Construction doesn't know enough about what its customers want – which is where marketing comes in.
In rethinking construction, Sir John Egan identified a focus on customers as a key driver of change in the quest for improved quality and efficiency. I believe it is the key driver.

All too often, Egan tells us, the construction industry fails to satisfy the needs and expectations of its customers. Why? Because we do not fully understand what these are.

We think we do, but we are often wrong.

One solution to this apparent breakdown in communication between the demand and supply sides of the industry is better and wider use of marketing. How, I hear you ask, can marketing help? To answer that, we must accept that contracting is much more than merely building to a specification, and that what clients want is not always fully reflected in contract documents. There are always other considerations, such as how well we respond to changes, how well we solve problems and how well we anticipate clients' needs.

Marketing can help by giving us an appreciation of how things seem from the client's point of view. This is something our industry has not been very good at.

Marketing is not, as many people think, a posh word for selling. Rather than persuading someone to buy something, marketing says we should first of all find out what the client wants and then make sure they get it. It forces us to work from the market in, not the company out.

Our industry does not spend enough time finding out, through market research, what clients expect from us. And we do not spend enough time finding out, through customer satisfaction surveys, what they think of us once the job is finished. We think we know, but we don't. So, the next time you hear someone in your office say, "I'm off to do a little marketing", make sure they ask the right questions and listen to the answers.

Marketing demands that we know our clients and their business, yet how often is this the case? One of the difficulties is that we tend to have many clients in different markets, each with their own priorities. To make matters more confusing, many of our clients have their own end-users to satisfy. This amounts to a lot of homework.

Marketing says we should first of all find out what the client wants and then make sure they get it

Many people I speak to think that marketing is to do with looking for the next enquiry. I remember a conversation with the chief executive of a project management consultant, who told me the three golden rules of marketing. One, you must have a face-to-face meeting with the client. Two, he or she must have a suitable project. And three, he or she must be able to say "yes". If any of these are missing, you are wasting your time, he said.

Another misconception is that marketing is something that is done by marketing departments and no one else, in the same way as estimating is only done by estimators. I have always believed that marketing is more a general philosophy than a specialist discipline. Everyone must become an evangelist on behalf of the client. But if marketing is so vital – and I am convinced it is – why don't we spend more time doing it? The usual excuse when times are good is that we are too busy, and when times are bad, the marketing budget is the first to go.

I suspect there are other reasons for marketing's low profile in construction. First, it is unpopular because the rewards are difficult to measure and there is often no immediate return. Also, it can be unpleasant. Asking your clients how satisfied they are with your performance does not always elicit the news you want to hear.

And what's more, there is a lack of practical guidance. There are plenty of books on claims and dispute resolution, but hardly any on how to understand clients' needs and ensure customer satisfaction in our industry. Surely, prevention is better than cure.

Introducing a marketing culture is the responsibility of people at the top of the business. Yet marketing still has a low status in the boardrooms of UK construction companies, compared with other industries where the supply side tends to have a more sophisticated understanding of marketing.

Last October, the Privy Council granted "chartered marketer" status to individual members of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. This was a significant step in the history of marketing, confirming its rise to the level of the other chartered professions.