prefer to research the market themselves before engaging with suppliers, and 71% of those Customers start with a search on Google.

In 80% of the FM purchases completed, the buyer made the initial contact with the seller. So the tables have been turned. The hunter is now the hunted, and buyers are now in the business of finding sellers, not vice versa.

This disruption to the status quo represents a massive problem for suppliers. Active Customers in the marketplace are virtually invisible to the potential supplier and only when buyers are ready to contract are they predisposed to picking up the phone and speaking to a supplier. The buyer is, therefore, controlling the process. These changes make most suppliers very uneasy and unable to predict and forecast their sales pipeline.

The historical preference for military and hunting analogies no longer seems to apply. Perhaps fishing terminology may be more appropriate where a supplier has to throw a line in the water and lure his potential Customer by offering up additional valuable information that can provide possible solutions to Customer’s problems and needs. To do this, a supplier needs to maintain a presence online in much the same way as a retail outlet would and to encourage potential Customers to walk through their virtual doorway.

In 80% of the FM purchases completed, the buyer made the initial contact with the seller. Click To Tweet

2.People only buy from people they trust

With the plethora of marketing and sales messages, we are bombarded with on a daily basis it is only natural that people’s guards go up when it comes to marketing and sales, simply because there have been too many cases of high-pressure, exploitative tactics over the generations.

So the Customer’s journey is increasingly becoming a self-service one. This will often involve several months of careful research and deliberation on behalf of the Customer before engagement with a potential supplier is attempted.

The modern reality is that with the power of the internet many Customers source, research and reject potential suppliers without the supplier even being aware they were ‘engaging’ with a potential Customer. The anonymity of this process provides comfort to a potential Customer, while they educate themselves about the market and the major players in that market.

In an earlier post “Do You Have Confidence in your Outsourcing Partner” I highlight that the confidence both parties have in an outsourcing relationship is determined by two competencies. The level of Trust and the degree of Control that govern the deal. We don’t need research by Gartner to tell us that Trust is less objective, and therefore the more difficult, concept to understand.

Trust needs to be built for B2B buyers to be open to engaging with you; they need to feel confident that you’ve got their best interests in mind for the long haul. For the supplier, the building of trust during this period is a minefield. How can trust be built if the supplier is unaware of the potential Customer, what their needs are and how they are expected to meet those needs?

So the challenge is that to build this trust the supplier has to take an anonymous Customer on a journey from being potentially antagonistic or at least unknown to becoming a trusted advisor often without ever actually engaging in a face-to-face conversation. The challenge is to ensure that we keep that relationship warm and increasingly more intimate over what can be an extended period, sometimes extending to years, before buying decision is made.

(see the diagram below)


To build this trust, the conversation has to be about the Client or Customer not about us, our services or how good we are. It has to focus on the problems they are facing not the offers we are selling. As soon as you move the conversation to yourself, you stop being the trusted advisor and become the salesperson.

3. Interuptive marketing doesn’t work

Networking events and tradeshows are expensive and unproductive. Outbound email campaigns are only considered successful if they achieve a meagre 2% open rate. Unsubscribe rates on un-solicited email are more than 90%.

Service companies for years have engaged in interuptive, outbound type marketing. The data gleaned from the BSG survey indicates that this is not only unproductive it is actually damaging your sales efforts.

The BSG survey tells us that a massive 81% of Clients do not want to be sold to by a sales team at least before doing the research themselves. Outbound marketing and cold calling destroys trust with nearly 70% saying that they would usually or always be put off by suppliers that cold-call. With only 3% saying that they are never put off by suppliers that call, you can market to your prospective Clients this way, but the odds are massively stacked against you.

81% of FM Clients do not want to be sold to, before doing the research themselves Click To Tweet

With only 3% saying that they are never put off by suppliers that cold-call, you can market to your prospective Clients this way, but the odds are massively stacked against you.

It is perhaps unsurprising in this day and age of rising levels of interuptive marketing from chatbots, invading our downtime to sell us cellphone contracts, insurance or medical aid. Clients don’t want to be sold to or interrupted, and see this as an invasion of their space and this will almost certainly count against you in trying to sell to this Client. So this is not good news for the traditional outbound sales and marketing techniques!

What does this mean for FM Service providers?

We need to let go and recognise that the Client now owns the buying process.  We need to trust that giving the Client the power will pay off for us. What we need to do is to support the buyer through that process, nurture the relationship for however long it takes and to ensure that we do not try and force the decision to purchase.

We need to build a trusted relationship with prospects before they will consider buying and so we need to find a cost-effective and scalable means of building trust with strangers.

We need to move away from interuptive forms of marketing which not only do not work but are positively damaging two our chances of building I relationship with our Client. We need to adopt ‘Client-friendly’ Marketing techniques.

In next weeks post, I will elaborate on how we can take these challenges and establish practices to address the new way we need to engage with our potential Clients and to take them on a journey to build trust and provide value even before we contract with them.